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Southern alum turns ‘Passion to Profit’


Photo Courtesy | Stephany Kaufman
Ted Koppy, former WTNH anchor (left), interviews Mike Katz, Planet Fitness owner (right), on how he turned his passion for fitness into business success.

STEPHANY KAUFMANSpecial to Southern News

Students, alumni and other members of the community were all there to hear the story of a Southern alum who turned his passion into a successful career – Planet Fitness owner, former IFBB bodybuilder and “Pumping Iron” star, Mike Katz.

On Jan. 25, Southern and the Hamden Chamber of Commerce co-presented “From Passion to Profit” as the first part of the Chamber’s Leadership Series. In a conversation led by former WTNH anchor Ted Koppy, Katz delivered an inspiring, informative and often humorous narrative of how he came to make a name for himself in the worlds of sports and business.

“Here is a man who turned his passion for strength-training into a line of business,” Koppy said to the audience.

Coming from a blue-collar Hamden neighborhood, Katz said he shared with the audience how he built his successes from the ground up. Katz was subject to a lot of bullying during his childhood, particularly because he wore glasses and was a Jewish boy living in a largely Catholic area.

“Growing up, there were times that I climbed the tree in my backyard and thought, ‘I’m high enough that if I jump, I won’t feel anymore pain,’” Katz said.

However, he said he decided he would never give up on his dreams. Jonathan Bremmer, an exercise science major, said he was inspired by Katz’s motivational message.

“He made me realize that your dream can come true if you go through with it,” said Bremmer following the event.

Upon graduating Hamden High School in 1962, Katz attended Southern to become a physical education teacher. He said he always knew he wanted to teach children.

“I believe God put me on this Earth to be with children, and to help them make healthy decisions in their lives,” Katz said.

After college, Katz had a short-lived NFL career playing for the New York Jets until it was ended by a knee injury – the result of a “cheap block” by an opponent, according to Katz.

However, Katz continued teaching at Hamden High School and lifting weights, joining the International Federation of Body Builders in 1969, according to the Official IFBB website. Katz also had a role in the 1977 docudrama “Pumping Iron,” which starred Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Following his various bodybuilding successes, Katz began his leap into the business world. Upon taking out a loan, Katz opened up World Gym in Hamden with close friend Jerry Mastrangelo. Katz emphasized he and Mastrangelo have been friends for 35 years, even after owning a business together.

“You need to keep business on one hand and friendship on another,” Katz said, sticking each hand in the air. “Otherwise, your friendship – or business – will fail.”

In 2004, Katz and Mastrangelo decided to turn World Gym into Planet Fitness. Together, they now own numerous successful Planet Fitness clubs in Connecticut.

Unlike the business model of World Gym, Planet Fitness is more of a family gym and geared towards beginner’s fitness.

“At first I was unsure about Planet Fitness’s business plan. The idea of a ‘wishy-washy’ gym was against what I believed in,” Katz said. “[But in the business world] you need to be aggressive.”

Katz said there are a few keys to making it in the business world:

“Vision, guts, determination, focus – and if you’re lucky, rich parents,” said Katz with a smile as laughter erupted in the audience.

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