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Planet Fitness CEO is out, former NH governor takes the helm

Paige Sutherland
/
NHPR
Planet Fitness CEO Chris Rondeau and former Gov. Craig Benson testify at a 2015 legislative hearing

N.H.-based Planet Fitness has ousted its CEO Chris Rondeau and installed former Gov. Craig Benson, a longtime company board member, as interim leader.

According to a company press release issued Friday, the shakeup is the result of “the decision by the Board to transition to new leadership,” and “not the result of any material or unexpected financial events.”

Rondeau, whose tenure with the company began as a desk clerk at Planet Fitness’s original location in Dover, will continue to serve as a member of the company’s board.

"My 30-year career at Planet Fitness has been an incredible ride, and it's been an honor to lead this Company and serve our employees, franchisees and members,” Rondeau said in a statement.

News of the move, which reportedly surprised many Planet Fitness employees, prompted a quick 15% drop in value of the company’s stock.

It comes on the heels of a relatively strong patch of business for the gym chain, which ended the first quarter of the year with 18.4 million members and 8.7% systemwide same-store sales growth.

But while the rise of Planet Fitness from a single gym in Dover to a 2,400 franchise behemoth has been a success story, it hasn’t come without challenge or controversy.

In 2021, the gym that pioneered the “judgement free zone” settled a lawsuit filed by former employee who alleged she was drugged and raped by a Planet Fitness manager and his friends during a business trip.

In 2022, the company was ordered to pay out $9.4 million after a Massachusetts appeals court ruled that the company fraudulently misled its former CFO about the value of the company.

According to the lawsuit, Benson played an instrumental role in that by telling the former CFO that Planet Fitness’s finances were unsteady.

That’s just one example of how Benson has aligned his interests with the company he’ll now lead. Benson has been a Planet Fitness board member since 2017. He is also part-owner of Radianse, which makes software used at close to 900 Planet Fitness locations. Benson also owns several Planet Fitness franchises himself.

“I am deeply familiar with the business. Planet Fitness has a solid foundation in place,” Benson said in a statement. “I am ready to hit the ground running and look forward to working alongside the management team and employees to ensure a seamless transition for all of our stakeholders."

For Benson, leading Planet Fitness -- even temporarily -- is the most high profile post he’s occupied since leaving the governor’s office in 2005.

In announcing Benson’s new role, Planet Fitness’s board noted his time as governor, and his leadership of Cabletron, once New Hampshire’s largest employer.

But Planet Fitness also emphasized a less well-known part of his resume: franchise owner.

“Benson has also been a franchisee of Dunkin' Donuts LLC for over 15 years with 147 stores,” the announcement states.

Josh has worked at NHPR since 2000.

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