It’s eight in the morning—do you know where your boss is?
Sandy Karp’s team knows that from the morning hours of seven to ten, the time is hers. These 180 crucial minutes are spent however Karp needs to use them, from exercising to looking at plans to researching new concepts. While some might initially consider it an unconventional practice, Karp finds it essential to a productive day, and ties it directly to her leadership philosophy of allowing employees to create space for their own mental and physical wellness in order to succeed.
Karp is the vice president of construction and development for iPic Entertainment, a luxury cinema chain that sets itself apart from typical movie theater experiences by delivering what Karp herself refers to instead as “memories” for customers.
Perhaps Karp can credit both her role of curated customer satisfaction and her holistic leadership approach to her own personal experiences, beginning with an initial career as a personal trainer at the age of 18. She cites the particular transition of fitness into corporate America as pivotal to developing her current mind-set about the need for striking a balance between work and wellness: “Suddenly, the things that used to be my things that I loved, I kind of just let slide. Working long hours and having no time for yourself was celebrated by all your peers and bosses—it meant you were doing a good job!”
However, she adds, this type of grind not only disconnects you from your hobbies, friends, and family, but it quickly leads to exertion and a false internal narrative that you simply can’t make any room for self-care. “We tell ourselves we’re too busy to go to the gym. We travel too much. We don’t have time to eat right. We make all these excuses and they’re just not true,” Karp says. “Having no time to work out or stay connected is just noise that we create because the reality is that you’re not really effective in any area of your life.”
Karp explains that her personal wake-up moment came in the form of a difficult conversation with none other than herself. She was overworking and had fallen into a depression after a rough year rife with pressure, extensive travel, and difficult personal matters. “I looked terrible and I finally looked in the mirror and asked, ‘Who is this for?’ I work hard for my family and myself, and I’m not doing myself any service. I’d started to lose my passion.”
She began to remedy this by “going back to her roots,” and allowing herself to hit refresh on the disconnect she felt from her life, with help from her manager.
“The truth is that my boss never said to me, ‘Please don’t take time to work out. I need you to be here 60 to 70 hours a week,’” Karp says. “My boss never told me, ‘I need you to stay in the office, so you don’t see your kids and husband before they go to bed.’ In fact, my boss told me the exact opposite. He told me not to let work interfere with my family. He knew how hard things were. He told me never to have regrets. For me, it was my job to make sure I let him know if it got to be too much.”
Now she seeks to do the same for her own team, through a variety of initiatives that range from an in-house Keto plan started by iPic’s founder, to implementing community exercise programs for employees to encourage one another, to sharing healthy and fitness goals. “It’s not about just looking good; it’s about feeling good,” Karp explains. “The point is we’ve created momentum and people are jumping on board. A toxic environment is contagious but the same goes for when you create a healthy environment.”
Karp’s vision is to help her team become “positive, empowering people,” which she emphasizes is indeed a goal rather than a hope. She notes that people have been jumping on the wellness programs, and a member of her team has already lost 35 pounds, which has inspired others to follow in his footsteps.
Her unique background in training and hospitality lends itself not only to meeting these wellness goals but also to her current role at iPic, just in a different way. “I get to be creative and have an opportunity to provide guests with a personalized experience,” she explains.
iPic specializes in the luxury movie theater experience, but it didn’t stop there. The company has also evolved its spaces to include international art, high-end dining, and a venue for entertainment beyond movies. “We’ve recently added some state-of-the-art theater lighting and sound to every site in order to accommodate things like magic and live shows,” Karp says. “It’s always great to expand your horizons and be the leader innovating new ideas.”
As the coordinator of all aspects of design and construction, from the moment she arrives in the space, Karp is passionate about the customer experience side of her work. “I get a lot of joy when my friends go to iPic for a birthday or a special event, then they tell me the details,” she says. “I know they just created a memory there, and I think it’s awesome to be part of that—to be somebody that had a part in creating that. I’m extremely grateful to be part of the whole thing. And in the end, it’s the memories that we keep forever.”