Orangetheory co-founder's unusual journey to the top of corporate world

Posted February 17, 2019 8:30 p.m. EST

— As Orangetheory Fitness co-founder Ellen Latham greets fans at the chain's Chapel Hill North location, they share stories of how her workout has changed their lives.

Latham can relate, as a life-altering event at age 44 acted as the springboard for Orangetheory.

“I had my dream job. I managed a high-end fitness spa in Miami,” she said. “One day, my boss brought me into his office, and he told me he had to let me go that day.”

She was, at the time, a single-mother with a 9-year-old boy to take care of at home.

“I was devastated. I didn't know what I was going to do,” she said.

Latham's father, a high school football coach and physical education teacher in her hometown of Buffalo, N.Y., gave her the advice she needed to hear.

“He used this theory of focusing on what you have and building off of that instead of focusing on what you don't have,” she said.

What she had was a master's degree in exercise physiology.

“I'm passionate about fitness and putting it in peoples bodies,” she said.

Latham taught Pilates classes in the spare room of her home from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. She eventually opened a small studio and changed the workout to burn more fat.

“I would create the ultimate fat-burning workout,” she said. “That was the foundation of the Orangetheory Fitness workout.”

During the interval workout, the goal is to be in the "orange zone" for at least 12 minutes, and with each minute in the orange zone, you gain a splat point.

“We have options. We have a walking category, a jogger category and a runner category. Anyone could come in and try the work out,” Latham said.

Orangetheory now has more than 800,000 members, and there are 23 studios in North Carolina alone. According to Forbes, Orangetheory is the fastest-growing woman-owned business.

Latham, now 62, said her passion project was always there, she just had to look at what she had.

“This is where you have to really believe in your potential. You have to believe that you can live a certain life while you're on this earth. You have to believe and tell yourself on a daily basis, 'Why not me?'” she said.