For the first time in several years, Augie Nieto paid a visit to Life Fitness, which he co-founded.
Accompanied by wife Lynne, Augie toured the Life Fitness factory in Franklin Park, Ill., outside of Chicago. They were greeted by Life Fitness President and longtime friend Chris Clawson and several employees, some of whom have been at Life Fitness for more than 20 years. The trip was no small feat for the Nietos — Augie has battled amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) since 2005, and travel is extremely difficult for them.
A look back at the history of Life Fitness shows just how great a businessman Augie is. The Lifecycle bike, which some credit Augie for creating, was actually invented by a chemist and university professor named Keene Dimick in 1968. Augie partnered with longtime club owner Ray Wilson to buy the marketing rights to the Lifecycle in 1977, when Augie was just 19. Augie and Wilson then co-founded Lifecycle Inc. in 1980.
Here’s where Augie’s business acumen kicks into high gear. Bally Manufacturing Corp. acquired Lifecycle Inc. from Augie and Wilson in 1984 for $10 million and renamed it Bally Fitness Products Inc. (Augie stayed with the company as its president.) The company was later renamed Life Fitness Inc. in 1987.
Augie and other Life Fitness executives, along with New York-based investment banker Mancuso & Co., bought Life Fitness back from Bally in 1991 for $62.5 million. Then in 1997, Augie and his investors sold Life Fitness to its current owner, Brunswick Corp., for $310 million.
That’s turned out to be a good deal for both sides. The Life Fitness division of Brunswick now consists of Life Fitness, Hammer Strength, Cybex, SCIFIT, Brunswick Billiards, InMovement and the newly acquired Indoor Cycling Group from Germany. Last year, Life Fitness generated almost $800 million in sales, and in the first half of this year, the division had nearly $450 million in sales.
Back to Augie, who served as chairman of Octane Fitness until it was sold this year to Nautilus Inc. for $115 million. Is it any wonder why Augie’s Quest, the fundraising initiative to find treatments and cures for ALS, has raised more than $45 million since 2006? Sure, the fitness industry — Life Fitness included — has done yeoman’s work to support Augie’s Quest. But one thing’s clear: Augie knows how to make money, and he knows how to raise it, too.