Like many businesses in the health and fitness industry, this one was born in a club environment.
In 1968, Les Mills, a four- time, track-and-field Olympian, and his wife, Colleen, opened the first of the Les Mills World of Fitness gyms in Auckland, New Zealand. In 1980, his son, Phillip Mills, took over the reins as CEO. Today, you’ll find 11 Les Mills facilities scattered throughout New Zealand, and a 12th is slated to open at the end of this year.
In addition to growing the club side of the business, Phillip Mills spearheaded another innovative—and potentially huge—growth opportunity for the brand: licensed programming. The seeds for the idea had been sowed in the late 1960s, when he attended UCLA on a track scholarship. While in California, Mills couldn’t help but notice the rapidly growing popularity of aerobics. Coincidentally, he’d also been managing a rock-and-roll band with the hope of breaking into the music business in the U.S.
The aerobics trend and his back-ground in entertainment provided him with the model for a program, and a way to combine fitness and dance with his love of music. It took some time for the concept to gel, but, working with his wife, Jackie, a physician and former gymnast, he developed BODYPUMP, a program that combined aerobics, weights, and music. The 60-minute class, introduced at the Auckland club in 1990, featured eight separate muscle-group-specific songs, or “tracks,” along with opening warm-up and closing cool-down tracks.