When MDA ALS Division Co-Chair Augie Nieto was a young businessman just starting out, he had an idea that laid the groundwork for his later, multimillion-dollar success in the fitness industry. Instead of selling his unwanted exercise bikes at a loss, he sent 50 of them as gifts to health club owners across the country. Soon, orders started pouring in.
Nieto, who received an ALS diagnosis five years ago, realized that his generosity and good-service ethic created a sense of obligation and loyalty among potential customers that was more valuable than money. Now, Nieto has written a book, Reciprocity, Incorporated, in which he and other successful business people describe how they used this concept to build their organizations.
The book, which Nieto painstakingly wrote using a toe-operated trackball mouse due to the effects of ALS, contains interviews he conducted with 30 CEOs and business leaders, including the heads of Starbucks, Safeway, Little Caesars Pizza and other iconic corporations. The book also contains an introduction by famed cyclist and cancer-survivor Lance Armstrong, who calls Nieto “my Chief Inspirational Officer.”
ALS brings intimacy
Despite the difficulty of researching and writing a book while unable to move most of his muscles or speak, Nieto says his condition allowed his high-powered subjects to open up to him in ways they otherwise wouldn’t. “When people think you are at the end of your life, they say things to you that are intimate,” he told The Orange County Register via his toe-operated computer trackball.
Nieto’s subjects revealed to him how initial failure, rather than instant success, led to the realizations and understandings that later carried them to the top — just as Nieto’s own failure to sell exercise bikes led to his decision to give them away and to all the success that followed.
While researching the book, Nieto also discovered that certain companies practice a wide-ranging form of corporate compassion, or as he writes in the book, “a full embrace of the web of obligations and generosity that connects us all.” These companies have been among Nieto’s biggest supporters as he works to raise money for Augie’s Quest, MDA’s ALS research initiative that bears his name.
Since receiving his ALS diagnosis in 2005, Nieto, 52, of Corona del Mar, Calif., has devoted his considerable business acumen to raising money for research into the causes of and cures for ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Nieto and his wife Lynne have spearheaded Augie’s Quest, an effort that has raised more than $23 million so far.
Most of this money has gone to the ALS Therapy Development Institute (ALS TDI) in Cambridge, Mass., which is testing hundreds of compounds in an effort to find treatments for ALS as quickly as possible. One of the compounds tested, a molecule known as ALSTDI-00846, has shown promise in mice and is expected to be tested in humans next year.
Nieto hopes to be one of those humans. “I have a new goal,” he told The Orange County Register, “to live the longest with ALS.”
If past performance is any indication, Augie Nieto will achieve that goal.
For more information:
Reciprocity, Incorporated was published in April 2010 by Infinity Publishing of West Conshohocken, Penn. Books can be obtained online through www.buybooksontheweb.com, or by calling (877) BUY-BOOK.
Nieto is also the author of Augie’s Quest, a book that describes his life before and after receiving an ALS diagnosis, the establishment of MDA’s Augie’s Quest ALS research initiative and the work of ALS TDI. Augie’s Quest is available online and in bookstores.
To read the June 11 story on Augie Nieto in The Orange County Register, see “Augie just wrote a book with his toes.”
For more information about Nieto’s toe-operated computer equipment, see Let Your Feet Do the Talking in the March 2008 MDA/ALS Newsmagazine.