Unstructured Finance

Once-obese Goldman analyst becomes fitness evangelical, gym CEO

March 21, 2013

Wall Street is shrinking, but so are some of its bankers.

Eight years ago, Goldman Sachs Group’s Kishan Shah weighed 400 pounds and couldn’t find a suit that fit his 62” waist for a job interview. Now he’s 195 pounds, and he’s quitting Goldman to spread the gospel of healthy weight loss as chief executive of a chain of gyms for obese Americans.

“I made a vow that day to focus on diet and exercise, and I lost over 200 pounds – no surgeries, no fad diets, no trainers,” Shah said in a video chat this month with First Lady Michelle Obama.

Shah, who is 26 and works as an analyst in the Special Situations Group at Goldman Sachs, may not be representative of the typical bank employee who’s leaving.

Fearing that three will be fewer opportunities at banks in the future, many young workers are heading to hedge funds and private-equity firms, or else to the tech industry, where startups are itching to hire Wall Street ex-pats who can help manage their finances and operations. Senior bankers are heading to greener pastures, too. Just this week came news that two twin Goldman partners named Paul and Peter Scialla are quitting to run a home-design firm.

Shah will be taking on a leadership role at Downsize Fitness, a gym whose members must be at least 50 pounds overweight. Downsize now has two locations, in Dallas and Chicago, and is looking to expand, Shah said.

He met with an Unstructured Finance reporter for coffee in Midtown this week to explain his mission: motivating obese people to get into shape without feeling ashamed, ostracized or alone. It was intimidating for 400-lb Shah to go into a gym full of attractive, in-shape patrons, he said, and it wasn’t easy to stick to his routine without a support network of people in the same situation.

An employee at Downsize Fitness’s Chicago office said basic membership is $50 a month, and a premium membership that includes a trainer, a nutritionist and unlimited group classes costs $250 a month.

Though Shah says he is motivated by a desire to help people, his move can also be seen as a bet on U.S. health trends: Americans are gaining weight, across all states, ages and socioeconomic levels.

In 1990, no U.S. state had an obesity rate above 15 percent, but by 2010, no state had a rate of less than 20 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Today, about 36 percent of adults and 17 percent of children in the U.S. are obese, the CDC says.

The childhood obesity epidemic is particularly troubling to Shah, who says he was 200 pounds by the time he was 12 years old. Shah is an advocate for The President’s Challenge, a program of President Barack Obama’s Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition. The video with Michelle Obama in which Shah appeared was related to her “Let’s Move!” program that’s focused on getting kids to eat right and be more physically active.

Two colleagues at Goldman described Shah as evangelical about fitness. He exercises nearly every day, rarely goes out for after-work drinks, and talks about healthy living all the time, they said. (In a YouTube video for EatRightTV, Shah says he and his girlfriend wear bracelets to monitor their physical activity. “It buzzes her if she’s sedentary for 30 minutes,” he said.)

Shah told Reuters he hopes to use his experience on Wall Street to create a business plan for Downsize Fitness, and to fund its expansion to different markets. Today is his last day at Goldman, and he will start his new job in late-April.

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Note: This story has been corrected to say that Shah is an advocate for The President’s Challenge, which is program of the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports, and Nutrition. It previously said he sat on the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition, and that his appearance on a video with the First Lady was related to that affiliation, which is not the case.

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