Yes Technology Does Liberate Human Capital. The Future Of Work Is Here.

In a recent Wall Street Journal opinion piece, How Technology Liberates Human CapitalMichael Milken and Igor Tulchinsky posit that digital innovation, artificial intelligence and robots are opening new possibilities for workers across the U.S. economy. I agree and it isn't just happening in the U.S. While rapid change will be a painful process for some, in the end the future for humans is not being displaced by technology but instead interacting with technology to unleash human creativity, experience and insights . Technology is really a job creation machine; they're just new kinds of jobs.

A key challenge for industries, like health and fitness, medical, legal, finance and more, is understanding this change is already underway and therefore people need to evolve their skills and perspectives to take advantage of new opportunities. Business models need to reinvent themselves as well with this in mind. Innovation starts with me and you grasping this new era as an opportunity to leverage human capital.

McKinsey Global Institute reported in January of 2017 that almost half of paid work can be automated today with current technologies. Yet, 2 million manufacturing positions will go unfilled in the next 8 years according to Deloitte Consulting. This as a result of the "GAP" between employee skills and workplace needs and its just beginning. As hardware becomes cheaper and software become smarter the effects will continue to change industries and work itself.

So what should you and I do about it ? First, stay informed. Read books like Leading Digital , Digital Sense The Second Machine Age , and The Inevitable. Follow credible thought leaders on Twitter. Listen to great podcasts. Second, start thinking about your organization, career, and life with a 3-5 year minimum perspective. In other words what you are experiencing today will be vastly different in a 3-5 year window. Make sure you are preparing yourself with education and continue to upgrade your skills and knowledge. Finally, seek to align with organizations and people that see this future coming and have adopted or are adopting new paradigms of the future of work. Surrounding yourself with advocates and industry experts who are talking the new talk will help you embrace the upside of disruption. For my latest on how this is impacting the health club and fitness industry checkout my EHFF 2017 and my IHRSA 2017 presentations and more.

Bryan O’Rourke is a #CEO, #board member, #advisor, #keynote #speaker, #author and #investor, who has successfully expanded global brands for over 30 years. He is widely published and quoted in periodicals like Inc. Magazine, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times on consumer, technology and fitness industry trends and is CSO of a well known Houston based health club chain. He and his partners launched Vedere Ventures, a boutique private equity firm in 2016 . Bryan along with the Fitness Industry Technology Council support the Fitness + Technology Podcast . Check it out today. Get his recent book the 9 Partnership Principles written with his partner Robert Dyer and other top fitness industry leaders. Bryan also released with Europe Active the bookCustomer Engagement and Experience In The Fitness Sector. To learn more visit or follow him @bryankorourke .

Globalism's Impact On The Fitness & Health Club Industries

Its already May and with nearly half of 2011 over I've had the fortune of traveling to China, Australia and across the U.S. visiting major players and participants in the global health and fitness industry. This has led me to a question, "How is globalization impacting the health club and fitness industries?" But more importantly, I ask "are our leaders and organizations doing enough to work together globally ?"

In speaking with business and industry leaders there certainly is great variety on their view points regarding collaboration globally in health clubs, fitness and even wellness. Some of these leaders are doing the hard work and heavy lifting while I think others are more focused on maintaining the status quo, often out of fear.

As a fitness industry expert, I reflect on trends and seek to understand how these will impact our businesses and organizations. In his recent book, World 3.0, Global Prosperity and How To Achieve It , Professor Pankaj Ghemawat explains some important concepts that resonated with me. I wonder, is all of the global leadership in the fitness and health club industries collaborating in a manner to best grow the global pie ?  Are we adopting the World 3.0 view ? (Take this test to see what your view is). Watch the video below and tell me, Bryan O'Rourke, are the leaders in the fitness and health club industries working together well enough ? Is this helping or hurting the growth potential for fitness, health clubs and wellness in general ? P.S. My thanks to Will Phillips for our chat at IHRSA 2011 around this and other topics that inspired me to do something about it.

Are You Seeking Value From Your Vendors Beyond Price ?

If you are in business today you should read on because I am going to share what I think is the most valuable strategic thing you can do to improve your company.

C.K. Prahalad was one of the most influential management thinkers in the world and co-authored one of my favorite books, "The New Age Of Innovation, Driving Co-Created Value Through Global Networks". He knew that the most successful companies do two things well: 1. deliver value to customers one at a time (N=1) and 2. deliver that value by orchestrating a global supply chain (R=G). Now what does this have to do with your business or in particular your fitness business, where most of my clients compete ? Picking the right vendor partners can create tremendous value (R=G).  Not everyone sees vendors as assets and that is short sighted. Let me share an example.

At fitmarc we deliver turnkey group fitness solutions including everything from education to  training, and from consulting and marketing to information systems in the cloud (our new club count product is really cool and quite affordable). We deliver expertise and insights based on vast experience and orchestrated from sources around the world. We deliver Prahalad's R=G. For the small price our customers pay they get A LOT of value with Les Mills group fitness solutions. Prahalad professed that wise businesses focus on their customers and rely on valuable vendor partners to help them service their customers. However, not every business embraces this approach with many in our industry being short sighted, stepping over dollars to pick up dimes. They actually believe that the vendor relationship is about the cheapest price or that they can do everything on their own or get away with. In Prahalad's view and in mine this is a huge strategic error.

What do you think ? When you do business with vendors, do you see them as global partners delivering value beyond price ? Are you operating your business as an N=1 R=G or do you only seek the cheapest thing you can buy or get away with ?  Contact me Bryan O'Rourke and share your views and please check out my slideshare presentation below on managing group fitness programs and learn more about our new Club Count solution.


Managing group fitness programs
View more presentations from Bryan ORourke.



Michael Bruno - The Man Behind Star Trac's Future

It was a pleasant evening in Chicago at Club Industry last year when an associate asked me to join him for dinner; he wanted to introduce me to someone. At the time I wasn’t certain who I’d be meeting but it turned out to be Michael Bruno, the recent acquirer of Star Trac and as I later discovered a legend in the fitness industry.

Early in my career I worked for Al Copeland, the Popeye’s Famous Fried Chicken founder and entrepreneur. He was a self-made, charming, street smart visionary. I had not met many like him before or after my nine year run as one of his key executives, that is until that night in October over dinner at Club Industry. Certain things about Michael reminded me of Al.

“You need to come see my factory in Xiamen”, Michael said to me, after explaining his thinking behind the Star Trac acquisition. I thought it a kind offer, one that some people might extend out of courtesy but not seriously. However, Michael Bruno isn’t “some people”. Months later, after learning of my plans to speak to his business development team, I got an email; “Bryan, I’ll be heading to Xiamen following the Star Trac meeting. Why don’t you tag along ?” True to his word he invited me to China to see his factory, and so in my quest to understand more about the global fitness business, I made the travel arrangements. Little did I know what I would find.

Michael's Company Land America

“Bryan, why don’t you get over to the hotel and clean up?”, Michael asked me after landing in Xiamen following eighteen hours in the air with a quick connection through Hong Kong. “I’m heading to the factory. Call me when your ready and I’ll have you picked up.” 

One thing I can say, having spent time with many accomplished business people, is that Michael is one of the most gracious. He proudly tells of his annual company party held at a stadium in Xiamen where thousands of his employees and their families celebrate each year. Michael calls it his birthday party. But today there wasn’t a party, his focus was getting to his factory, a huge nearly million square foot operation that he built from scratch.

I took Michael’s advice and after a shower met him at his offices where he was deeply engaged with his managers and engineers. He was working on innovation for his Star Trac line of cardio and strength equipment and the mantra, which I heard over and over again during my time with he and his team, was “quality”.

In the deepest and best sense Michael is old school.He believes quality in the long run is the greatest competitive advantage. I recall reading a quote from Power Plate International CEO Gregg Hammann in a Club Industry release. Hammann was the CEO of Nautilus in 2007 when he helped persuade the Nautilus board of directors to buy Land America for $72 million. That deal was terminated after Hammann left Nautilus, and Sherborne Investors took control of the Nautilus board. Here is what Greg shared with CBI:

“Michael's highly intelligent. He was always a guy that you could have very direct and frank conversations with. Michael doesn't pull punches with people. He's a man of high integrity. He does the right thing for the customer. The more he's involved in the fitness industry, the better it is for all of us. He's a not a public relations CEO. What you're going to see is him do the right thing for the business, the right thing for the industry, the right thing for customers.”

Greg was right and interestingly in January, my friend Stuart Goldman wrote an article, “Nautilus Commercial Buyer Remains A Mystery To The Fitness Industry”. Indeed Michael and his companies were not known to many, except those in the highest posts of the global fitness equipment business.

Few people make lasting impressions on me but as I followed him along on the factory floor I recalled my days with my former boss Al Copeland. Michael knew the names of many of the 1,400 workers in the plant, who greeted him with affection. It became apparent that the man has a deep understanding of all aspects of manufacturing as he personally inspected equipment and queried his team on various procedures and process improvements. The factory employs 90 engineers and applies state of the art manufacturing equipment and practices: from automated robotic welders to intense quality systems (the facility is ISO, ETL, CE, ECI and FDA certified). Strength equipment, treadmills, aircraft components and medical equipment devices, Land America builds them all and has got to be one of the finest manufacturing companies in the world. You have to see it to believe it. Now I knew why he was so proud and now I think I understand what Greg Hammann was talking about.

Like most successful entrepreneurs, Michael knows what he’s doing and it comes from well over twenty years experience. He had a string of business relationships that involved producing for many well known brands - he just didn’t own the brands himself. He was and remains a major manufacturer for Nautilus among others and has been courted by several well known fitness equipment suppliers at one point or another. He more boldly and strategically entered the fitness business by acquiring the StairMaster and Schwinn brands from Nautilus Inc. earlier in 2010. His more recent acquisition of Star Trac was another aggressive move, as Michael had increasingly and strategically upgraded the innovative capabilities of his team over the years, providing him with a unique global position to achieve vertical integration. The hard work seems poised to pay off. Now not only does Michael Bruno make the product, he owns the brands as well.

Star Trac

When you spend time with a person like Michael, one raised as the son of a police chief in Youngstown, Ohio, whose first job was in the concrete business and ultimately made his way to live in China for over twenty years building a huge company from scratch, you might hear a good story or two. So when we visited about his acquisition of Star Trac Michael asked me, “Have I told you about the fortune cookie?” Apparently, when evaluating the Star Trac opportunity, Michael reached out to speak with Jim Doody, Star Trac’s former CEO and owner. He arranged to meet Jim in San Francisco to discuss a potential transaction. The next day Michael had Dim Sum with his family, whom he took along for the trip. “It was the best Dim Sum I ever had and that's saying something”, Michael said referring to his long history in China. “The funny thing was they brought out these fortune cookies after the meal. Its amazing how good the food was, but ironically there aren’t fortune cookies in China Bryan”, he laughed. Out of his wallet Michael pulled out the fortune, which he keeps laminated to one of his business cards. It said: “The next few days are a lucky time for you. You can take a chance.” With that Michael took the chance and structured the business deal which added another valuable brand, Star Trac, to his portfolio. Indeed, a great story and one of several I was able to hear.

Star Trac has had a bold and progressive past that hit a speed bump in 2010 under its previous leadership. The business had been undercapitalized and was loosing money amid tough economic times.  Michael was one of a few strategic industry players capable of pulling off the deal. Now a lot of work is going into Star Trac’s offering and it is a big focus of the organization. In inspecting the factory and meeting the man who is now behind the business I am thinking that the Star Trac organization has been acquired by someone who can make good on its future. Over dinner in Xiamen one evening watching Michael interact and catch up with his Vice President Luca Tonarini, assistant Leon Chen and friends and associates I felt pretty certain about Star Trac and from what I’ve learned, I’ll pay closer attention to my fortune cookie when I next dine on Chinese.

Please contact me, Bryan O'Rourke, and tell me what you think. I'll be sharing another post on my trip to China later in the week. Thanks for reading and following along !

The Fitness Equipment Business - Where Is It Headed ?

I’ve been researching the fitness equipment business, which led me to this post and a request for your thoughts. I’m traveling at this moment on a direct flight from LAX to Hong Kong and then onto Xiamen with entrepreneur Michael Bruno, owner of the New Star Trac. We are going to visit his Land America plant in China - more details in posts to come soon.

When my colleague Sal Pellegrino was hired by Star Trac in 2010 he introduced me to Larry Domingo and others in the organization. At the time I relished the chance to learn more about their business. I'm trying to understand: “where is the fitness and wellness industry headed ?” Learning more about the equipment part of this equation is to say the least fascinating. Getting the perspective now from Michael Bruno, a true visionary in the fitness equipment world, was unexpected and a really invaluable opportunity.

While I am a great proponent of quality group exercise, my company fitmarc is the largest U.S. distributor for Les Mills, fitness equipment has been central to servicing members and helping people get fit (after all even BODYPUMP requires barbells). In the realm of technological development equipment has seen innovation too. Now emerging technologies including mobility, socialization of the web and monitoring devices offer even greater innovation potential for equipment.

Michael Bruno, a self made gentleman and owner of Land America, an impressive ISO, ETL, CE, ECI  certified manufacturing operation in Xiamen, PRC (see my subsequent posts), has been designing and manufacturing fitness equipment for a long time. Its no surprise, given his entrepreneurial background, that he acquired Star Trac a few months back and has now recapitalized and is in the process of reenergizing the company. Michael also owns Nautilus, Schwinn Fitness and StairMaster, among other brands. His story is quite interesting.

I’ll be sharing my experience around equipment, Michael Bruno’s and his Land America facility in China. In the interim I need your help. Please contact me, Bryan O'Rourke, and share your views. What do you think about equipment in the fitness industry ? Where has it come from and where is it going ? What is it that you think the industry is lacking or requires in fitness equipment that it does not have now ?

Thanks for your help and I look forward to sharing more details and thoughts on my trip.