To most people, the name Nerio Alessandri doesn't carry any weight. But for millions of gym-goers, elite sportsmen, disabled athletes and patients undergoing medical rehabilitation, Alessandri is a hero in his own right.
Alessandri, 51, founded TechnoGym in 1983 from his garage with "no money and a passion for technology and exercise".
Twenty-nine years on, TechnoGym is the Ferrari of gym equipment and a top-of-the-line brand which athletes like F1 driver Michael Schumacher and football teams like Real Madrid and A.C. Milan depend on for indoor training.
The machines are not just high-end but are also made with the users in mind. The treadmill is spacious and the surface soft enough to sustain hours of jogging without hurting the knee. Its dumbbells rotate and balance themselves as they are lifted so they won't hit the body. They also place less pressure on the joints.
High in humility
Alessandri, who was in town recently, is a humble, unassuming person who talks more about wellness and less about fitness. He is not even an exercise freak to begin with. "I run 40 minutes two to three times a week, because that is a good time to run and I do strength training once a week," he says in a thick Italian accent.
"And that is enough?" I asked.
"Enough," he says, firmly. "It is very important to exercise often, but not a lot. Soft but frequent training is best.
"Get friends and family to exercise together. Before I travel, my exercise shoes go into the bag first," he says, adding that he is one of those who would stay in hotels only if the gym is TechnoGym equipped. And that's not hard considering 50,000 places in the world are using its machines, with 25 million users.
Fighting a trend
Fighting a trend
Born and bred in Cesena, Italy, where TechnoGym is still based today, Alessandri went against the grain when he started his business.
Then, he says, the whole world was into the idea of being fit. "Fitness is about looking good. Wellness is about feeling good. Wellness is a more balanced and holistic approach.
"Healthy people result in a healthy planet. We want people to start moving and stop being so sedentary," he says.
Currently, TechnoGym has 200 engineers, medical doctors and electronic software engineers. All research and development matters are pursued inhouse.
"Wellness is not about equipment, it is about culture. It's about products and education. We have the Wellness Key that you can download your fitness programme into and record your training and records.
"Wellness is about mindset, not muscles," he says.
He runs on the treadmill "because running outside is dangerous". He's a sportsman through and through, playing anything from tennis and football to skiing.
The man eats fish, fruits and salad. He has five meals a day.
"I don't like going on a diet. I like natural food and my food is very Mediterranean - fruits, fish, salad... not too much carbohydrates.
"I drink lots of water, but you know, as you grow older, metabolism reduces and it's hard to maintain being trim," he says.
His typical breakfast consists of fruits, cornflakes, yoghurt, fruit juice and tea. He takes the stairs, not the lift. He doesn't smoke. "I drink a glass of beer sometimes, not a litre a day!" he laughs.
The father of two grown-up children says parental coaching is important when it comes to eating. "Parents now push kids to eat a lot. Eat, eat, eat! Finish the food on your plate. Why?"
"School also makes a big difference in getting children to eat better. There must be adequate information on the wellness lifestyle."
Another journalist asks how he instilled good eating habits in his two children.
"Well, I repeated the same thing every day. That's the only formula. You have to hammer the point because children don't know what is good for them."
He suggests that everyone goes back to basics by eating better food and by moving more. Alessandri doesn't eat fast food nor does he like carbonated drinks.
"The percentage of diabetics in Europe is three. Here it is eight per cent. In China, it is 13 per cent and the Middle East, 23.
"Governments which promote a better lifestyle will get healthier people which is sustainable and healthy people will contribute to economic growth.
"Without healthy people, this is impossible. How can people contribute when they are sick?"
Company for the people
Company for the people
In 2003, TechnoGym was awarded a recognition as one of the great companies in Italy to work for. Today, the company employs 1,750 people with 13 branches in Europe.
The company has a specific line for medical rehabilitation. It has equipment for elite athletes as well as paralympic athletes.
"We don't just meet the needs of elite athletes," Alessandri says.
He tributes his success to his team. "I am here because of them. Nobody can succeed in isolation," he says.
The brand becomes the official gym equipment supplier for the Olympic Games in Sydney, Athens, Torino, Beijing and this year, London.
He understands the complications of modern living and the stress it brings.
"We are too stressed - with the traffic, the phone. But stress which leads to satisfaction is good. Stress which leads to frustration can kill you.
Alessandri says to grow in the company, employees must constantly challenge and improve. "Yes, men are dangerous because they flatter you and then you become complacent.
"I am an athlete in my business and I am very competitive. You won't have competition when everyone agrees with you, just to please you. I don't like comfort zones."
He never looks back, he says, maybe once or twice to learn, not to repeat past mistakes. Otherwise, he looks forward.
But he believes in humility because only with this trait can you improve yourself. "That's the only way to grow."