Monday, November 9, 2015

How’d She Get to be President?

by Marie Bradby

Diane Kelton (right) makes sure that the front desk experience sets the tone for customers at Baptist Health/Milestone Wellness Center.

Diane Kelton, Louisville’s doyenne of wellness centers, is living the life of her dreams as president of Baptist Health/Milestone Wellness Center. But to get to the top at the city’s most luxurious gym/spa/rehabilitation facility, she had to turn two of her biggest liabilities into gold medals.

Sixty pounds overweight and with a speech impediment, she was shy and quiet.

“I was a very overweight child. When I got to college, I lost a great deal of that weight just with diet,” says Diane, 57. “I never played sports or exercised.” 

But after earning an accounting degree in three years, Diane eventually began working as an accountant for the Bristol Bar & Grille, and she joined the original Milestone in St. Matthews Station in 1985. “They had a special,” she recalls. “You could get 10 weeks for $100. Sue Schonberger, who is still our group exercise director, was doing the class. Group exercise classes tend to create the fun in exercise and you get to know people. I kind of liked that.” She was hooked on exercise.

Diane stands on the indoor walking/running track inside Milestone.

Diane, who also has an MBA, left the Bristol because she wanted to go into management, and she cut back her accounting to a few small businesses. One that she kept was Milestone, where she got to know investors Lee Thomas and Tom Payette, who helped oversee the business side as board chair.

Determined not to crunch numbers all day, Diane enrolled in her first semester of law school at the same time that Milestone wanted to join forces with Baptist Hospital and expand. She was asked to oversee the transition. It was the late ‘90s.

“I didn’t think the expansion would happen,” Diane says. “There wasn’t much money.” Many variables needed to fall in place — the purchase of the land and matching the hospital’s investment.

“I remember sitting at Baptist Hospital picking out carpet for my office, and I said, ‘I don’t even know if this is going to happen.’ But we continued to push forward.”

So, while studying at law school, “I picked out the architect, I signed the loan letter, and we broke ground in November 1999,” Diane says. “I had this big dream that I could go to school and do this job. The second semester, I realized I had to make a decision.” Instead of returning to law school, she oversaw the construction and the opening of the facility on November 2, 2000.

She planned and staffed the center and transferred the approximately 1,200 existing members plus 1,300 new pre-sales members to the new location on Cypress Station Road. Her title was chief operating officer until she was promoted to the top position in 2003 after founder and president Paul Schmitt retired. The facility today has 6,000 members and 200 staff.

The swim area at Milestone where in-water classes, therapy pool, hot-tub and lap-pool can be found.

What risks did you take to run this business? 
The idea of blending law with my career came after the loss of my dad, who was a CPA as well. But I chose to give that up to expand my career with the center.

Any regrets? 
No. I’ve got the best job in Louisville. There are days when we have 2,000 members here. My office is in the lobby — all glass. It’s a people business. People say, ‘I don’t know how you get anything done.’ Our members are most important. Our success has been our involvement with them. We know when they have an ailment, a death in the family. I would describe us as the country club fitness center of Louisville. All of us have developed great friendships with the members.

What’s your biggest management mistake?
Staffing is always a challenge. You never know when you hire someone if they are the right person, and they don’t know either. It’s not a market like Chicago. We don’t have many big exercise businesses, so there’s not a big pool to pull from. That makes it tough in Louisville.'

As a leader, what have you learned about yourself? 
I still have a lot to learn. I have to be constantly aware of including other staff. It’s easy to just get something done and not have other people’s involvement. It’s challenging to step back and make sure you have the involvement of the staff.

How has travel influenced your outlook?
Third World travel has had the biggest impact on me. This week was a little bit challenging, and I told myself, ‘Remember that you have a roof over your head and you are not starving to death.’ I’ve visited more than 40 countries. You realize how fortunate we are and that it doesn’t take all that much to be happy.

Are there any questions you would like to ask Diane?

1 comment:

  1. wonderful place - wonderful people. Diane is a gift!


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