Weider is a pioneer when it comes to nutritional supplements, and is celebrating its 80th anniversary at this year’s FIBO. body LIFE interviewed the chairman of Weider Health & Fitness, Eric Weider, who’s family once brought Arnold Schwarzenegger to the USA, exclusively.
body LIFE: Weider is celebrating its 80-year company anniversary. However, the fitness market is only around 40 years old. How exactly did Weider get off the ground – and how and when did Weider become involved in the fitness market?
Eric Weider: We are proud to be celebrating our 80th anniversary in 2016. It all began in 1936, when Joe Weider began training people. He must have been the first personal trainer! Joe had been working out with weights, in order to get stronger, to stand up to bullies in his neighbourhood. He had seen pictures and stories about Eugene Sandow, one of the great 19th Century strongmen. Joe learned that Sandow used barbells to build up his muscles. This was a very unusual idea at the time. People noticed Joe getting stronger and more confident, and asked him what he was doing. So he began to train people. Then it really took off in 1940, when he published his first magazine, Your Physique. This magazine eventually became Muscle and Fitness, which was the flagship magazine for the Weider company. Muscle and Fitness magazine truly kicked off the growth phase of the fitness industry in the early 1980s. The growth phase meant that we had to separate our magazines, exercise equipment and nutrition into different divisions, and eventually into separate companies as they grew into large businesses.
body LIFE: What was your personal experience of the beginnings of the fitnessboom, together with your father and uncle in the 1960s and 70s?
Eric Weider: Well in the 1960’s and 1970’s I was at elementary school and high school. So I was not directly involved, but more of an observer. I went to many bodybuilding shows with my father, Ben Weider, and remember meeting many of the bodybuilding greats. Of course, I remember meeting Arnold when he was a young, and up and coming bodybuilder. Growing up, I spent a lot of time working in my father’s warehouse. When I was younger I worked in the mailroom, but as I got older my dad moved me into the actual warehouse, where I picked orders and loaded them onto trucks. I still remember to this day, that it was very hard work loading weight sets into trucks for delivery. I have remembered that all my career, and have always had respect and a soft spot for warehousemen. I formally joined the company in 1988, when I moved from Canada to the Weider head office in Los Angeles, where I started working with my uncle, Joe Weider. Once again, my father and uncle insisted I learn every job in the company, and so I worked at nearly every job for about 10 years. This included running some of our smaller business units until I was made CEO of the Weider Company. It was quite an education, filled with some good, and some very challenging experiences.
body LIFE: At least on a public level, your uncle, Joe Weider, played a crucial role in shaping the company and its development. What kind of person was your uncle – away from the public spotlight?
Eric Weider: Joe was very driven and was the driving force in creating the vision for the Company and for constantly pushing it to be better. He was the creative force. His brother, Ben, my father, was more of the administrative and business person and diplomat. Behind the scenes, Joe could be quite a contemplative man. He loved to read history, philosophy and even poetry. He would sometimes surprise me by reciting a long verse of poetry from memory, that was relevant to a topic we were discussing. He loved to talk about business of course, but equally about politics, history, psychology, philosophy, and music. He really was a very interesting and knowledgeable man. You have to remember too, that he was self educated. Joe came of age during the Great Depression, and had to leave school to work. So he never graduated from high school. Everything he knew was self-taught, including Reading and talking with people. These are habits he kept all his life. Another thing about Joe was that he was truly an egalitarian. He treated everyone equally, regardless of their social status, race, or religion. He was interested in the person, not the labels that society puts on people. If you were capable and hardworking, he would work with you and he couldn’t care less about anything else.