What Happened When Nautilus's CEO Ditched His Fancy Office And Joined The Company Kickball Team

Opening the doors of communication improved innovation and led to financial success at Nautilus.

Nautilus CEO Bruce Cazenave’s office door is always open. But this wasn’t always the case. The home fitness equipment company's 72,000-square-foot headquarters in Vancouver, Washington, was nicknamed the Taj Mahal by employees.

"My office was the size of our entire executive area now," says Cazenave. Huge mahogany doors separated executives from the rest of the company and was termed "Mahogany Row" by employees.

When Cazenave took the reins as CEO in 2011, he faced low employee morale, a lack of innovation, and a hierarchical corporate culture. The Taj Mahal office was a point of consternation among employees, who viewed the building as a result of the former executive's spending choices, and was a constant reminder of the company’s past. The complex had formerly accommodated Nautilus’s 1,700 employees, but through divesting its commercial business, it was reduced to just 300 employees.

One of the first moves Cazenave made as CEO was relocating Nautilus’s 300 employees to a smaller building, about 20% the size of the original. The new space fit the company’s leaner frame, allowed for enhanced communication and created a more congenial vibe in the company’s office culture.

"People were able to walk to other departments. We have events on the back patio to celebrate achievements. Our executive area is welcoming and approachable. We have candies out [and] an open-door policy. [Employees] can pop into my office or any of the executives," says Cazenave. In addition to altering the physical work environment, Cazenave recognized even more changes were needed in order to improve morale and innovation, which had been stifled in the company. He shared some of his tactics with us:

Be present and have big ears.

Cazenave made a point to be visible in the company. "My style is to be involved with the people, trying to understand what they think we can do different," he says. After only two days as CEO, employees told Cazenave they’d seen him more than they’d seen his predecessor in three years.

Being visible and opening up conversations with employees changed the mindset from "Oh no, an executive is coming down the hall" to employees wandering over to the executive area and stepping through the doorway to present a new idea.

Encourage participation.

When Nautilus was invited to ring the bell at the New York Stock Exchange and show off their Bowflex Max Trainer, they hosted a raffle among employees to win an all-expenses paid trip for them and their significant other to go to New York and participate.

Whereas previously only the executives were allowed to attend an event of this magnitude, opening the opportunity to staff in all areas of the company provided an opportunity for employees to connect with the larger goals of the company beyond their own job description.

Make the CEO part of the team.

As the maker of fitness equipment, Nautilus employees are encouraged to live a healthy lifestyle. Many participate in a number of health and fitness activities including a lunchtime kickball league, which Cazenave also plays in. At the championship kickball game, the company hosts a BBQ for all staff where executives cook and serve the food.

Cazenave says being part of the kickball team has helped to break down the barriers between the executive and employees and improve communication throughout the company. "It’s hard to get to know everybody on a first-name basis, but if you go to one of these events [and meet] the people who work in the warehouse, you get to know them on a personal level," he says. Cazenave has a knack for remembering the names of employees’ pets, which he says is a great way to get to know people on a more personal level.

New Recruit Orientation.

When new employees are hired at Nautilus, they spend some one-on-one time with Nautilus’s key executives. "We tell them some of the basic principles like we want them to learn from the best practices they’ve had from other companies, and [we tell them about our] open-door policy, and not to be afraid to try things that they think might work for us," says Cazenave, who argues these meetings have helped improve innovation in the company by making new employees feel comfortable about approaching the executive with a new idea.

Bottom Line: Cazenave credits improved communication across the company with helping Nautilus flex its innovation muscle. Removing the executive from Mahogany Row and making them part of the team has helped make employees more comfortable raising new ideas.

[Image: Flickr user Samuel Hartman]

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2 Comments

  • Terry D. Kennedy

    The single greatest thing Bruce that takes a iconic company such as Nautilus to continue to run with the big dogs is to create what is clear to me in this article, is simply dumping the CEO which is often a code word for EGO... A Biblical principle has illustrated this in countless ways as it echoes --- that pride comes before the fall ---

    Pumped and Excited for Nautilus... Hey Bruce we clearly come from very similar points of reference in the world of business and people...

    Hope to hear soon that you are the only CEO in the country who goes to lunch / workout every day with with a new employee M-F and by years end you would have concreted a solid team of 260 of the 300 employees.

    Sided note Bruce: In the club business in the 80s thru 00s and a client in to the launch with Arthur Jones crazy days of the early 80s I have seen it all.... The Best to those who make up the Nautilus Team - all 300 of them. Give me a shout some time, would love to work with ya ;)