Kent Orrgren, World Class Romania or the fit Swedish state of mind

Let’s face it: being an expat isn’t easy at all. Moving to a different country, in a different culture and in a different landscape. But with a background in competitive sports, things become more challenging and interesting. Kent Orrgren (47), CEO of World Class, the leading fitness chain in Romania, came all the way from Sweden to Romania, for the first time in 2014. Eventually he decided to move here in the fall of 2016. He did not know a lot about Romania since the country “is not that active in promoting itself abroad as a country and the nice things it has”. Nonetheless, Kent Orrgren had the chance to visit the country, from the seaside to the mountains area (where he loved Dracula’s castle but also the beautiful view from the top of the mountains). He doesn’t seem to be annoyed by traffic jams, he is fascinated about the highspeed Internet in Romania, and his focus remains on making fitness a constant part in the Romanian’s lifestyle. Still, he misses his family, but for the rest he stays an eternal optimistic person: “whatever I want in Sweden I can find it here”.

Kent Orrgren, CEO of World Class. Photo credit: personal archive

Cristina Dobreanu: Do you remember the day when you were told that you would come to Romania?

Kent Orrgren: Yes, I remember. It actually happened in two ways. I was approached by the Fund (Resource Partners, the fund that holds World Class Romania), back in 2014, and asked to join as an industry adviser. So, I came down to Romania, in May 2014, to look and see what it was all about.

And what was going on here?

I wanted to see what the project was all about, what Romania was all about, and what the market was all about. I remember I did not know a lot about Romania when I came here the first time. I was amazed about the great things that were in Romania, how friendly, open minded and sociable all people were. And then, later on, I also received the question if I could step in as a CEO. This was in the fall of 2016. And this took everything to another level. I decided to move here. I was very excited to join and start work here on a full time basis.

During the period when you were just an adviser, what have you visited here?

I have been able to travel not only where we have clubs, but I also went in the cities where Club Moving had clubs before the acquisition (in 2016, World Class acquired the fitness operator Club Moving). So I’ve been to Bacău, Pitești, Ploiești, Constanța, Craiova, Cluj, Iași. But I have also been to Poiana Brașov to ski, which I enjoyed a lot, and I also have been to other parts of the Brasov area, like Bran, to see the castle, Dracula’s castle. I enjoyed seeing the differences between the high intensity of life in the capital city and being so close to nature.

How many hours have you spent on the road to Poiana Brasov? It is usually a very crowded one.

If you leave late at night or early in the morning you can avoid the traffic. I’ve been lucky enough not to spend that much time. 2 and a half hours. So I think I was lucky enough to receive some support about when to go or not to go. But traffic jams… you have them everywhere.

On a scale from 1 to 10, what would be the grade you would give to Poiana Brasov?

In terms of what I have experienced, maybe 7 or 8 in terms of ski. But in terms of feelings or coziness, I would give it a 9. We had a lot of funny experiences when we got there this year. When we took the Teleferic, everything, at the bottom, was grey and clouded. After we broke through the clouds, at the top we had only sun. Half of the mountain was above the clouds, half of it beneath. It was a very nice experience. And then I have been to Switzerland and in Italy to ski, but I didn’t enjoy that much the experience.

And what could be improved in order to get a 10?

It is harder to compare because if you have bigger mountains, you have bigger slopes, you have different challenges in the way you are skiing. But the quality of the slopes in Poiana Brașov is very nice and I recommend it to everyone I talk to. And I enjoy the closeness – if you are in Bucharest, in 2-3 hours you can go ski on the slopes. Not many places have this, to be in the capital city and be close to the mountains, or, during the summer season, close to the seaside.

It is going to be your first summer here.

Yes, but I have been to the seaside before, and I enjoyed it a lot.

What did you know about Romania before coming here?

Before I came, I didn’t know that much at all, since Romania is not that active in promoting itself abroad as a country and the nice things it has.

So, when you arrived at the airport, in 2014, it was the first time you touched the Romanian ground. What was your first image of Bucharest?

My first impression was that there was a lot of people at the airport. The airport wasn’t that big, but it was very, very crowded. I was picked up by someone and we drove around and I could see parts of the city, and it was a huge amount of traffic. What I remember is that there were so many things that surprised me in a good way, like the development of all the shopping malls. Actually there are many things developing in Romania, this is really interesting.

Let’s try an imagination exercise: you have in front of you 100 Romanian children who love to eat but not to practice sports. How would you convince them to do sports?

To try to influence them I would tell them they would be able to do so much more if they were to be active and do something that they enjoy. I would recommend them to do something with a ball, some team sports. It’s easier to start that way than make them do something on their own. There are a lot of games to play with a ball. It’s sociable and it’s fun.

How did you discover sports?

It was a very long time ago. It is hard to remember. It was something I did in the streets, while very young, together with my friends and neighbours. It was either football or something that we called street hockey (similar to ice hockey) – we imagined we were the superstars of that sports. We did a lot of sports and my parents always told me that I could not stay still. I am an active and a curious person.

How did you decide to make a profession out of sports?

I did not seek to be in this profession from the beginning. I was trying to be an ice hockey professional, as good as possible. I worked at the gym in order to be stronger, faster. I was at that point, 19 years old, semi-professional, and I had some time to spend when I was not playing hockey. So I applied for a position of gym instructor, just to have something to do. And that led to a lot of things and me working in this industry. I decided to stop playing ice hockey and I started educating myself in this field of gym: I became Club Manager, after that I became Regional Manager responsible for 9 clubs and at a certain point I was appointed CEO of the network.

So sports helped you.

I used my sports background in order to be able to perform in a highly competitive environment. Sports was my number one interest and marketing & sales became my second. Actually, marketing, sales and leadership are my biggest interest in life. Since I was 26 years old I realized that I will always be around these people with leadership skills. My father has always been a strong leader in the positions he had. He used to work in a large construction company but also in different fields. Now he is 75 years old.

Do you think these leadership skills born or made?

I do believe that there are people who are born with them, but leadership for me is something that you practice continuously. You need to reach out to people, to adapt to people, to be able to understand people with different backgrounds and situations in order to become a good leader. Leadership is an ongoing process. You are not just born with it and if you end up believing this I think you take this to easy. You need to work on with this every day.

What sports do you practice except going to World Class?

So far, squash and outside, I run. Running may be running around in the city, it doesn’t mean it has to have a specific route. But I really enjoy running in Herăstrău Park with its surroundings and the nature and the vibrant feeling you find there. It’s like Central Park. I was so much impressed there were so many people out running there early on a Sunday morning. I enjoyed it.

Your first experience as an expat was…?

You can say it’s here. I have been working professionally in other countries but I was living in Sweden and working in Denmark and of course there were some similarities. But working and living abroad, it was here.

What do you miss from home?

I miss being close to my daughter when I am here. Otherwise, whatever I want in Sweden I can find it here.

How good is your Romanian?

Not that good yet. I am working on it. Romanians are so fluent in English.

Your motto is

To be true to myself and in that sense, I can also be true to others.

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Foto Editorial 22 iunieAdrian Boureanu