When Shwetambari Shetty traded her banking career for one in fitness, she had no inkling of where the journey would take her. While she started out with one student seven years ago, today she’s the fitness expert at Cure.fit that has close to 80 centres across four cities. The Bengaluru-based trainer talks about changing career lanes and getting to the top of her game.

The false start

Born in the coastal town of Kundapur in Mangaluru, Shetty would constantly shift base every couple of years due to her father’s posting at a nationalized bank. “This taught me to adapt to change early on," the 37-year-old says. Shetty took up a job at HSBC Bank at the age of 21. It seemed like a natural choice since her father had a banking job. Consequently, she spent seven years with the bank, growing through the ranks. “I went from a customer service executive to manager and I was pretty content with my job. I also stayed put because I liked the people I worked with," she says.

Switching lanes

In 2010, Shetty got an offer to work as a general manager at a newly opened health club, Zela, in Bengaluru. Eventually, she underwent a two-day Zumba certification course. “Since I had dance training, they [management] pushed me to take it up," she recalls. But it wasn’t until she quit Zela that she thought of pursuing Zumba training as an alternative career. Shetty, who had tied the knot around the same time, took a three-month break post which her husband encouraged her to make use of her Zumba certification course. “Since I had my husband’s support I could afford to go without a fixed monthly income in the initial days. Going back to a corporate job would always be there as a fall back option," says Shetty, who decided to conduct a Zumba class at her friend’s pilates studio in Koramangala. “For my first class, I had only one student but I enjoyed conducting it so much that I decided to stick to it."

Turning point

Two years later, in 2013, Shetty injured her knee due to overtraining, and had to look for a partner as she didn’t want to stop the classes. “That’s when I got (friend and Zumba trainer) Sudeep Kulkarni to take over my classes. Couple of months later, it was he who suggested that we open our own studio," she says. It was a thought that had occurred to Shetty as well but having a partner gave her the fortitude to take the entrepreneurial plunge. After taking a business loan, the duo opened the 10,000 sq. ft the Tribe Fitness Club in Indiranagar, which focused on group fitness activities such as CrossFit, Zumba, yoga, TRX training, etc. Over the next two years, they went on to open two more centres but Shetty wasn’t keen on expanding further. “I was already working seven days a week for 15-16 hours a day," she adds.

When former Flipkart honchos Mukesh Bansal and Ankit Nagori, who had just launched their health start-up Cure.fit, made an offer to acquire the Tribe Fitness Club, Shetty jumped at the opportunity. Kulkarni, however, decided to exit the group. Today, Shetty along with her team is in charge of structuring the workout formats as well as recruiting and training Cure.fit’s 500-plus trainers, many of whom come from small towns and tier-II cities. Apart from physical training, Shetty also helps trainers polish their English-speaking and communication skills.

‘Start small, think big’

Looking back, Shetty believes the reason she has succeeded was because she grabbed every opportunity that came her way. “Whether it was one person or 100, I never refused a job," says Shetty. She recommends that people who want to pursue their passion, start small. “When I started out, I was making 8,000 to 10,000 per month. As more and more people started referring me, my classes grew and so did my income," says Shetty, who was conducting three classes a day five-six times a week before launching the Tribe Fitness Club. “By the time we launched Tribe, I had already spent two years training people, so I knew that there was enough demand for a place like Tribe," she adds. What also worked in her favour is that she kept herself updated with new trends in fitness.

Learning from the past

While she may be in a completely different field today, Shetty says that leadership and people management skills acquired during her banking days have come in handy. “When I left HSBC, I was handling a team of 48 people," she says, adding, “Here, I have to deal with members and trainers from different backgrounds, fitness levels and goals. There’s always firefighting when any trainer or member issues crop up. I believe that my corporate experience has made me what I am."

And despite the hectic pace—since Cure.fit centres are operational 365 days a year—Shetty wouldn’t trade it for anything. “The fact that I can change people’s lives in some small way is what I love about my work," she admits.

The Switch is a series that traces the journey of people who have made 180-degree career changes.