Want to network with the CEO of public company or the president of a university?
Adam Goldstein, CEO of Royal Caribbean International, says his running workouts and passion for the sport build rapport with staffers at all levels. “There is no doubt I have running friends in the company who I might otherwise not have formed as strong relationships.“
Running just may be the 21st century version of golf. It’s a chance to polish office relationships, impress the boss, and “bond with colleagues outside the hierarchy,“ Goldstein says.
Across the country, companies are forming running clubs, co-workers are pairing up to train for marathons and businesses are sponsoring employee teams in charity events. It’s hard to beat running as a low-cost-barrier-to-entry sport. All it takes is a pair of sneakers and comfortable clothes. And it can be done anywhere on your own schedule.
Often, the initial draw is workplace camaraderie. Corporate runs introduce newbies to the sport, often with company-wide training programs to prepare for the 5-kilometer run. That’s what hooked Ed Suarez-Rivero, a software manager at Motorola in Plantation, Fla., who now jogs at lunchtime with the running group at his company.
Suarez-Rivero says exercising with co-workers builds relationships across departments and opens the door to more personal conversation than what would typically take place among desks and computers. “You get really comfortable with people you sweat with. You joke around. If you’re having a problem with your son, you might vent with them. It’s different.“
Laurie Huseby, president of TeamFootWorks, producer of the Mercedes-Benz Corporate Run Series, says running used to be dominated by competitive athletes. Now it’s popular with people who want to lose weight, run for a cause, meet new people, challenge themselves to reach a goal, improve energy levels or relieve stress. As the sport has taken off, running clubs are popping up in cities across the country and the number of marathons has topped 500 a year. In many parts of the country, there’s a run for charity or competition every month, year round. Running USA estimates there were 1.85 million finishers at U.S. half-marathons in 2012, which is nearly 15 percent more than the previous record of 1.6 million in 2011.
“People have realized that even if you’re not the most fit, you can enjoy running and better your health,“ Huseby says. Moreover, she says, the tent parties after a race are more fun than company holiday parties. “It’s a much less intimidating environment to hang out with the CEO.“
Yet it seems to be the competitive aspect of running that attracts the high-level executives who once spent the day on the golf course. More than 100 CEOs will race in their own category in the Mercedes-Benz Corporate Run Series in South Florida this month, including the top brass at Sheridan Healthcare and the president of St. Thomas University.
Goldstein at Royal Caribbean International takes the challenge seriously. He’s training with a coach and believes his passion for fitness and running has filtered down, galvanizing more than 300 participants on the cruise line’s team in the Miami corporate run. Goldstein also has formed company teams to compete in national running events with him. “Being able to compete as colleagues is important to me. I have bent my schedule to make races.“
At a time when stress levels are high and working hours longer, busy professionals say running fits easily into their work life balance. Heather Geronemus runs 40 miles a week. Even while traveling often for her job as events marketing director at Florida-based Ultimate Software, Geronemus sticks to her running routine.
“All you need is sneakers. It’s a nice way to explore a community. I just ran the Vegas strip last week.“ said Geronemus, who also travels for marathons and uses running as common ground with people she wants to meet for business. “It is the newest way to network.“
All it may take is one runner at a workplace to change the vibe. Jim Halley, a competitive runner who works at the Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) Executive Airport, says he’s that guy. “I’m not pushy about it. I just let my co-workers know if they are interested, I can help them out.“
Halley says he always rallies a team for the local corporate run, encouraging colleagues to get past hesitation or the awkwardness of sweating alongside co-workers. “Once they make it across the finish line the first time, they’re hooked.“
Cindy Krischer Goodman is CEO of BalanceGal LLC, a provider of news and advice on how to balance work and life. She can be reached at balancegalgmail.com. Read her columns and blog at http://worklifebalancingact.com/.