Behind the Scenes

I Took Heed of Augie Nieto's Lessons about Competitiveness and Working Together

Competition can be a good thing. Just ask Augie Nieto, co-founder of Life Fitness and now chairman of Octane Fitness, Augie's Quest and ALS Therapy Development Institute. Augie, who was this year's recipient of Club Industry's Lifetime Achievement Award, has been a competitor all of his life, but he also knows how to bring together competitors.

The profile we posted of Augie shared how Augie drew together competing health club operators and competing manufacturers to help raise money to find a cure for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), which Augie was diagnosed with in 2005. What I did not note in the profile is that he also brought together competing media companies.

Over the weekend, Lynne Nieto, Augie's wife, emailed me that the Lifetime Achievement Award arrived safely at their home last week. Because Augie is now in a wheelchair due to ALS, travel is difficult for him, so Lynne flew to Chicago and accepted the award for Augie on Oct. 8. We shipped the award to the Nieto home so that Lynne did not have to carry it on the plane with her.

Peter Brown, president of Athletic Business Media (a competing trade magazine to Club Industry), happened to be at the Nieto home last week. Brown has been a friend of Augie's since 1980 when the two worked for Jerry Dauderman, who owned Nautilus Aerobics Plus Clubs in Southern California.

As I was putting together the profile of Augie, several people mentioned that I should interview Brown for the article, but considering our competitive relationship, I initially resisted the idea. However, as I began writing the profile, I realized how much I needed that additional perspective on Augie's early life at Lifecycle, and I knew that Brown could provide that, so I reached out. He responded quickly, and he eagerly agreed to help. Brown shared a number of interesting stories about Augie, including one about how the two may have been the ones to start early morning workouts at trade shows. Unfortunately, I had to cut out many of Brown's other stories for length.

So, I'm taking this opportunity to share one of Brown's stories that demonstrates Augie's competitiveness, his passion for the Lifecycle and his salesmanship. 

Before Brown shared office space with Augie at Nautilus Aerobics Plus Clubs, Augie had a brief stint selling Nautilus equipment for Arthur Jones through Augie's distributorship at that time, North American Stag (named after the mascot at Augie's college alma mater, Claremont College in Claremont, California). The leads for the Nautilus equipment also were leads for the Lifecycle, so Augie took the opportunity to sell both, Brown said. Unfortunately, Jones soon found out about Augie's moonlighting and called him into his office for a meeting.

"On his desk was a loaded gun, and he basically told Augie he had 15 minutes to pack up and get the hell out of there," Brown said. 

After Augie's hasty departure from Nautilus, Dauderman, who already was a friend of Augie's, asked Augie to help market his health club chain with the understanding that Augie also could sell the Lifecycle on the side. 

"Before you know it, I'm listening to Augie selling Lifecycles all day long as well as doing odd jobs for Jerry," Brown said. "Then he starts at me to sell Lifecycles, and then I get hooked on it."

Augie later left to sell the Lifecycle full time, and Brown eventually joined Augie to sell Lifecycles full time to colleges, hotels and other vertical markets.

Brown said that since Augie's diagnosis, he has seen his personality change.

"When he was healthy, he was a driven, competitive guy, kind of predatory and take-no-prisoners sales approach," Brown said. "He had only one gear. He was always a good listener, but now he has a better understanding and patience for life in general."

So, not only did Augie change, but his charisma and sales expertise helped bring together competitors to help fight ALS. And those competitors included individuals—one a longtime friend and one a new friend--from two trade publications who both wanted to share Augie's story and his significance to the fitness industry. 

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