Exceptional Extras, March 2014
As the entrepreneur behind the pioneering and rapidly growing Technogym, Nerio Alessandri is on a mission to make the world a healthier and happier place.
Anyone trying to gauge the impact Italian entrepreneur Nerio Alessandri has had on the world need only consider one fact: the term “wellness” was not widely used until the founder of fitness equipment maker Technogym popularized it two decades ago.
Now it’s a common term that appears in the Oxford English Dictionary. The 52-year-old Alessandri says the secret to his — and his company’s — success boils down to a simple formula: “Innovation, innovation, innovation.”
And perhaps his popularization of the term “wellness” helps illustrate that point most effectively. “In the early 1990s, when the American concept of fitness was so popular, we defined the term ‘wellness’ as an Italian kind of lifestyle alternative, rooted in the Roman concept of mens sana in corpore sano,” Alessandri says, referring to the Latin phrase for “a sound mind in a sound body.”
“Wellness,” he continues with an energy that befits his business, “means striking a balance between regular physical activity, healthy eating and a positive mental approach. I aspire to improve the health of the world through the promotion of wellness as a kind of preventive medicine.”
Fitness is about looking good, whereas wellness is about feeling good.
Defining his contribution to the fitness industry as “transforming a business based on hedonism to a sector with a high social impact,” Alessandri aims to spread his wellness concept across the world, believing there cannot be sustainable development without personal health. “Healthy people, healthy planet,” Alessandri reasons enthusiastically, passionate about his cause.
“Fitness is about looking good, whereas wellness is about feeling good — it’s a more balanced and holistic approach.” He has certainly done more than his part to promote the type of wellness lifestyle his company offers.
Following a degree in industrial engineering, Alessandri founded Technogym in 1983 in the small town of Cesena, south of Bologna in central Italy. Combining his love of sport with his skills for design, he began crafting exercise equipment in his father’s garage.
“In those days, gyms were devoid of any form of technology and were frequented almost exclusively by bodybuilders and fitness fanatics,” he recalls. “I set out to design and create a tool that would make exercise safer, easier and more accessible for a greater number of people.”
In so doing he had opened the door for the health and fitness industry and had begun to bring his vision to life.
His game plan worked. The company quickly outgrew its garage space and is now one of the world leaders in exercise equipment, with more than 2,300 employees and over €400m (US$540m) a year in revenue.
Technogym has sponsored five Olympic Games — most recently, the London 2012 summer Olympic and Paralympic Games — while Cesena is now home to the Technogym Village where the company’s wellness philosophy has become a key part of the community and the company’s productivity.
The Technogym Village in Cesena is an example of what Alessandri calls a “wellness campus,” complete with the company’s headquarters, a research center, and a cutting-edge wellness center with a gym and restaurant. Alessandri is convinced the best way to communicate his vision for the industry’s future to customers and other stakeholders in the wellness economy is to create an attractive and integrated business complex they can try out for themselves.
We also have what we call a ‘wellness university’ open to the community of people who work with our products: personal trainers, architects, doctors and so on,” Alessandri explains. The Technogym Village was created by acclaimed Italian designer Antonio Citterio to give employees and visitors an innovative workspace oriented toward wellness.
The village not only represents a business opportunity, Alessandri says, but an opportunity and example for society: for governments to invest in policies for health and prevention, for companies to promote productivity and motivation, and for individuals to improve their daily lifestyle. As a result of these efforts, Technogym has evolved from a micro-start-up in a garage to a cutting-edge multinational leader in a competitive sector.
With a specific range of equipment for medical rehabilitation and equipment for elite and Paralympic athletes, Technogym today has more than 200 pieces of equipment on offer. The company’s development has coincided with technological advances that Alessandri says he and his team have been quick to embrace in order to get and stay ahead.
To learn what it takes to establish a supply chain for the Olympic and Paralympic Games see The road to Rio.
“Back when I was working alone in my garage, it sometimes took me months to obtain information I was looking for, like new trends or products in the United States,” he recalls. “Today, thanks to the internet, anyone can access all kinds of information in just a few minutes.
Now the challenge is no longer finding information, but knowing how to filter and understand the information, and how to value and then use it. I believe that is one of our strengths.”
This, alongside a capable team with a shared vision which produces high-quality, innovative products that clients want, is counted among the company’s biggest assets and has helped Technogym expand far beyond its humble beginnings. The company’s products are now sold in more than 100 countries, through offices and showrooms worldwide.
The leading market is the UK, where Alessandri highlights the company’s market leadership in segments as diverse as private gyms, public facilities, hotels, corporate gyms and private homes. “In spite of our successes in Europe, we are also very busy developing markets such as China and Brazil,” he adds, citing that these large, developing markets are expected to grow quickly and have demonstrated a demand for fitness technology he is keen to meet.
As well as the physical retail environment, the digital arena is another area where expansion will likely come in the future. Alessandri foresees that the digital world represents a great growth opportunity for Technogym.
Learn more about how to adapt to the brand new order in our report Digital retail: analyzing the effect on retailers.
“Digital allows us to reach an increasing number of people with the ability to provide customized programs and experiences, both within our products and on the web and mobile devices.” But where will it lead?
“Globally, less than 10% of the population does regular exercise,” he says. “So our growth potential and potential customer base is still huge!”
Foundation for wellness
Alessandri pauses to be philosophical as he reflects on the company’s past and future. “I have always been inspired by the example of Adriano Olivetti [Italian engineer, industrialist and Founder of Olivetti].
He was a visionary entrepreneur who was among the first to understand a company is a kind of social heritage to all its stakeholders. He combined an innovative business vision with a strong social commitment to the development of his community.”
It is partly with this in mind that Alessandri established Technogym’s Wellness Foundation, a charitable organization he sees as a catalyst for the company’s evolving role in the future. The Wellness Foundation has been active for more than a decade and promotes wellness in public institutions and private companies and among individuals.
“For example, here in Emilia Romagna [the region that includes the company’s Cesena headquarters], we are building the first district dedicated to well-being anywhere in Europe,” he enthuses. “On an international level, we collaborate with the Clinton Foundation [the nonprofit organization founded by former US President Bill Clinton] in the fight against child obesity.
We also work with other companies or organizations, such as the World Economic Forum, to promote wellness in the workplace.” It is no surprise, therefore, that Alessandri is a keen user of the company’s products.
He says he works out three times a week, and he encourages others to do the same. “Today, cardiovascular disease, which is largely attributable to lifestyle choices, is the world’s leading cause of death,” Alessandri explains.
“But it takes only 30 minutes of exercise three times a week to halve the chance of acquiring the disease. Let’s make that more common.”