Step into your local CrossFit box and chances are you will be lifting Bill Henniger’s handiwork. The 44-year-old is the founder, CEO, and sole owner of Rogue Fitness, the Columbus, Ohio, company that makes all the barbells, racks, kettlebells, and other equipment used in most boxes. Henniger was an early CrossFit adopter—he started doing the workouts in 2005 and opened a gym in Columbus in 2007, only to discover that no single company made or sold all the equipment he’d need. An Air Force veteran and General Motors industrial engineer, Henniger fixed that problem by launching Rogue.
He began Rogue as an e-commerce site selling other companies’ products and transitioned into making his own. At GM, he made parts for transmissions and learned a great deal about metal—raw material, machining, heat treating, and more. “When you are building a transmission, you are doing pretty much anything you can possibly do to a piece of steel. Lots of things we do with barbells are similar.” With Rogue, Henniger is focusing on his twin missions of creating products that are durable and making them in America.
The company now employs 600 people in a 600,000-square-foot HQ and buys its steel from American sources. In part, Henniger has set it up that way out of a sense of patriotic duty. “Having these jobs here, versus outsourcing, creates a ripple effect on the economy,” he says.
And thanks to local manufacturing, his company can also be nimbler. Rogue can test and launch a product—like a new stainless-steel barbell—in a matter of days. “Some companies build things to be just good enough, but we try to go well beyond that,” he says. He offers the example of a power rack, which typically would be held together with half-inch bolts. “We’ll use a one-inch bolt, which can hold something like 60,000 pounds. It’s never going to see that amount of stress, but it means it’s going to last forever.”
One of Henniger’s principles is “high speed, low drag.” It’s a military phrase that means doing things as efficiently as possible and applies to everything from product design to manufacturing processes to his workouts. “CrossFit is all about functional movements at high intensity—everything has some correlation to real life.”
To make sure his employees reap the same benefits, Henniger had two gyms built into the new headquarters and gives employees incentives to get active. “People get caught up in the business of life, and they forget how good it makes them feel to be strong. We see a lot of people, once they start a program, become not only happier but more productive at work. We’re trying to build a culture around it.”
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