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Mystery Solved: Former Michigan Dean Becomes Equinox President

Scott DeRue, formerly the Edward J. Frey Dean of the Ross School of Business, has joined Equinox as president: Courtesy photo

In early April, Michigan Ross School of Business Dean Scott DeRue surprised just about everyone by announcing he would step down from his deanship for a job that he would not reveal. Today, with a simple entry on his LinkedIn profile, the mystery has been solved.

After serving on the board of directors of Equinox for slightly more than three years, the wellness and fitness company based in New York City has named him president. The privately held company, backed by billionaire and the business school’s primary benefactor Stephen Ross, has nearly 8,000 employees in more than 300 cities in the U.S., Canada, and the United Kingdom.

Ross is chairman and majority owner of the Related Cos., which owns Equinox and SoulCycle. Two years ago, during Trump’s failed efforts to gain reelection, students and alumni of the University of Michigan urged Ross to cancel a fundraiser for Trump at his Hamptons home, with tickets selling for as much as $250,000. Some students and alums urged officials to remove Ross’ name from the business school. The event went on as planned, and Trump would later boast that he raised Trump $12 million at a pair of Hamptons fundraisers in August of 2019. The real estate mogul, who also owns the Miami Dolphins NFL team, has an estimated net worth of $7 billion, according to Forbes.

DeRue was forced to engage with the revolt. In an email sent to students at the time, the dean addressed concern over Ross’ ties to Trump, writing that the school will “reject all attempts to divide our community” and “rise above hateful rhetoric and live the values we aspire to. We are a community where people of all backgrounds and perspectives are both welcome and encouraged to share their views. We do not endorse or support this or any fundraising event for political candidates.”


DeRue, a fanatical mountain climber, would seem well suited for his new job. An accomplished adventurer and mountaineer, he has done expeditions to the South Pole with successful summits of Mt. Everest, Denali, Aconcagua, and Vinson Massif in Antarctica.. DeRue worked in private equity and management consulting before getting his PhD in management from Michigan State University. Besides his stint on the board, which would have provided a solid education in the fitness industry, he is a fan of regular exercise and difficult challenges. Before becoming dean at Ross, he turned around the school’s executive education business and as dean he succeeded a largely unpopular dean, Alison Davis-Blake, who left without an immediate job after five years of service.

The fitness industry has been reeling during the pandemic that forced the closure of most gyms. Several rival companies have gone into bankruptcy and in February Equinox reportedly got relief on some of its debts tied to the luxury fitness chain’s SoulCycle subsidiary after agreeing to pay down a portion of the borrowings.

The former dean will also be running a high-end gym chain that was the subject of a critical New York Times story reporting that many trainers find their work schedules unforgiving, with pay low and turnover high. Under the headline, ‘Working At Equinox: ‘It’s Very Hunger Games,’ the 2019 story was based on court records and interviews with labor lawyers, fitness experts, Equinox managers and nearly 30 current and former Equinox trainers. The company acknowledged having a 50% annual turnover rate among its more than 1,000 personal trainers.

Equinox got its start as a single fitness club in New York’s Upper West Side and has grown to more than 100 gyms globally. The company also operates brands including Blink Fitness, Precision Run and Pure Yoga. Equinox acquired a majority stake in SoulCycle in 2011.

Ross’ first significant gift to Michigan was a $100 million pledge in 2004 that was used toward a new building and endowed operations for the business school, which was renamed in his honor. In 2013, Ross came back with a $200-million gift, half of which was earmarked for the further development of a state-of-the-art collaborative learning environment on the Ross School of Business campus. Another $100 million was targeted to the Stephen M. Ross Athletic Campus, transforming facilities and resources for student athletes.