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Hayes Grooms: A Storyteller’s Masterclass

Last Updated: August 30, 2023
From player management to Peloton, the exec sat down with Boardroom to discuss how the through line of his career stems from a commitment to the art of storytelling.

When he breaks it down for you, Hayes Grooms’ career journey makes perfect sense. The Detroit native and former Michigan Wolverines hooper always thought he’d follow in the footsteps of the family business; however, upon realizing that accounting was not his thing, he found himself a bit lost and searching for an alternative.

Enter a 22-year-old kid and fellow Michigander named Derek Jeter.

“Being able to see one of the best that ever do it and have a sense of how he’s doing it and how intentional things are structured, it just blew my mind,” he told Boardroom of his earliest impression of the legendary Yankees captain. “I was like, ‘You know what? Maybe if I can’t be Derek Jeter, maybe I can be someone behind the scenes that is influential and helping these athletes reach their goals.'”

Fast forward nearly two decades and Grooms has assembled a fascinating resumé that has taken him from the trenches of athlete management to Vice President of Global Talent and Instructor Strategy at Peloton. Along the way, he’s been guided by a strong interest in helping others tell their own stories. Today, it’s what continues to keep him uncommonly motivated.

Recently, Boardroom sat down with Grooms to discuss his career journey, his love for storytelling, and how he hopes to help propel Peloton’s bench of more than 50 instructors on the platform and beyond.

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From Michigan to Management

As a student athlete in Ann Arbor, Hayes had up-close-and-personal access to some of the brightest talent in college sports. He quickly saw that athletic feats only made up a small part of who these individuals really were, but their full potential was often overlooked due to the systems that surrounded them.

“I had friends who were football players, basketball players, and who were extremely talented and just had things that were really special about them. I was taken by their work ethic, the way that they approached their craft, their discipline, their habits, their family dynamics, where they were from,” he recalled. “I knew that there was special things about them, and I was curious about the background and the story of all of them. And I’m like, ‘Hey, maybe there’s opportunity for me to get into the space where I can be a part of that transformation.’

“I can really help them maximize on their relevancy. I can really help tell their story. I can really help them, you know, leverage the media to secure opportunities and endorsements and partnerships.”

It was this initial orientation that led him to become a player agent, linking with top talent and helping them to build their personal brands. He had witnessed this first-hand as Jeter rose from standout to sensation; he identified an opportunity to help athletes make similar moves beyond the field of play.

Soon, he found himself in a new role with the nonprofit Ross Initiative in Sports for Equity (RISE), where he helped forge partnerships with various teams and athletes across all the professional sports leagues — including the NBA, NFL, and MLS — and build bespoke campaigns and educational opportunities to further awareness around racial justice initiatives through the power of sport.

His empathy-first approach to meeting athletes and executives where they were has helped him build out a set of skills and relationships that he’s continued to maximize to this day.

Expanding the Narrative

In a moment of reflection, Grooms paused.

“I truly believe in the art of storytelling,” he said.

Throughout his career, Hayes has consistently helped the people he works with to take their spaces and find their voices to tell their own stories. But he understands the importance of nurturing relationships with people in order to make them feel safe, supported, and heard.

“I love learning and caring about other [people’s] stories. We all have stories,” Grooms said. “You’re able to really define who someone is or their mentality. It creates empathy as well because you never know what other people are dealing with. You never know the like-mindedness that that could be there.”

During his time at online education platform Masterclass, he worked with a deep pool of talent to help bring these narratives to life. From Lewis Hamilton to Issa Rae, he brought a diverse array of authentic stories, lessons, and insights to the platform.

When he found himself at Dapper Labs in 2021, he saw an opportunity to continue to build from a similar foundation, but in the whole new world of Web3 and blockchain technology. Revisiting the relationships he’d fostered in this career up to that point, he realized how critical it was that he had consistently tended to them with a sense of authenticity.

“It can be very opportunistic in the sports and entertainment space, but for so many years I approached every contact and every relationship in search of a pure, organic connection,” he said. With that steadfast approach, those relationships continued to bear fruit, too, as he launched new projects with the likes of Magic Johnson, UFC champion Israel Adesanya, and many more.

Piloting Peloton

In an evolving blockchain marketplace, Grooms searched for a new position that would allow him to take forward the things that had mattered most to him in his career to date. He found a new challenge and a set of opportunities in his most recent role as Vice President of Global Talent and Instructor Strategy at digital fitness company Peloton.

The brand boomed during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, but has encountered some struggles as consumers returned to traditional gyms. Most recently, the company has channeled the challenge into an opportunity, rebranding as a digital fitness platform that is less dependent on its marquee exercise bikes, treadmills, and rowing machines.

And driving the movement is the company’s more than 50 instructors, each of whom brings a unique profile and flavor to their classes.

These days, Peloton instructors are everywhere. Camila Ramón found herself pitchside as her fellow Argentinian, Lionel Messi, took home a Leagues Cup title for Inter Miami. Cody Rigsby tangoed into the final rounds of Dancing with the Stars. Jess Sims is the in-arena host for the WNBA’s New York Liberty and a weekly contributor to ESPN’s College GameDay. They join the ranks of several instructors who parlayed their time on the platform into bigger personal brands complete with book deals, brand sponsorships, and all manner of lucrative side hustles.

As a core part of his new position, Grooms sees himself leveraging his most fundamental skills as a connector to help Peloton and its talent navigate these opportunities.

“I wanted to really take it to be able to tap into all of my experiences, all my skills, all the things I learned, all the people I’ve met, my Rolodex, my contacts, and I want to give it to them so that they can aspire and continue to do all these amazing things.

“I feel like now they kind of have a, a cheat code internally of somebody that can really help them with whatever direction that they are hoping to go in in their career.”

At the center of these efforts, he’s sincere in his commitment to helping his teammates strategically consider all their options so that they don’t wind up in soulless, transactional business relationships. “I’m hopeful that we can identify opportunities beyond the classes and the studio to really anchor them and to really pour into them and really help [amplify] what makes them unique,” he said.

And in this short period of time, Grooms has made things even sweeter in helping Peloton craft a new relationship with his alma mater. The company and the University of Michigan linked up to provide maize and blue emblazoned bikes, special discounts, and more, marking the first partnership of its kind for the brand.

It’s all part of the start of a new strategy focused on colleges and universities. However, he’s only getting started.

“I want to be that difference maker. I want to make that impact. I want to be a multiplier.

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About The Author
Bernadette Doykos
Bernadette Doykos
Bernadette Doykos is the Senior Director of Editorial Strategy at Boardroom. Before joining the team, her work appeared in ELLE. She previously served as the head of evaluation for a nonprofit where she became obsessed with systems and strategy and served as the curator of vibes and extinguisher of fires for the design thinking firm Stoked. She is constantly plotting a perfect tunnel ‘fit and a playlist for all occasions.