Spin City

| Lisa Kao 17 May 2019

In a bustling city like Hong Kong, many are stressed from work, family commitments and busy city life. For Belinda Koo, moving is the best way to release tension and maintain emotional wellbeing.

The managing director at investment bank UBS, promotes this idea with the founding of health club XYZ Studio in 2013. Despite being a full time private banker and mother of three, she still manages to lead the health studio and spread the rewarding experience of exercise.

Koo has been an fitness enthusiast since childhood. Apart from attending ballet classes for eight years, she took part in all kinds of sports. "Though I was not a good candidate, I was on the basketball team. And I was really active in track and field."

She loved to move so much that she could compete non-stop during athletic meets -- to the point of blacking out. "I was the last runner of the relay race and ran so hard that I fainted. They had to call an ambulance, but I came back to consciousness soon."

Why does Koo work so hard to stay fit? "My father passed away because of a heart attack. Cardio exercises strengthened my heart. I am much stronger than the younger me and it's less easy to run out of breath."

She added that apart from the health benefits, moving about helps her creativity. "Five years ago, I was going to meet a brand manager in a coffee shop. But we went for a walk instead, from Central to East London for three hours. It was the most amazing and rewarding meeting I ever had."

"Humans are meant to go around, not for sitting down for nine hours," said Koo.

The studio founder added that exercising is also a way to meet a solid group of friends.

"Hong Kong people go for karaoke, hotpot, drink to have their social life. But exercise is also a good way to build a community that share good and bad news in a much healthier way."

Being a sports enthusiast, Koo always encouraged the people around her to move more. However, the idea of building an indoor cycling studio came out of a random business proposal six years ago. "I had just finished doing an MBA a year before and I was so used to studying and writing papers," she said. She then found a topic she was interested in -- fitness -- and wrote a 47-page business proposal using the same business module she had used in her final paper.

She forgot about it until she came across a book written by a Harvard professor. "Shawn Achor had written a book on happiness. He asked whether owning status and power equalled to happiness, and whether it was the thing that we are chasing after."

Feeling the urge to create a business that was close to her heart, Koo took out the proposal and started work on making it a reality.

XYZ Studio is a private exercise space that introduces the concept of spinning -- indoor cycling -- in a more engaging way. "Spinning is a concept in almost every gym for more than 20 years, but the traditional way is always seen as boring. So we put another concept on spinning to put everything nice and joyful." The studio makes use of popular music tracks and visual effects to encourage people to step out of their comfort zones. An alternative option of a breathing-led spinning class is available for those who want to try the routine with a softer approach.

Though the investment banker pushed herself to the limit in fitness when she was young, she now thinks that exercising should be a mixture of strong and soft, yin and yang, instead of only pushing oneself towards the boundary. "I used to plan for my daily exercise routine, but now I exercise depending on my mood. If I feel energetic, I would go for a run; if I feel I want to mediate, I would do yoga."

Her daily routine is also no longer as intense as before -- Koo said she used to sleep only 3 to 4 hours a day, but now gets at least 6 to 8 hours. "I wanted to be perfect, to do everything, to give the most to my family. Homeschooling, study the teaching materials, finish reading, change my kids' diapers, feed them, all by myself," she recalled. "It was insane and stressful."

Even though Koo is one of the top bankers in UBS globally, she stresses the importance of having a work-life balance. "It is important to say no. If you keep on saying yes, you will have another meeting or more." She said it is important to let people to know your limits. "A lot of people think they do not have a choice. But if you send the message again and again in a respectful manner, your boss and client will respect you."

Apart from XYZ, Koo is also a founder of social enterprise for young adults One Ten.

She credits her ability to work full-time at UBS, manage XYZ and One Ten, and fulfil obligations to her family with the help of her team. "They are amazing human beings that help to brainstorm and execute. I only have to look after the vision."

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