How I Made It

How Tony Little found his spark and built a billion-dollar fitness empire

Fitness icon Tony Little, known for his energetic personality and salesmanship, had to fight through hard times to find his entrepreneurial spark.

After a near-fatal car accident in 1983, Little suffered through a long physical recovery, depression and a resulting addiction to painkillers.

"I was in an and out of hospitals for two years and lost my body-building career," Little told CNBC.

But one day, while watching Jane Fonda's exercise show on TV, Little decided he was done being miserable.

"I said, 'I'm going to do that,'" Little recalled. "When you change your mindset, you change your life."

Tony Little at Muscle Beach in Los Angeles
Jeniece Pettitt | CNBC
Tony Little at Muscle Beach in Los Angeles

He started a company that cleaned gyms and health clubs in order to raise money to start a local cable access TV show. Then, in 1987 he landed a deal with the Home Shopping Network.

If he could sell 400 exercise videos in four days, the network executive said, Little would have other opportunities.

Little sold 400 videos in four hours.

"If you're not setting goals, you're like a boat without a rudder." -Tony Little, fitness icon and businessman

"Enthusiasm is the most contagious thing ever," Little said. "When you make the decision that you can do it, it's going to happen. If you never make the decision, it's not going to happen."

Little has since built a fitness empire. To date, his infomercials have generated more than $3 billion in product sales, Little said.

"If you're not setting goals, you're like a boat without a rudder — you have no direction," he said. "Goal-setting is absolutely essential to complete yourself."

Video by Jeniece Petitt.