Joan Barnes

If Joan Barnes’ company gets too big, she has faith that the nature of her business will be her saving grace. Barnes owns a branch of yoga studios called Yogastudio.

“I’m in the yoga business so my yoga practice comes first,” she said. “I schedule a yoga practice before anything. That has really kept my balance. When I make myself come first, I have more energy for everything else and I feel more sane. I would be a crazy oxymoron if I were not in balance.”

Barnes knows a thing or two about being out of balance. She founded Gymboree Play & Music in 1976, which eventually became Gymboree Corp. (GYMB), as a way to care for her kids in a social environment with other young mothers. But when her small homemade business became a national enterprise, the pressure of running such a large ship forced her to cry uncle in the early 1990s.

“I was over my head and I didn’t know it,” she recalled. “I was being told that I would be one of the rare entrepreneurs that made it all the way from conception to public company, but I was in disarray. I had a serious eating disorder, my marriage began to unravel and it was a dark period in my life. I needed some serious time to recover and grow back into a human being again.”

That’s when Barnes found yoga. As an active mountain biker, she had heard fellow fitness enthusiasts tout the healing power of yoga but always found those claims dubious. She had tried a few classes over the years but always thought they were “silly” and not for her. But one day in 1997 when an old friend convinced her to try again, it wasn’t so silly anymore.

“I was really ready for yoga,” she recalled. “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear and I was moved beyond belief. I could not believe that something could touch my heart so deeply.”

Barnes stuck with her yoga practice at Yogastudio in Mill Valley. She became closely acquainted with the owner, who mentioned to her she was having a hard time making the business profitable. Barnes believed she could use her expertise from Gymboree to make the studio successful, so she purchased it in 1997.

It worked. In 2002, she openeda second studio in Larkspur Landing, and in February she opened a third studio in San Francisco’s Pacific Heights. Barnes says Yogastudio is similar to Gymboree because both businesses came out of her own personal interests.

“Gymboree, like yoga, is a service business,” said Barnes. Service businesses can be “very labor-intensive and not particularly profitable and you do it out of a sense of love and passion for the service itself. You do it because it catches your soul.”

Still, Barnes is careful not to get taken away with the growth of her company. She has surrounded herself with qualified people who understand her commitment to balance.

“If a business revolves around one person, that’s not a good business,” she says. “I learned that at Gymboree.”


New job: Owner, Yogastudio

Last job: Founder, Gymboree Corp.

Number of e-mails a day: 50-100

Number of voice-mails a day: 0-10

Essential Web site:

Best perk: Taking a daily yoga class!

Gadgets: Treo

Education/credentials: BA dance, Briarcliff College

Last conference: Yoga Journal

First job: Dance instructor

Original aspiration: Dancer

Career objective: Manifesting what I believe in.


Details: Born: Jan. 17, 1947; hometown: Chicago; children: Meegan Barnes, Cecily Ruttenberg; pets: Beau my dog

Transportation: BMW and Toyota 4Runner

Favorite restaurant: Thep Lela in Mill Valley

Computer: PowerBook, G4

Favorite clothier: Rachel Pally

Vacation spot: Tahoe

Role Model: Dance pioneer Anna Halprin

Quote: “Whether you think you can or you can’t, you’re right.”

Reading: “Who Killed Daniel Pearl?” by Bernard-Henri Levy

Worst fear: Don’t focus there.

Motivation: Life is a precious gift.

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