Poor organization dampens normally packed IHRSA CEO Forum

With a panel that included the top executive from each of the largest companies in the fitness industry, IHRSA's 2004 CEO Forum at the annual show was cut short, ill-attended, and asked the panelists to answer canned questions that had little wiggle room to allow them to offer the information and discussion that has resulted in past forums overflowing with food for thought.

With a panel that included the top executive from each of the largest companies in the fitness industry, IHRSA's 2004 CEO Forum at the annual show was cut short, ill-attended, and asked the panelists to answer canned questions that had little wiggle room to allow them to offer the information and discussion that has resulted in past forums overflowing with food for thought.

On hand on March 24 were CEOs John Aglialoro, Cybex; Claudio Bellini, Technogym USA; Paul Byrne, Precor; Kevin Grodzki, Life Fitness; Gregg Hammann, Nautilus; Ken Lucas, Matrix; and Jim McPartland, Star Trac.

With the theme "Leveraging the America's Healthcare Crisis," the forum held promise, but CEOs and company representatives who talked to SNEWS® afterward were shocked at the waste of time, of CEO talent and brain power, as well as the late start that forced organizers to cut off the forum before the question-and-answer period, which can usually be the most provocative.

First, the panel was scheduled from noon to 1:30 p.m., and although the program said "pre-registration requested," it did not state the format was changed from an open door with rows of seats for all-comers to a seemingly exclusive sit-down, white-table-cloth lunch. SNEWS® saw two attendees turn the corner for the room, then stop dead in their tracks at the door as one said to the other, "Oh, I didn't know it was invitation-only," before they turned around and left.

Second, it was held at the Hilton instead of in a convention center meeting room, which meant attendees had to leave the show that just opened at 11 a.m. to hike the 20 minutes or so back to the Hilton, meaning a 90-minute forum could easily become a 2.5-hour commitment and a huge chunk of time to be away from the expo floor.

Third, several CEOs told SNEWS they were dumbfounded by the questions they were sent to discuss in their five-minute talk which left them feeling boxed in with no room to raise other issues. The questions exactly as sent to them were: "how clubs can position themselves as community health promotion centers; what clubs can make themselves more accessible to youth groups, schools, Boys and Girls Clubs, Boys and Girl Scouts, etc.; how clubs can partner with health care institutions such as AHA, ACS, ADA, NAF, etc.; and how clubs can play a leadership role in their communities in communicating the health benefits of regular exercise."

Fourth, since members of the group didn't start presenting each of their five minutes until only a couple of minutes before 1 p.m., it was closer to 1:35 that they finished, leaving Tom Behan, IHRSA president and forum moderator, to announce there would be no discussion (it had been planned for 20 minutes) and then end the forum.

What they did say

Each CEO had his own take on the topic with similar undercurrents. Aglialoro stressed trying to get tax credits from government "to level the playing field with non-profits." Bellini talked about the "wellness wave" and encouraged clubs to check inside their own facilities to make sure they were friendly and accessible.

Byrne emphasized to attendees that everybody has to stop selling "stuff" but rather the joy of movement, especially with children. "Tomorrow's success will be earned outside our walls," he said. "It's not about making our equipment smaller. It's about them taking the joy of movement with them the rest of their lives."

Grodzki said the crisis is clear and that it's not only about doing the right thing but about recognizing a business opportunity. He discussed a campaign in Chicago he's involved with to help get Chicago moving and more fit after it was named America's second fattest city in 2001.

Nautilus' new CEO Gregg Hammann shared one aspect of some results from proprietary research that showed only 10 percent of Baby Boomers know WHAT to do, although nine of 10 know they should do something. He also drummed the same beat as Byrne in saying that it's not about getting kids on equipment but getting them hooked on the great feeling of movement.

Lucas of Matrix, in his first year on the panel, said it's the industry's responsibility to get involved in the community and help kids and adults make the right choices. He discussed a program Albuquerque, N.M.-based, Matrix is doing with a local Indian tribe on its reservation.

McPartland, after a serious intro, had the room in stitches in a fine conclusion to the seven. He encouraged clubs to partner with local corporations and schools or clubs in each of their areas and just try to affect a small group in a team effort. The corporations could offer up adult volunteers for the schools. The schools could open their doors and get free lessons. The clubs could give free passes to the adult volunteers. What would it be called? "Ticket to Try for the Fat Guy."

SNEWS® View: When the room that could have held nearly 300 was still mostly empty at 12:30 p.m., IHRSA CEO John McCarthy was outside the door hawking a free lunch to try to tempt people in so the room wouldn't be embarrassingly empty. The CEOs, McCarthy and IHRSA are much better than that and deserve much better than that. Nevertheless, there weren't more than about 120 in the room. Certainly a nice lunch was served, but that then meant mingling servers and clanking plates and forks distracted from what could have and should have been a real discussion with the industry, nearly turning the talks into lunchtime pleasantries. Without an answer from IHRSA before deadline about what happened and how it happened (despite several attempts), we are only left to speculate that it was an honorable enough of an idea to elevate the level of a forum attended by CEOs that unfortunately went a bit sour. We truly liked the steamy SRO room last year filled not only with other executives, but club floor staff, retailers and trainers, all of whom had equal opportunity to enter the discussion afterward. And all did. It was a joyous, nearly raucous but energizing and informative affair. Let's go back to that next year and skip the raspberry vinaigrette on field greens, chicken Marseille and lemon mousse torte with fresh berries.


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