around the world know Dr. Kenneth H. Cooper as the father of
there’s another side to him: Ken Cooper, businessman.
still a physician first. But being a good businessman has been
his great enabler.
the Cooper Aerobics Center is a 30-acre urban oasis with a
nonprofit research center, medical clinic, fitness center with
a restaurant, spa, luxury hotel and conference center,
swimming pool, tennis courts, walking trails, on some the
priciest real estate in Dallas.
company also sells vitamins and supplements and offers
corporate wellness programs.
family-owned company generates annual revenue that will
approach $100 million this year and is profitable, said his
son Tyler Cooper, the company’s CEO.
Cooper was labeled a charlatan. Now at 86, he’s considered
an international treasure.
year marks the half-century of his best-seller,
"Aerobics," in which Cooper told us to get off our
duffs, quit our unhealthy ways, and set in motion a national
the 50th anniversary, Cooper is working on an updated version
of his seminal book and his memoirs.
course of Cooper’s life was changed by a water-skiing
incident at Lake Texoma in 1960, when he was an out-of-shape,
overweight 29-year-old Army medical resident.
gained nearly 40 pounds over the course of med school, his
internship and early marriage and hadn’t been on water skis
in eight years.
gone to pot like 80 percent of my medical school
colleagues," Cooper said.
behind the boat, Cooper got nauseated, his heart was racing
and he thought he was having a heart attack.
turned out to be temporary cardiac arrhythmia. But it was a
permanent wake-up call.
the weight in six months and ran his first marathon.
5 feet, 11 inches tall (having shrunk a couple of inches) and
weighs 168 pounds — exactly what he weighed in high school
when he was running track and playing basketball.
was prediabetic. I was hypertensive. All that disappeared
after I lost that weight. I’ve kept that weight for 56 years
was divine intervention, I’m sure it was. Otherwise I was
right on the same pathway as my other medical colleagues and I’d
be dead already. I’m sure of it."
flush with $25,000 in savings and a 1968 paperback bestseller
("Aerobics"), the 39-year-old colonel and doctor
left the Air Force in San Antonio, where he was responsible
for the astronaut fitness program, and moved to Dallas to
practice preventive medicine.
people thought Cooper was loopy.
said, ‘There’s no way you can make a living trying to take
care of healthy people. People want physicians when they’re
sick and not when they’re well,’ "Cooper said.
"First couple of years, I thought they were right."
up the Aerobics Center in a two-room office in Preston Center
with two employees: another doctor and a secretary.
dream began to manifest in late 1971, when Cooper moved to the
Preston Road location, having purchased an old mansion on
eight acres and equipment using $1.2 million borrowed from
Tyler Corp. Its chairman, the late Joe McKinney, was an early
center prospered throughout Dallas’ go-go years. But things
came to a screeching halt with Texas’ real estate and
financial debacle. In 1988, he almost lost it all.
had borrowed $15 million to invest in expansion and still owed
$9.6 million when the bank that lent him the money failed and
was taken over by NCNB of Charlotte, N.C.
said the property was worth only $5.6 million and called the
loan even though Cooper had never missed a payment.
fought the bank for the next three years, had bankruptcy
documents drawn up and spent $600,000 in legal fees.
was under stress like you wouldn’t believe," Cooper
said. "I got four foreclosure notices that last year of
’91, always delivered by a messenger on a Friday afternoon
at 5:30, threatening to lock the gates on Monday. I panicked
the first time, didn’t sleep for a weekend. The second,
third and fourth time, it didn’t bother me."
finally was able to renegotiate his debt.
years later, in October 2004, Cooper paid off the loan and
burned the mortgage.
don’t think we saved the ashes," he said.
no chance of taking on more debt than the company can handle,
he said. "We’re solid now."
attributes the company’s success to four things: divine
intervention, an extraordinary staff that includes 24
physicians, proving to companies that wellness programs
increase profits and providing service that keeps patients
tried to impress upon our physicians that our patients don’t
have to come back. They pay big dollars to come here. We don’t
take insurance," he said. "Yet, we have a 74 percent
return rate. Fifty-four percent are corporate sponsored. Our
patients come back because they are equally concerned about
how much we care as they are about how much we know.
is the secret to our success as an organization."
Cooper became chairman and turned over the CEO reins to his
son, who was born eight days after Ken saw his first patient
at the center.
said the company’s future is in Tyler’s hands —
particularly when it comes to the grand plan of establishing
the Cooper brand internationally.
this signal that the patriarch is heading toward the corporate
question — posed separately to both — draws equally
confident that my dad will be thinking of something new and
working on improving health around the world until the day he
dies," said Tyler Cooper. "There’s no last hurrah
in my dad’s mindset."
is retirement?" said Ken Cooper. "I like what (the
late inspirational speaker) Zig Ziglar once said: ‘You don’t
retire, you re-fire.’ I get bored easily."