Coming Home: Returning to Life Fitness
I’m back at Life Fitness. Walking into the Franklin Park, Ill. facility a few months ago after being away for almost five years brought back a flood of memories. One memory stands out that involves the first time I walked through those same doors about 16 years ago.
I was working for another fitness equipment manufacturer, leading the strategy and development of our strength training products. Like today, the fitness industry was very competitive, but then, companies either specialized in cardio or strength machines. We were leaders in the strength category and trying to gain some momentum in the cardio market. Life Fitness was the leader in cardio, based on the Lifecycle exercise bike and a high performance treadmill, but also offered a computerized strength product called Lifecircuit, and had just purchased a small strength company in California. The landscape for fitness equipment manufacturers was going to change.
I had been getting calls from a Life Fitness recruiter for months but had no intention to change jobs; I loved what I did. Finally she hit on the right strategy.
“Do you know who Augie Nieto is?” she asked.
Of course I did! Augie started Life Fitness and was an icon in the industry. The recruiter added that Augie knew I wasn’t looking for a change in jobs but that he’d even be willing to come to me to discuss the opportunity.
A few weeks later I found myself at Life Fitness. It was a big black glass building which I thought was perfect because we always joked about Life Fitness being “the dark side”. Augie never lost a deal that he wanted. He was a thorn in the side of every competitor and it was frustrating for those of us on the outside.
As I sat across the Augie’s desk in his office, I leaned down and acted like I was looking under his desk. I sat back up and Augie asked “What are you doing?”. I said “I’ve entered the Dark Side, and you are the leader, so I was just looking for your Darth Vader helmet.” He didn’t laugh. What a crazy way to start an interview.
What I found instead of a helmet was a force of passion. After my interview, Augie called my house three or four times a week to talk to me. If I wasn’t home, he’d talk to my wife. It was a full on “assault.” The calls went on for more than a month until I figured it out. Augie wins. Life Fitness was going to be in the strength business and Augie was going to win. With me, or without me, he was driven to win.
I had just experienced first hand how Augie had built Life Fitness into an industry leader. At that point, I made the best decision in my career: Join Life Fitness. Become part of Augie’s team. Of course in reality it wasn’t my decision at all, it was Augie’s decision, and for that I owe him a great debt of gratitude.
As careers do, mine took me on a journey which brought me to another company. But last year, presented with the opportunity for another major life change, it was hard to imagine going anywhere but Life Fitness. As Augie had ordained, Life Fitness became the number one commercial fitness equipment company in the world, but that’s not why I’m back. Life Fitness has figured out how to tap back into that passion he brought to the business when he was building it. Even though Life Fitness was built by Augie, is owned by Brunswick Corp., and Chris Clawson is the president, it still feels like my company, and that is why I’m honored and grateful to be back home.