Billionaire developer Stephen Ross on Equinox: 'Health is a new wealth'

Gym chain Equinox distanced itself this week from billionaire developer Stephen Ross, chairman of the holding company that owns the workout brand, after criticism and calls for boycotts erupted over a fundraiser he is set to host for President Donald Trump. In a statement, the company described Ross as a “passive investor.”

But in a newly released interview, Ross called Equinox “a hot brand that we're looking to continue to make better,” explaining why the company has pursued a growth strategy in the hotel and workout-from-home sectors.

“Health is a new wealth,” Ross said of Equinox in a June interview, which also manages gym chains SoulCycle and Blink Fitness. “Today, we've grown it.”

‘We’re managing it ourselves’

In the interview with Yahoo Finance Editor-in-Chief Andy Serwer, Ross explains the thinking behind the company’s new initiative to open branded hotels, the first of which opened in New York City this year.

“I know when I ask my secretary when I'm traveling, I want to stay in a place that has a good health club. Very few hotels, they have a room,” Ross says. “You know, I like to work out every day, and I think that's what America is looking to do. So that got us to go into the hotel business.”

He describes Equinox’s choice to develop the hotel chain in-house.

“We're managing it ourselves,” he says. “Some of the large chains wanted to manage it for us, but we thought to do it the right way and that we could control it, you know, we brought on our whole management staff.

“We have 13 sites already tied up or under development. And I would say in 10 years, we'll probably have 80 hotels around the world,” added Ross.

‘A passive investor’

On Wednesday, Equinox and SoulCycle released a joint statement distancing themselves from Ross. “Mr. Ross is a passive investor and is not involved in the management of either business,” they said.

The comments came a day after controversy erupted across social media when the Washington Post reported of a fundraising luncheon for Trump to be held at Ross’s home. Tickets cost anywhere from $100,000 to $250,000, the Washington Post found.

The backlash among customers has so far centered on the gym chains Equinox, SoulCycle, and Blink Fitness. Television personality and model Chrissy Teigen and actor Billy Eichner are among those who’ve voiced their support for the cancellation of Equinox memberships.

“everyone who cancels their equinox and soul cycle memberships, meet me at the library. bring weights,” Teigen tweeted on Wednesday to her 11.4 million followers.

Ross also responded to the criticism in a statement: “I have known Donald Trump for 40 years, and while we agree on some issues, we strongly disagree on many others and I have never been bashful about expressing my opinions,” he said.

Related Companies chairman Stephen Ross attends the grand opening of the Shops & Restaurants at Hudson Yards on Thursday, March 14, 2019, in New York. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

‘It’s really a hot brand’

As chairman of Related Companies, Ross has built high-profile projects like Hudson Yards, a $25 billion development in Manhattan’s West Side that is the most expensive in U.S. history. The company also holds Equinox, SoulCycle, and Blink Fitness. Plus, Ross owns the Miami Dolphins, helping him amass a net worth of $7.7 billion.

Ross made the comments to Yahoo Finance Editor-in-Chief Andy Serwer in a conversation that airs on Yahoo Finance in an episode of “Influencers with Andy Serwer,” a weekly interview series with leaders in business, politics, and entertainment.

In the interview, Ross detailed a new segment of Equinox’s business that aims to help members work out at home.

“We're getting into the digital business, so that when you're not able to go to a club, you'll be able to do it at home,” he says. “You'll be able to select all these different opportunities of what you want in terms of biking, running.”

Ross looked back fondly on Related Companies’ acquisition of Equinox in 2005 for $505 million, taking responsibility for the decision.

“The opportunity came to buy the company,” he says. “So you know, I stepped up.”

Andy Serwer is editor-in-chief of Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter: @serwer.

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