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Following his heart and “divine providence,” William Thierfelder will leave the president’s post at York Barbell Company as of July 2 and become president of a small Catholic liberal arts college in North Carolina.
Not that Thierfelder was looking for a switch after only two years at York. Not in the least.
“I believe in divine providence. It was one of those things that just started rolling,” Thierfelder told SNEWSÂ®. “I always do my best and trust the rest to God.”
A few months ago, he was reading a paper called National Catholic Registry and happened to glance at a page in the back with some advertisements — something he never does, he said. A listing by Belmont Abbey College seeking a president piqued his interest, partly because the college said it did not necessarily want someone who had an academic background, and the qualities it sought seemed to jibe with his. Plus, the college was founded by Benedictine monks, something that had always been of interest to him, he said.
So, on a bit of whim, he called to chat, and the college contact asked if he could come down to interview at a particular time. That wouldn’t work, Thierfelder told the college, since he was flying to Pittsburgh for a meeting. It so happened that the college contact was ALSO flying to Pittsburgh and was going to be in the airport — get this — at the same time. So they met in the Pittsburgh airport for an interview.
Then the college representative called back and asked him to come down to the college for an interview in early June. That’s when he met with the school board, professors, students and even some monks, he said.
“The more I was down there and met with the people and looked at the college, I was convinced,” he said. “It’s a remarkable place.”
Founded by the monks in 1876, the college about 15 miles west of Charlotte has about 1,000 students on a sprawling 650-acre campus. The college, which has been named by U.S. News & World Report as one of the country’s leading private liberal arts colleges, still has an active monastery and an Abbey Basilica, which are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
After topping about 40 candidates for the post, representatives for the college offered him the job in mid-June.
“It all happened very quickly,” said Thierfelder, 46. “It drew me in further and further, so I said, ‘OK, I’m going to do this.’ “
In an email Thierfelder sent on Friday evening June 25 announcing his decision, he wrote: “I have thoroughly enjoyed my time at York and have learned more than I ever thought possible. You have all played an important role in my ‘education,’ and I thank you for all your kindness and support. The most difficult part of leaving is having to say goodbye to so many wonderful people that I have come to respect, trust and call ‘friend.’
“I believe it is the right decision for my family and it will allow us to participate more fully in the practice of our faith on a daily basis,” he added.
York, he said, is in its best position ever in the fitness industry, having expanded and grown significantly into accessories for a broader market, as well as cardiovascular equipment, while not forsaking its namesake iron. Dennis Huyck, who came aboard as COO not quite a year ago from Phoenix Health & Fitness, has been appointed president of York.
Thierfelder’s career path has been an interesting one. He majored and received a doctorate in sport psychology and human movement, while also becoming a national- and Olympic-class high jumper. He had a physical therapy practice in Boston with his wife, Mary, which they closed to move back to Pennsylvania to be closer to family. There, he had a sport psychology practice and was an adjunct professor at the Hershey Medical Center. He and his wife then began a sports medicine practice that was sold in 1992 to NovaCare Rehabilitation. He stayed on as a vice-president until he became executive director of the Player Management Group LLC and was founder and president of ProSportDoc Inc., a performance enhancement service company.
“My career path has been a zigzag, but each step has been tremendous,” Thierfelder explained. “Each thing that comes my way has been very different and a blessing too.”
The college posted an announcement on its website (www.belmontabbeycollege.edu) on June 24, stating he will assume the post Aug. 1.
“Dr. Thierfelder’s first-rate credentials as a successful entrepreneur and business leader will enable him to bring a wealth of experience to the Abbey,” said Louis A. Schmitt, Jr., chairman of the college’s board of trustees, in the college’s release. “Among other things, his dedicated practice of his Catholic faith, his leadership skills â€“ particularly his ability to bring out the best in people â€“ impressed the search committee, which was looking for an inspirational leader in creating a strong vision for the college.”
“I’m completely at peace with the decision,” Theirfelder said, “but it’s still going to be hard to say ‘good-bye.’ “
SNEWSÂ® View: The fitness industry, which desperately needed an outsider with the humanistic insights of the likes of Thierfelder, will be the loser on this move. In less than two years, he managed to move “musclehead” York Barbell into softer areas that reached other slices of the public â€“ without diluting the well-known and respected York name and heritage, but still leveraging it. Although one doesn’t think of psychology as being a background for a position like his, it lent strongly to his ability to perceive how consumers thought, reacted and, eventually, would buy. In December 2003, he told SNEWSÂ® that the company in a year was going to more than double its sales. He also said, “We’re not letting any grass grow under our feet.” Little did he foresee six months ago, that the comment would also apply to himself. We all wish him luck in his endeavors.