“I envision a “future of work” where time and skills are not merely exchanged for money. In that future, employees are not exclusively self-interested agents but are connected to a higher sense of purpose in line with their personal values. Companies are created around purpose driven missions to solve problems or optimize solutions aimed to increase the wellbeing of people and planet. Resources are distributed based on a holistic definition of ROI that takes into consideration negative externalities. Profit is seen as green energy, or as a means to create more social and planetary innovations and not as an end in itself. Work becomes an avenue for people to manifest their highest selves, regardless of the specific content and/or roles they play in the organizations they form and belong to. A universal basic income is part of the social fabric.”
I had the pleasure of interviewing Ivo Grossi. Ivo is the CEO of SportsArt, has 25 years of North American and international executive experience in the fitness, health & wellness industry. He is an agent of change for the organizations he works with and believes in the triple bottom line approach to business: People, Profit and Planet. He has a B.S. in business economics from University L. Bocconi in Milan — Italy. Over the last 18 years Ivo has been studying, teaching and integrating Yoga, Meditation and Shamanism into his life work. He writes about mindfulness, leadership and conscious business on his blog at www.ivogrossi.com.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us about your journey to becoming CEO?
My entire career has been in the Fitness, Health and Wellness space. I started soon after graduation by helping with the growth of Technogym into an industry leader. First in Europe, then in the USA, where I moved in the late 90’s to establish the brand in the most competitive marketplace on earth. After about 15 years with this now leading company, I decided to create my own strategy consultancy firm through which I had the pleasure to assist established and start-up brands spanning from Pilates to fitness wearable devices, all of the while creating my own yoga experience company with my wife.
It was thanks to my consulting venture that I met SportsArt, and after an initial period of 18 months I accepted the position of CEO in October 2017. The initial draw was the sustainable technology they were developing, which allows fitness equipment to generate a net positive energy output by harnessing users’ exertion. I felt we could turn that technology into a powerful value proposition that adds a whole new level of meaningfulness to “breaking a sweat” by lowering power consumption and offsetting carbon footprint. In hindsight, every single moment of my career, including failures, mistakes and successes, has lead me to where I am now, which is such a sweet spot for me to be because it fully reflects all the aspects of who I am, including my passion for sustainability, mind/body wellbeing and conscious leadership.
What is your definition of success?
Waking up every morning excited to go out in the world doing meaningful work in line with my life individual purpose (Dharma) and in a spirit of service to the highest good. I define my Dharma as merging spiritual with material and practically showing up as a whole person in my professional and personal life every day. We need more people in position of power to show up wholly. If I can inspire anyone with my work, I am successful.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Well, there are many, but the most telling one for me is that when I started envisioning, then talking and ultimately evangelizing about turning SportsArt, the ultimate underdog, into the Tesla of the Fitness Industry, I was noticing quite a few people were rolling their eyes; and it wasn’t a very difficult thing to notice. Gradually things shifted as we began wrapping the sustainable technology (Eco-Powr) into beautifully looking products and the media started paying attention. A watershed moment was a piece by Forbes in Dec 2016 featuring our very first Eco-Powr customer, the first sustainable spinning studio in the US, together with my Tesla quote. Since then, I have been noticing more and more people becoming believers. No more eyes rolling, or perhaps very little J. For sure though, those who could not share our mission have organically left, and many more have joined, which is another great leadership lesson. Leaders don’t force people to follow. They invite them on a journey. We can inspire. We cannot nor should not convert anyone.
What failures have you had along the way? How have they led you to success?
I have had many failures along the way especially when working to establish a new brand in the US with Technogym. I have learned a lot in the process and I am trying to capitalize on those lessons with SportsArt. Here is a condensed version of that wisdom:
- Customers buy the company first, then the products. Meaning that even if you have a great product but lack the infrastructure to properly support it (education, installation, service) they are not going to take the vertical leap of faith necessary to initiate the relationship. Growth goes as operations go.
- In our industry, what works in the US in terms of new products, technologies and services, works also elsewhere in the world. The opposite is not necessarily true. This is something very important to keep in mind when developing new products/technologies/services for this market and the global market.
- To create a brand, start with few, selected customers, possibly representative of each segment of the market space. Focus all your efforts in serving their specific needs, speaking the specific language of the segment and making a difference in their members’ experience. Sales will follow.
- Make technology, service, warranties and financing an integral part of your product offering. Turn key, simple, streamlined and easy.
- Ultimately though, if you don’t hire the right people, who are the people who share the passion for the products and solutions you want to build and bring to market, you can forget all of the above. In B2B people buy from people.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
At SportsArt we are striving to provide a purpose driven mission that gravitates around becoming the Green Fitness Company. We are launching new innovative cardio exercise machines, called Eco-Powr™, that generate utility grade electricity from users exertion and help offset power consumption while lowering carbon footprint. This vision, embedded in real products and technology, is providing an extra motivational layer to everyone in the organization, no matter their job description. This is of paramount importance in a transitional time for the company, which is undergoing a profound paradigm shift in its business model, going from a middle market fitness equipment maker to a differentiating provider of a unique value proposition that has the potential to change the fitness industry into a net positive contributor for a greener planet.
When users step on our Verde treadmills — the first and only un-motorized and energy harvesting treadmill in the industry — it is not apparent that the machine doesn’t have a motor since it does behave very similarly to a motorized piece of equipment. When the truth sinks in, and they realize through the display that their effort is being harvested to feed the grid with utility grade electrical power, they give you the “wow” stare and a big, sweet smile.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now?
Yes, we are working on establishing successful installations of our Eco-Powr products in the University, Clubs, Corporate and Hospitality markets. We treat each customer as a partner in turning the future of the Fitness and Health industry green. What we notice is the great deal of differentiation our Green solutions provide to operators. Our media page is a good harbinger of this trend. We have customers that are providing their members with incentives based on watts fed back to the grid/carbon footprint offset on a monthly basis. My entire marketing (in house) and PR team (outsourced) is focused in assisting our customers/partners to bringing this value proposition mainstream.
Can you tell us about the initiatives that your company is doing to become more sustainable? Can you give an example for each?
Our number one effort towards sustainability is making our cardio products energy harvesting. We would love to see a future where fitness clubs of any type can be net energy producers thanks to users generated power.
Here are some of the highlights from sustainability practices at the corporate and factory level:
Besides helping the environment through the product design initiatives, SportsArt has gone lean and green in its daily operations by recycling paper, reusing boxes for parts packaging and replacing standard bulbs with energy-saving fluorescent lights. SportsArt also currently uses 60–70% post-consumer paper in cardboard equipment packaging.
Under buildings at the Tainan, Taiwan factory, tubes store up to 7,500 metric tons of rainwater which is used for watering the grounds. About 100 metric tons of waste water from the production line also helps keep grass and flowers green. Waste water from the painting process ends up washing the dirt off the street and keeping roadsides green — after treatment at the factory and a local water processing plant.
In 2003, the Tainan, Taiwan factory was awarded the second place in a national contest for environmental beautification and building/landscape design. Judges noted the use of open space, complementary building materials and the koi pond as exemplifying the design of a stress-reducing environment. Most recently, in January 2011 SportsArt’s Taiwan factory became ISO-14001 certified. ISO-14001 certification shows that SportsArt is committed to identifying and controlling the environmental impact of business activities, products and services, and to continually improve environmental performance by implementing a systematic approach to setting environmental objectives and targets. Eco-friendly aspects of the factory include: An air conditioning system that doesn’t turn on until the temperature exceeds 28 degrees Celsius; tinted windows that let sunlight in but keep heat out, reducing the need for electric lights; and an innovative, sandwich-like exterior that naturally cools the building.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
Be transparent and courageous enough to trust people upfront. Over time, that trust coming from the top will create a culture with natural antibodies, which will organically keep the integrity of the organization and anchor it to the roots of its mission.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
My wife Cosetta has been my lover, partner, best friend and source of inspiration all the way along the path. We started early. Had our son Emmanuele when we were 20 years old. We were working two jobs each, studying at an ivy-league university and raising a family. When time came to jump the pond with no guaranty of success but only the certainty of a good challenge, she didn’t hesitate. Through the ebbs and flows of life and its cycles of gestation, creation, destruction and rebirth, I can always count on her to cheer me up when going through the tough stretches and keep me humble when going through the high ones. We are now enjoying being young grandparents of two amazing boys born in Portland — OR over the last two years. We keep ourselves mutually in check as far as the integrity and authenticity with which we live our lives. We love to teach together.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I feel called to share with the world the “medicine” I have learned and experienced myself. It is an integration of yoga, meditation and shamanism aimed to clear, harmonize and strengthen our inner energetic core so we can show up fully to life, live from the heart and make our beautiful mind the servant, not the master. I strive to bring that approach to my professional business life using a triple bottom line metric (People, Planet, Profit) as main guidance. I also teach workshops like Breath Medicine Ceremony™, Yoga, Retreats and Meditation on top of writing about conscious leadership on my blog. I have just recently released a guided meditation called Chakra Elements, which I would recommend to any person in position of power to start the day with.
Bridging spiritual and material is what is needed to heal the current predicament we are in and move to a higher level of living together with planet earth, while harnessing technology for the better. New Age doesn’t cut it. Yoga and Meditation are not for the meek but for the strong. The earth wisdom of Shamanism is absolutely necessary to guide and channel the technological progress for the common good and to create shared prosperity.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Check your Ego at the door. Forget the title and the perks. Take the responsibility, give the credit.
- It is lonely at the top. Create an honest group of sounding board ppl around you.
- It all depend on how good you are at Energy Management. Your inner Energy.
- Vulnerability doesn’t necessarily equate with Weakness. Be clear about what you know and also clear about what you don’t know. People will step up if you offer them the space.
- Don’t be attached to the results. Put your best self and your best work out there. Learn constantly. Be open to constant feedback, which life always provides. As paradoxically as it sounds, ultimately leave the outcome of your work to the greatest good. Do not grasp to it. In other words, Trust. The toughest time always carries within the seed of the breakthrough.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I envision a “future of work” where time and skills are not merely exchanged for money. In that future, employees are not exclusively self-interested agents but are connected to a higher sense of purpose in line with their personal values. Companies are created around purpose driven missions to solve problems or optimize solutions aimed to increase the wellbeing of people and planet. Resources are distributed based on a holistic definition of ROI that takes into consideration negative externalities. Profit is seen as green energy, or as a means to create more social and planetary innovations and not as an end in itself. Work becomes an avenue for people to manifest their highest selves, regardless of the specific content and/or roles they play in the organizations they form and belong to. A universal basic income is part of the social fabric.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“The winds of grace are always blowing, it is for us to raise our sails” (Ramakrishna)
This was so inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
Thank you. I appreciated the opportunity.