Dealing with adversity, hard work, leadership, discipline, curiosity, competitiveness. All of these things I learned as a professional athlete (or at least my journey to becoming a professional athlete). All are also imperative to becoming a successful entrepreneur.
Asa part of our series about the work ethic lessons we can learn from professional athletes, I had the pleasure of interviewing Luke Milton. Luke’s fitness career began as a professional Rugby player in Australia where he was lucky enough to play for his country. After retiring from Rugby, Luke founded Training Mate in Sydney, Australia, and quickly established himself as a leader in the fitness community.
He is now a celebrity trainer here in Los Angeles and lives by the belief that a healthy lifestyle is a combination of physical, social, and mental health. You can catch him on “Revenge Body with Khloe Kardashian.” Luke grew up in Sydney, Australia. After showing promise as an athlete early on, Luke went on to become one of Australia’s best athletes, representing his nation in two different sports and captaining Australia in the sport of Rugby.
After a successful professional sporting career, Luke embarked on life after sports and started Training Mate (a fitness company, centered around building community) on the shores of Sydney Harbor. Starting incorporate wellness and servicing the likes of JP Morgan, Credit Suisse and Saatchi and Saatchi in 2012 Luke decided to expand his horizons and take Training Mate to Los Angeles CA to go head to head with the fitness industries biggest names. Whilst making a name for himself as a sought-after Hollywood Celebrity trainer and starring on Khloe Kardashians hit TV show Revenge Body, Luke successfully lead Training Mate in expanding to multiple locations and most recently being named “Best Studio in Los Angeles”.
Luke continues to train his celebrity clients in Los Angeles and focus on taking Training Mate to national expansion. It is Luke’s obsession with helping others, building teams, and his uncompromising competitiveness that has seen rise to the top of both world sports and international business.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! It is a great honor. Our readers would love to learn more about your personal background. Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
Igrew up in the suburbs of Sydney, Australia in a working-class family. My father was a police officer, my mother a Dental nurse. I was like most Australian kids, my whole life focused around sports and being outside, it was soccer and rugby in the winter and surfing and junior lifeguarding in the summer. I had a real passion for animals as my mom’s side of the family are farmers I loved heading to the outback and school break and up until my mid-teenage years I was sure I wanted to be a Vet or marine biologist.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career as a high-level professional athlete?
I’ve been really lucky to be inspired and influenced by quite a few people at different stages of my life. The earliest inspiration would certainly be my Dad, he always lead the family in a very working class/provider type of way and that was always attractive to me. Hard work and toughness, both very important attributes of becoming a professional athlete.
Then it was my Coach when I was 14 years old, Shane Flanagan had previously been a professional rugby player and always generously offered his time and knowledge to helping me pursue my dreams of playing professionally. I still remember him sitting at my parents place and telling me he was never the most skilled player on any team but he was the hardest working and that stays with me until this day and was most relevant to me as I was inexperienced when I first turned professional but I made it my obsession to be the fittest person in the team and that helped be balance the inexperience. None of us can achieve success without some help along the way.
Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?
I absolutely agree that “it takes a village”. I have been so fortunate to have many people in my life that have all contributed to my success, in both professional sports and business. I would have to say that the most influential has been my old player-manager who, to this day, is a very close personal friend. Greg Willett initially showed me the importance of education and life after sports, even before I had a life in sports.
Greg actually brokered a deal to send me to Australia’s most exclusive private boys school The Scots College, where I was exposed to the top echelon of Australian business and high society. Now, this type of thing is common in the US with collegiate athlete programs etc however in Australia, this was the first of its kind. I was from a working-class family and now going to an elite private school. I thrived at Scots and absolutely attribute much of what I value to this day to my time there. Greg also insisted that I focused on my studies and “life after football”.
As a chartered accountant and highly successful businessman he was also very generous in educating me on the fundamentals of business and investing. Of course, my wife, Kerry. It’s so important to have a “team mate”, I trust my wife emphatically and she sometimes knows me better than I know myself. Kerry definitely knows when to challenge me and when to let me work it out for myself and as a Georgetown graduate and previous Advertising executive she offers a lot more than just support. It was actually Kerry that was a big motivator in me pursuing business, I had a real passion for fitness and she very much encouraged me to “think bigger”.
There almost isn’t a bigger determining factor in long term success than having a partner that contributes to the bigger goal. There is absolutely no way Training Mate would be what it is without Kerry, we truly are partners.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your sports career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?
The most interesting mistake I made during the early days of my professional athlete career was changing teams. I was very fortunate to play for the top team in the competition, the Sydney Roosters.
Our team had just won the equivalent of the Super Bowl and I was all of 19 years old, a real dream come true. With such a reputable team comes limited opportunities for a young kid so I decided to take an offer from a lower ranked team with more opportunity to take on a bigger role within the team.
I took for granted the professionalism and infrastructure at the Roosters and just assumed everywhere was the same, it’s wasn’t! The move was a failure and lead me to pivot and actually change sports.
I took away a lot of lessons from that experience.
- Everything happens for a reason and to trust the process.
- Infrastructure, foundations, and professionalism are everything.
- Leaders need to earn respect and never abuse their power.
As it turns out, I went on to have a very successful career in Rugby Union, represent my country and see the world.
It was the infrastructure at the Roosters from the front office to the coaching staff that allowed us as players to win the games. I remember being so proud to wear the Roosters jersey and represent the club. Our owner was an astute business leader and the entire organization bought into the discipline and focus that the head coach instilled.
Hard work, teamwork and attention to detail. All of these things are quite simple as words but incredibly valuable in execution. I still hold these values dear and instill them in Training Mate daily if I hadn’t changed teams, all of the words would just be that, words. I learned not to take systems, professionalism, and values for granted.
OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. Can you tell us the story of your transition from a professional athlete to a successful business person?
Firstly, I always knew I wanted to be in business, I just didn’t know what business that was. So my transition from Professional sports into fitness was actually a very natural one and made a lot of sense. In the early days, I started as a personal trainer, so it felt very natural, implementing the skills I learned as a professional athlete to my clients, most of whom at the time were corporate executives in Australia. As I had relative success as a sole trader, it was the confidence and competitiveness I learned from sports that really drove me to expand Training Mate into group fitness and move the company to Los Angeles, USA, the global center of fitness and “take on” the big players.
Within a couple of years, Training Mate was winning awards and taking market share from some of our bigger and more well funded competitors and I am very proud to say that Training Mate is now ranked as the Number 1 fitness studio in LOS ANGELES and amongst the best in the country.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects new you are working on now?
Training Mate is a fitness company, but I have always thought of us as one that delivers a fitness experience, not just a workout. In our studios, we have been very successful at executing that. One of the very exciting projects happening, as we speak, is the Mate to Go program, our at-home workout platform delivered digitally in the comfort of your living room, hotel room, or office. The initial success and support in the face of this global pandemic have been almost overwhelming. I’m so proud of the product we have and I’m excited about evolving it and expanding it even further.
Training Mate has also set about a capital raise to fund national expansion with our eyes set on New York as an exciting opportunity for us. We intend to continue to raise capital and look for new locations that offer us a great opportunity to extend the Training Mate brand and connect with even more communities.
Do you think your experience as a professional athlete gave you skills that make you a better entrepreneur?
Can you give a story or example about what you mean? Absolutely! Dealing with adversity, hard work, leadership, discipline, curiosity, competitiveness. All of these things I learned as a professional athlete (or at least my journey to becoming a professional athlete). All are also imperative to becoming a successful entrepreneur.
Being able to pivot and play what’s in front of you has never been more important than now. With the global pandemic on COVID-19, all gyms were forced to close with no notice. While many panicked, we quickly pivoted and launched Mate to Go 12 hours after shutting our doors. This has identified a huge potential revenue stream for Training Mate, keeps our employees working and paid and gave us another opportunity to be industry leaders and first to market.
Ok. Here is the main question of our interview. Entrepreneurs and professional athletes share a common “hustle culture”. Can you share your “5 Work Ethic Lessons That Entrepreneurs Can Learn From Athletes”? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Be the first up and the last to bed. I am religious about waking up early and trying to use as many hours of the day as possible. I wake up at 5 am everyday and try and get a head start on my day. I feel that by 9am, it’s a level playing field so those first few hours are my advantage.
- Attention to detail. All great companies have an obsession with their product or service and I think it’s the small things that make the big difference. At Training Mate we focus on delivering a fitness experience and every detail of our experience from the minute a client walks in until they leave. Our marketing, our branding, our social, the way we answer the phone — it all ladders up to being the best part of our clients day.
- Put in the work when no one is watching. As an athlete, I would spend countless hours perfecting my craft away from the crowds and cameras so that I could execute in front of them. It’s the same in business, all of the real preparation is done behind closed doors so that I can execute in the public eye.
- Be obsessed. I believe all great leaders, business tycoons or anyone successful are obsessed with what they do and their vision. My vision is to deliver the best fitness experience in the industry, and I am obsessed every single day with executing that.
- Curiosity. I stole this one from one of my mates/clients. As one of the most prominent corporate executives in the US I asked what he looked for in his team, he said curiosity. Someone who is always looking for new and exciting ways to do things better.
What would you advise to a young person who aspires to follow your footsteps and emulate your career? What advice would you give?
Back yourself and get started. So often procrastination stops young entrepreneurs from starting, here’s the secret, “there isn’t one”, you’ll work it out. Be prepared to work hard and stay focused on your passion, values and goals and you’ll do great.
You are by all accounts a very successful person. How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I really believe I have been able to be a relatable figure in the Healthy Lifestyle space. For so long, the fitness and wellness space was dominated by people that the general public couldn’t gel with or relate to, I think that I have shown people that you don’t need to be perfect and that the goal is to enjoy the journey. That’s when you capture people who’ve been intimidated by fitness and show them that it’s not scary or unachievable — by showing a realistic way for them to live a healthy lifestyle. I’m really proud of the movement we’ve been able to create with Training Mate and how many people have come to me privately to say that we’ve changed their life or helped them transform their lifestyle.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
My whole philosophy centers around a Healthy Lifestyle — That being, Physical Health, Social Health, and Mental health. Being a mate means that we are there to support our mates through good times, bad times, and every day.
Too many people die from preventable illnesses, like suicide and obesity-related diseases. If we as a society, move our bodies and support each other more to be whoever it is we choose to be, the numbers associated will go down considerably. So, my movement would be “movement” and support, making sure everyone knows they have a mate.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
“It’s not a lack of resources that’s stopping you, it’s a lack of resourcefulness”.
I think this resonates with me so much because growing up in a working-class family I never thought we had the “resources” to be successful entrepreneurs or corporate power players but as I got to know a lot of these so-called people I learned that they were just that, people. No different to me or had no other advantages other than material which we all know is the least important when it comes to business.
Seeing real-life examples of this almost daily in business really makes this statement stand out to me. Take the current COVID — 19 pandemic. Governments have shut down gyms like Training Mate taking our “resources” but we have been “resourceful” and launched our Mate to Go program and identified a very valuable arm of the company that will be a big part of our future.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?
He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them I absolutely love everything about Richard Branson. The branding of Virgin, the innovation, and the willingness to just go out there and have a go. I love how he took on the bigger more corporate competitors in the aviation market and won. Without a doubt, he would be my first choice to share a seat with and have a good chat.