Davos 2017: The bosses obsessed with exercise

By Katie Hope
BBC News, Davos

image copyrightLevi
image captionChip Bergh usually does between 12 and 14 hours of sport a week

Ask Levi boss Chip Bergh how he's finding his first trip to the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, and his immediate response is to say how frustrated he is by the lack of time to exercise.

The sports-obsessed chief executive - who competes in triathlons and is a vegan - normally exercises daily from 5.30am to 7am doing a mixture of swimming, running and weights.

In total, he does between 12 and 14 hours of sport a week.

"No-one is as intense as me," he quips.

Yet, in the testosterone-fuelled world of alpha males (and it is normally males) who make up the top ranks of the corporate world, exercise is often pretty high on the agenda.

And it makes sense - the kind of drive, discipline and determination needed to push yourself to work out and compete - are exactly the same skills needed to get to the top.

media captionLevi's boss shares his jeans story

Mr Bergh, who was headhunted to lead the 163-year-old jeans firm after almost three decades at consumer goods giant Procter & Gamble, credits his exercise regime with helping him succeed in the new role.

When he took the helm, Levi was losing out to cheaper and more fashionable rivals, with sales half of their annual $7bn peak.

He changed all but one of the 11-strong executive team, and two thirds of its next tier of management alongside making significant cuts, including outsourcing its IT, finance and customer services.


Sales and profit have now grown for the past four years.

Exercise, he says, gave him the strength to make such dramatic changes.

"I really do firmly believe it plays a part in performance. For me personally when I'm healthy and exercising, eating right and getting enough rest, I'm much more productive at work," he says.

His conviction of the benefits of exercise meant that when he joined he set up a "Live wellth" programme at the firm, including a cheap gym membership deal for staff and a nutritional onsite cafe at its San Francisco headquarters.

For any company, encouraging staff to take care of their health makes sense, he says, due to the risk of high healthcare costs if they don't.

"It's not just the performance side of this, but the potential avoidance of costs," he says.

image copyright(c)Marco Onofri
image captionNerio Alessandri, chief executive of Technogym, thinks companies should offer their staff fitness facilities

It's an issue companies are increasingly cottoning on to, says Nerio Alessandri, the founder and chief executive of Italian fitness equipment manufacturer Technogym.

In fact, he says providing machines, fitness programmes and apps to companies is now its fastest growing market.

Increasingly, he thinks the so-called millennial generation - those born between 1980 and 1999, and a group that accountancy firm Deloitte predicts will make up 75% of the global workforce by 2022 - will expect their workplaces to offer fitness facilities.

"It's a key way to attract talent. They don't want the car, or the other perks," he says.

Keep moving

We're talking - whilst sitting on big bouncy balls - in the firm's pop-up store in Davos, while impossibly honed and fit-looking company representatives run and cycle furiously on stationary machines beside us.

image captionThe World Economic Forum is littered with posters encouraging people to walk

Mr Alessandri himself works out every morning for an hour at 6.30am, and cycles and runs at the weekend, but crucially, he says, whilst wobbling frenetically on the ball, he never stops moving.

"Exercise is one of the rules of the champion chief executive. If you're not healthy, you don't have a healthy mind, you don't have creativity, you don't have energy and productivity goes down," he says.

At Technogym's head office in Cesena in northern Italy, taking the lift is banned unless someone has a physical issue. There are no chairs, just balls for seats and all meetings take place at high tables to force them to stand up.

But what if a staff member isn't into fitness? "It's an opportunity. We make them," he jokes.

image copyrightNerio Alessandri
image captionArmani was not impressed by Nerio Alessandri's attempt at fashion design

In fact, he says his personal mission is to try to address the sedentary lifestyle that has been linked to health problems.

"People were born to move for 30km a day. Today, it's less than 1km a day. We're committed to covering the gap," he says.

Mr Alessandri, who originally wanted to be a fashion designer but turned to fitness equipment after a rejection from Armani, believes the secret is to make the workout equipment look good.

"If it's like a piece of art, not a machine, then you put it on display and you're more likely to use it. If it's ugly, you stick it in the garage and never use it," he says.

So far, the regime appears to be working. The firm has supplied the equipment for the past six Olympics and sales hit $581m in 2015, the most recent full-year figures available.

"Let's move for a better world is my mantra," he says.

It's a mantra shared by the WEF. In Davos, posters are everywhere telling attendees of the benefits to the planet of walking instead of driving.

And temporary signs in the village display the number of steps and time taken to reach a particular destination.

image captionSigns are placed across Davos helping delegates to calculate their daily step count

Given the almost constant traffic gridlock on the streets in the morning and evening, I'm not sure delegates are heeding the message.

But Tupperware chief executive Rick Goings says the WEF's emphasis on health and fitness persuaded him to make changes at his own firm. Its base in Orlando, Florida now boasts a fitness centre as well as biking and walking paths.

And Mr Goings himself fits the mould of a typical high achiever - he too is an exercise freak.

image copyrightTupperware
image captionMr Goings meditates every day

"I can still bench press my weight. I never miss a workout and do at least an hour every other day no matter what. Fitness gives me energy," he says.

He also meditates every day.

"How old do you think I am?" he asks, thrusting his face forward. I guess late 50s.

"Seventy-one," he says triumphantly. "And no plastic surgery."

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