"Already as a 12 year old I wanted to be world-champion in something, the question was only - in what? I tried all different sports that I could find in my hometown, Arvika. I pretty much have the same frame of mind today. There are many similarities between running a big company and being a professional athlete, says Ulf Bengtsson", VD and founder of the World Class international.
He did have a problem always aiming higher than the stars. For the young Ulf, all that mattered was to work out and become the best. Not only the best in Arvika but the best in the world. In the 70's Ulf found his calling. A sport in which he later would belong to the elite - body building. He had been lifting weights for many years, he had all the right conditions, the well needed stubbornness and a burning commitment. At his best, Ulf Bengtsson was put on the pedestal, third place in the world- championship of bodybuilding.
"During my time competing I spent a lot of my time in Los Angeles. Everyone who shared my burning interest for the sport was gathered in Santa Monica and in Venice Beach. Here I worked out with the biggest names in the field of body building - Frank Zane, Samir Bannout and obviously Arnold. In this environment I got inspired and ideas that I later turned into reality, was born here."
When his career as an athlete was over Ulf Bengtsson started his "health and training trend" which today has grown to be a movement in Sweden and in many other countries. In 1983 his company Wold Class was born. He built workout equipment, sold his own clothing-line and started his first gym on Atlasgatan in Stockholm-Sweden.
"A few years later I opened World Class Health-studio, here I offered a salad bar, group-training, Morning Club for companies and all in an environment matching the same standard as the better gyms around. This is where celebrities like Bruce Springsteen would come and work out when ever they were in Stockholm. This place was way beyond the competing gyms, in an industry that just started getting recognition in the public eye."
The next step was to take the brand outside of Sweden. Gyms opened up all over Europe, in Sovjet and in the Middle East. Ulf lost the Russian part of his business in 1995, with that he also lost the foundation of his company.
"We were the biggest in Russia and I had put most of my focus there. When I lost all that, I was back to square one. All I had left was my brand, a few friends and a burning conviction that I would make it to the top again."
Ulf moved to Brusseles and from there he started building his company again, from scratch. A few years ago World Class was noted on the Swedish stock-market for its impressive development.The original concept for his business was always to develop the brand-name World Class, within health, recovery and lifestyle, not only in Sweden but in the whole world. Today you can find World Class gyms in eight countries with almost 60 000 members! Most of the success is outside of Sweden, in eastern Europe, mostly Romania.
"With confidence I can say, that today we are in the lead in the fitness-industry in Europe and in many countries we are for sure on in the top of the market. We offer the latest in the field of workout and we do so in exclusive, inviting and effective facilities where our members feel well taken care of. It has been a fantastic journey, going from my first gym on Atlasgatan to all that World Class has to offer today. Most exciting, a few years back, was the opening of our flagship store on Nybrogtan 8 in Stockholm. Here you can see what we stand for across Europe."
There is still much to accomplish even though the health industry has grown a lot. The future is bright.
"12-15% of the grownups in the West are regularly active and don't mind paying for their workout. We have another 85% left as potential members. The general interest for health is a growing trend and we offer a great lifestyle. In a time where most jobs involves sitting still, especially for young people, its more important than ever that the kids today learn the benefits of physical activities. People need to be encouraged to stay healthy. Only great benefits for our society can come out of this", Ulf Bengtsson finally says.