This is Technogym: Welcome to the wellness company

EDGAR goes behind the scenes at the world’s most successful exercise equipment company with ‘the Italian Steve Jobs’.

Robert Chilton October 16, 2016

If you’ve been in a gym lately, chances are you used a Technogym machine. Although it may sound American, it is actually an Italian company based in Cesena in the north west of the country.

More than 35 million people use its machines every day. But an even more extraordinary stat – and also terrifying – is that two billion people in the world are overweight. Technogym is aiming to put that right with its ‘Let’s move for a better world’ campaign that encourages people around the world to perform exercise moves which Technogym will reward by donating exercise machines to good causes.

It’s the idea of Technogym’s founder and president, Nerio Alessandri, who started the company in his garage in 1983. The company grew quickly and, in 2012, he cut the ribbon on a brand new village to house its 1,000 employees and make the machines. 

EDGAR visited the beautiful campus, which looks like the sort of place that could double up as a lab in a sci-fi film starring Tom Cruise. Designed by renowned Italian Architect Antonio Citterio, it’s an example of bio architecture. Built purely from wood, glass and metal, it exudes a calmness thanks to the natural light that pours in through the windows. There isn’t air-conditioning as such, but instead a system that recycles air. 

Bill Clinton opened the building in 2012 and was so impressed he said, “I want to come here to work every day.” Alessandri explains, “We wanted to create a place to inspire the world. Wellness is not a concrete product but an experience and in order to understand it you need to live it. We wanted to create a place where [people] can come and understand our vision by experiencing it themselves.” 

A stroll through its corridors reveals a string of glass-walled break-out rooms filled with staffers sitting on Swiss balls, not chairs. Everyone looks happy and, thanks to their Swiss balls, their posture is excellent. 

The factory looks like a sporty version of Ikea. As employees wrap treadmills in plastic sheeting, a female employee hops onto an exercise bike to give it one final test before shipping. 

Nearby is a series of top secret small rooms (no photos allowed) in which exercise machines are tested. Robotic legs slam car tyres onto treadmills relentlessly, while in another room a 150kg metal weight pounds on the top of a Swiss ball over and over again. As the robots put the machines through their paces, a digital counter of red numbers counts the time elapsed in each test, some nearing 100 hours. 

The main HQ has two floors and elevators but taking the stairs is encouraged, not least by a message on one lift doors that reads: Take the stairs - burn calories.

Snack machines on the factory floor are filled, not with chocolate treats, but with protein bars called Zero. Staff can bring chocolate to work if they wish, we are told, but you get the feeling not many do.

This is Italy so the food at the staff restaurant is always going to be good, but at Technogym health and freshness are also crucial. Salads, pasta, risotto, vegetables, fruit and soups are served to smiling staff who take a seat on wooden tables next to diagrams of ‘health pyramids’ drawn in chalk on blackboard walls that provide information on calories and nutrition. Meals cost just one Euro and staff pay with a pre-loaded swipe card. EDGAR tried a bowl of pearl barley with asparagus and squid, which was excellent. 

Of course, lunchtime is also a good moment to squeeze in a workout and, sure enough, at noon people dressed in colourful kit stream up wooden staircases to use the gym. Staff are encouraged to exercise because research from the likes of Harvard Business School and the World Economic Forum show that a healthy workforce means fewer sick days and a boost in turnover. Technogym’s annual turnover is Euro 400m so they might be onto something.

Research also shows that healthy bodies create healthy minds and fire creativity which, Alessandri believes, is an “investment in a more positive, creative and productive workforce.” He tells EDGAR, “People’s wellbeing is an important asset for the company’s development. Creativity and intellect go hand in hand with a healthy and efficient body, which in turn also ensures psychological and mental wellness.”

Changing rooms are lined with photos of sports stars using Technogym equipment, such as footballers Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Paolo Maldini and Roberto Baggio, F1 drivers Michael Schumacher and Ayrton Senna, and a very young looking Roger Federer. Technogym has worked with the McLaren and Ferrari Formula One teams to build machines that mimic the strain placed on a driver’s neck during a race as well as the vibration. 

After two days immersed in the Technogym world, the penny drops: this feels like Apple. Alessandri gladly accepts the comparison to the tech mammoth. “Yes, Technogym is an Apple-like company. Our goal is not only to provide products, but also to create an ecosystem that allows people to live a complete wellness experience.”

It’s perhaps no coincidence, then, that Alessandri was once nicknamed ‘the Italian Steve Jobs’. He smiles, “I feel honoured about this nickname. I admire Jobs for his capability to innovate and to understand people’s needs. To tell the truth, I think I am very similar to athletes: once I reach an objective I already think about reaching the next one. I prefer to be always looking at the future and to the goals to reach instead of the results reached in the past.”

For Alessandri the race is never over.