Nerio Alessandri was only 22 years old when he designed his first exercise machine in his parents’ garage. Soon, a local gym in his hometown of Cesena, Italy, bought some of his equipment, and a larger gym in the area commissioned 30 machines. “I took the order even though I had no team and no company premises apart from my parents’ garage,” Alessandri says. “This was the time I decided to dedicate myself full time to the Technogym project and to start up a proper company.”
That was 1983, and today, Technogym has 13 international branches, equipping more than 35,000 wellness centers and 20,000 private homes all over the world. The company furnishes machines for European soccer teams, Ferrari Formula One drivers and was the official supplier for multiple Olympic Games, including the 2008 Games in Beijing. Alessandri has won several international design awards, and he was the Ernst & Young Italian Entrepreneur of the Year in 2003.
Oh, and he’s a knight. In fact, he’s the youngest person to receive the Cavaliere del Lavoro (Italian industry knighthood) in history.
All of this is the result of his pioneering attitude toward fitness. During the aerobics-crazy ’80s and ’90s, Alessandri took a different approach, creating a culture of wellness that expanded the notion of health to include diet and a positive mental approach. Alessandri calls it “psycho-physical wellness.”
Today, he encourages other business owners to think of wellness as an investment in more productive and motivated staff: “At Technogym, we strongly believe that employees’ health and happiness represent both a corporate social responsibility and an economic asset for the company. That’s why we provide a comprehensive corporate wellness scheme for our staff including a complete gym and a personalized wellness program for each employee with a training program and medical and nutritional counseling.”
And Alessandri walks his talk. “I never miss my three times per week early morning workout,” he says. Although he does admit to indulging in a huge meal with family and friends now and then, as well as enjoying “a few glasses of red wine from my own vineyards.” Now that’s good living.
Big Business in a Small Town
How Cesena, Italy, Became the Heart of the Wellness Valley
Despite rapid growth and an international supply chain, Nerio Alessandri’s fitness company Technogym is still headquartered in his small hometown of Cesena, Italy. Why not move the base of operations to a larger, more metropolitan location?
“I have very strong ties with my region,” Alessandri says, “and I strongly believe that Technogym and the wellness lifestyle were not born there by chance. Romagna, our region, is well-known in Italy and in Europe for its balance between quality of life, economic wealth, good public services and people’s hospitality.”
In 2003, Alessandri launched the Wellness Foundation, a nonprofit that focuses on research, health education and cultural initiatives, with a special emphasis on the local area. The “Wellness Valley, Romagna Benessere” project aims to establish the region as a leader in quality of life.
“Many local stakeholders followed us in this initiative by creating a lot of wellness-based best practices,” Alessandri says. Businesses, government institutions, universities and the tourism industry have joined him in his quest to create an oasis in the fertile Italian valley where his company was born. Wellness holidays on the coast, health courses at universities, free checkups for citizens and citywide walking initiatives are just a few of the ways Alessandri’s concept of whole-life health has spread through the region.
So it makes sense to keep his company in Cesena, a place that has eagerly adopted the company’s concept of wellness. Last year, Romagna was ranked first in a happiness survey by Il Sole 24 Ore, an Italian financial newspaper.