The following is a guest post by former US World Team member Rachel Crass who is currently the teammate of 2012 US Olympian Holley Mangold. Rachel recently visited Eleiko Sport’s global headquarters in Halmstad, Sweden. Here’s her take on the experience. (Spoiler Alert: It was pretty much weightlifting’s version of Disneyland.)
The ends of the pen spinning between my fingers, my gaze fixated on the six bold navy-blue letters emblazoned along the side, are now polished to a brilliant shine. From Copenhagen to Reykjavik, the sway of airline-standard cabernet to Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer” in my earphones has served the only respite from the cursor’s relentless blink. How on Earth am I supposed to describe those six letters? How does one possibly go about articulating the Eleiko experience? Do words even exist to describe it? I’m pretty sure at this point that they don’t. But I’m going to try to find them anyway.
See, the Eleiko experience isn’t a thing to be described at all. It’s a feeling. It’s that feeling when you realize one of your childhood heroes is actually better than you had always thought—and had desperately hoped—he (or she) would be, that feeling when you realize the closets are unlocked and completely free of skeletons, and when you’ve been let down so many times that you expect this time to be no different, so you build up your guard, brace yourself, and wait patiently for the shoe to drop. Except that, this time, it never does. Because, this time, your hero has never been, nor has any intentions ever to be, Clark Kent. That’s the Eleiko experience.
Before lifting the veil on the inner workings of Eleiko’s corporate structure and philosophy, I should probably explain why the trip to Sweden was even necessary in the first place. Most people with a pulse in the weightlifting community in the United States would likely find it hard to deny Eleiko’s resurgence into the North American market over the past two years. After seeing the sales figures for myself on Monday, I can pretty confidently say that Eleiko isn’t going anywhere but up, and it’s time we find out a little bit more about the company taking the weightlifting, powerlifting, and strength training worlds by storm in the US (and internationally too, for that matter).
My trip started with a relatively routine 5-hour delay out of Washington Dulles to Copenhagen, where I joined up with my travel guide and chauffer for the trip, Eleiko Sport USA President Rickard Blomberg. His direct-flight-turned-delayed-and-then-re-routed-3-flight trip out of Chicago left him none-the-worse for wear after a tall Americana coffee, and off we were by train to Halmstad, home of Eleiko Sport AB, the company’s international headquarters.
Once in Halmstad, I realized just how thankful I am to have taken that theatre class in high school, a scene that would play itself out quite often during this trip, as it took every ounce of every acting skill I had ever acquired to hide my giddy excitement at the person who greeted us at the train station, none other than Eleiko Sport CEO and Board Chairman, Lennart Blomberg. The fact that I had known—and had worked with—his son since before I had retired from my athletic career did little to quell the butterflies. This was Lennart Blomberg. This guy—whose revered status in the sport, it should be said, is no more outwardly apparent these days than David Rigert’s or Alexander Kurlovich’s—is Eleiko, and he is picking up my bag himself and opening a car door for me. Mental note: even though I didn’t know exactly what I was expecting to experience during my trip to this point, this level of warm unpretentiousness certainly wasn’t it.
But the amicability didn’t stop there. That evening, the Blomberg family met me at my hotel for dinner, and this was when I truly got my first glimpse into why Eleiko is as successful as it is. This is quite possibly the most passionate family I have ever met in my life, and it was blindingly apparent before the appetizers had even arrived that making barbells is not simply a job or a family business for the Blombergs—it’s a way of life. Case in point: a couple years ago, as a Christmas present to Gunnila, the matriarch of the family who has just published a nutrition book of her own, the family was charged with going three solid days—72 hours—without talking about Eleiko. When I asked how that went, Rickard answered only with, “It was very quiet.” They made it two days before breaking their silence and discussing company matters again.
Living the Brand
My remaining time at Eleiko was spent in their machine shop, rubber factory, and conference room. While the “making of” processes for their barbells and bumper plates will be outlined in Part 2 of this series, what I’ll leave it with now is my generalized take from the experience. The pride in ownership, pride of craftsmanship, and overall pride to be a cog in the formidable gear that is the Eleiko brand displayed by each and every one of its employees was enough to write (or text) home about.
Where does that pride come from? It has to come from somewhere, right? At Eleiko, that pride comes from the top down. When I asked the marketing director—who is a woman, by the way, but more on that later—about what she thought made Eleiko the number one barbell company in the world, her answer was unbelievably touching. She said, “Our steel. We’re the only ones with our steel, but even if everyone else had our steel, they still wouldn’t have our Bosse. They don’t have our Spinge. They don’t have our Andreas or Anders or Sarah or Lennart or Gunnila. They don’t have our people. And as long as they don’t have our people, we’ll always be number one. Our people are what make Eleiko great.” After spending time inside the company and meeting all of those people she mentioned for myself, there’s not a doubt in my mind that she’s absolutely right.
In fact, at this point, I’m fairly convinced that Eleiko cares as much, if not more, about people as it does about weightlifting equipment, with the equipment being merely vessels through which to help others. A large part of my reasoning for this conclusion is a phrase I heard Ann-Sophie, the marketing director mentioned above, say on the way back from lunch on Tuesday—“Living the Brand,” part of the title to this article. But what does that mean? What is the Eleiko brand and how does one go about living it?
The Eleiko brand is about putting health and wellness first, about helping people to maximize their potential and experience on this earth by eating right, staying fit, and remaining or becoming healthy enough to do the things they love to do, whether that be competing at an elite level, climbing mountains, skiing, modeling on the cover of Vogue magazine (as one of the Blomberg brood has), or simply being able to keep up with young children or grandchildren. And these folks mean it. It is company policy never to use an escalator or an elevator, even when traveling alone.
Add to that health-conscious mission a desire to promote gender fairness and equality, and you have a fairly accurate depiction of what it means to live the Eleiko brand. Earlier this year, CEO Lennart Blomberg stood up in front of a conference room full of European weightlifting officials and powers-that-be to make his case that, in order to help promote and grow the sport of weightlifting to move it into the 21st century, we need to have more women in high-ranking decision-making positions. You could have heard a pin drop on the carpet in that room after such a blasphemous statement, yet, lest he be deterred, Mr. Blomberg is on his way to South Korea as I write this to give a similar presentation to high profile members of the Asian weightlifting community.
Mr. Blomberg, I tip my hat to you, sir, for standing up for every woman who has ever ghost-written a weightlifting article for a man in order to have it accepted by this industry or who has ever been told that a competition is “too big” for her to run on her own, so perhaps she should consider getting a man to help her, or who has ever been mistaken for someone’s mistress at a competition or conference. You, sir, have my respect not only for the company you run and for the equipment you produce but also for the stand-up man that you are. Thank you for helping to move this sport into the future and out of the Dark Ages.
Ever since I was a child, when I thought about Eleiko, I thought about barbells. During this trip, though, I realized that the company is about so much more than that. It’s about honesty, openness, integrity, an unerring eye for detail and commitment to customer service, an unquenchable desire for improvement and perfection, and, above all else, a desire to provide the full spectrum of equipment and education necessary to help others live the Eleiko brand for themselves because, after all, strong is happy.
My time in Sweden was filled with far too much information to do it all justice in a single article. Stay tuned next month for Inside Eleiko HQ, Part 2: The Birth of a Barbell, which will take a behind-the-scenes look at how Eleiko barbells and bumper plates are manufactured today as well as chronicle how the company grew to where it is now in just 50 short years.- rc
(Note this article was edited by Mark Cannella. Check out more at Columbus Weightlifting.)