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Tam Lee-Operario, MBA ‘16 builds community through kickboxing

Tam Lee-Operario, MBA ‘16 had always dreamed of starting her own business, that’s why she decided to pursue an MBA at HNU. She was just surprised what kind of business it ended up being.

“I thought that if I finally opened a business it would be in financial aid consulting —my area of expertise. Or involve cooking—my passion. Of all things, it ended up being a kickboxing gym!” says Tam.

She fell in love with kickboxing three years ago. As a mom of a college student and two young girls with a full-time job, finishing up an MBA, she felt overbooked and stressed. Tam remembered the moment she decided to make a change, “It was a wake-up call when I went to my doctor and she said that according to my BMI I was borderline obese (even though I wasn’t). Right then, I decided to make some changes. My coworker recommended kickboxing and I thought, why not?”

Tam nearly fainted after her first kickboxing class but signed up for a membership the next day. She went to the gym for 30 minutes six days a week and quickly became hooked. She loved how refreshed she felt after kicking and punching her stress away. Friends and coworkers noticed the change, and she decided she wanted to help others have the same experience.

“I did the research, crunched some numbers, and developed a business plan,” Tam said. “My MBA program really gave me the confidence to actualize my idea and push myself to make it happen. I’m directly utilizing what I learned in my classes, from my mentors, and through life/work experiences. Even though I was an alumna at the time, I consulted with my professors constantly; having their knowledge and expertise available was crucial to my business’ success.”

Tam’s kickboxing studio, a franchise called 9Round Kickboxing, opened in February 2019 with 100 members and is growing fast. She is proud of the strong marketing, community building, and financial planning that lead to the gym’s growing success. Her husband, David, operates the studio full time and together they collaborate closely to build an independently owned and operated family business.

Tam emphasized, “When you have the drive to accomplish something, you do whatever it takes to make it happen. I did that with getting my MBA, and I’m doing it now with my business.”

Some of you may also know Tam Lee-Operario from her day job as HNU’s Financial Aid Director.