Leadership Lessons From Triathlons - Leading with Unconventional Wisdom
This interview was presented by Enrico Varella.
MONDAY, MARCH 15, 2010
INTERVIEW WITH A SERIAL IRONMAN & ENTREPRENEUR - MITCH THROWER (Part 1)
A serial entrepreneur, Mitch is the co-founder of one of the fastest growing companies in the US -- The Active Network, Inc. which includes Active.com, a software, marketing and registration powerhouse. He also co-founded and served for seven years as CEO of The Active Europe Network, Ltd. which operates Active’s business model in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
His initiative and efforts to rapidly consolidate participatory sports registration software companies worldwide has, without any doubt, created the Ticketmaster of participatory sports. His entrepreneurial ideas and initiative have forever changed the global infrastructure of sports participation.
Thrower also serves as the New Media Officer, Strategist & Senior Correspondent for Competitor Group, Inc., (CGI), based in San Diego, California -- a platform media and race event company specializing in the endurance sports sector which includes marathons, cycling, and triathlons. The Company is comprised of several brands, including the Rock n Roll Marathon's nationwide, Triathlete Magazine, Inside Triathlon, Velo News and Competitor Publishing.
Directly tied to America's "Camelot," Mitch is the son of Lori Thrower who was one of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Executive assistants, and of the late Frederick Mitchell Thrower II, who created the Yule Log (a cultural staple in the 60's, a video of a burning fireplace that still airs during the Christmas holidays) when he was the President of WPIX-TV in New York (Channel 11).
Full name: Mitchell Thrower
Profession: Financier, Entrepreneur, Author, Philanthropist, Triathlete
Years in profession: 20
Cities of Residence: La Jolla, CA and New York City
Triathlon experience: 18 years and 18 Ironmans
Pet peeves: When people don't cut their nails before mass swim starts.
Hobbies: Writing, Triathlon, Adventure Travel, Teaching
Walk us through your active lifestyle. You’ve started, managed and invested in several successful businesses including Active.com and Triathlete Magazine, and you are an avid and competitive triathlete. How do you manage all these challenging and time-demanding passions?
I truly believe that the fountain of youth is movement. Not just with your body, but with your mind. Staying active keeps people young and minds sharp. I've been blessed to have been involved in putting some great companies and investment groups together. Jim Woodman and Scott Kyle and I all co-founded The Active Network, (www.active.com)which now has over 2,600 team members around the world and we'll likely do over 100 million transactions in the next year. Competitor Group has also been growing quite rapidly, adding events, magazine titles and soon a major interactive platform.
When things get challenging in and around the work tornado, it's always been a peaceful reprieve to be able to get out and run, bike or swim or go to the gym. And even though I am still involved in many of the ventures I've started, I don't run them per se.
I like to find CEOs and COOs who are far better skilled than I am at navigating the interpersonal land mines associated with managing hundreds of people and expectations. It's my first priority within the first few years of a new venture's launch to find someone who likes the stress of being the CEO more than I do.
Congratulations on last year's Ironman 70.3 performance where you qualified for the World Championship in Clearwater. Are you leaning towards the 70.3 format that is half of the standard Ironman distance?
I will always love the full distance Ironman, but the 70.3 distance makes it possible to stay fit, achieve something amazing and still have a life. Triathlons of any distance are life-changing events. I think my finishes at 70.3 Hawaii and Kona in 2009, though, were more meaningful than all of the other years combined, which is a bold statement. But given the circumstances and what I had to overcome to get to the starting lines, I’ll stand by it. I was hoping to race Ironman Hawaii in 2008, but had to cancel because I ruptured my inner ear membrane and faced a long, often discouraging and painful recovery, so I'll never forget my journey back to the island.
Why the Ironman triathlon? What started you on that?
I discovered the sport of triathlon in 1990, in Westport, Connecticut, where I grew up. I remember the spark I felt when I bought a mountain bike for my first triathlon – the Milford Triathlon.
And for me, triathlon was an exhilarating dream, sparked by the emotions and sensations of swimming, riding a bike and running - the sensations that most of us share when we were kids and our pure spirits impelled us to be constantly in motion. That feeling didn’t evaporate when I put my bike away. Growing up, I've often had a recurring dream that I'm flying – impossible right? But not when I'm descending a big hill in Colorado or California on my bike and I can see the landscape move beneath me…the ground and the trees. I am, in that moment, flying.
Ironman's tag line is "Anything is Possible," but I have learned that your dreams may not happen the way you anticipate. In my freshman year at St. Lawrence University, I slipped on the ice while running and sustained an injury that required several knee surgeries and prevented me from walking for several months. After I recovered, I started running and did pretty well in some local running races. Then I went to the pool. I couldn’t swim at all at first, so I focused on learning technique. Soon I was swimming, biking, and running to recover from my surgeries. Movement was a great gift that had been taken away, and now it was back. I was lucky in a way because it’s human nature to really appreciate things only when we’ve lost them. When I temporarily lost my capacity to be physically active and regained it, a triathlete was born. That experience presaged the journey I took healing from my ear injury.
Another very rich part of my attraction to this sport is the support I received from all the folks I met in the triathlon world. Triathletes are extraordinary. At my first race, I immediately knew this was a clan, a tribe I wanted to join and I soon discovered that my experience was no exception. I have never met anyone in triathlon who was not highly motivated, who did not fully embrace life. This sport attracts a very successful breed of folks.
When taking on these physical challenges, how do you maintain your balance of work, life and family?
Two-time Ironman Hawaii champion Scott Tinley said something that will stay with me forever: “You have eight hours in the day to work. So, if you work a solid eight hours, then there's another eight hours in the day for you to sleep, and rarely does anybody sleep a full eight hours. Then you still have eight hours for yourself.” So, he had this kind of 8-8-8 rule. Once I realized it was true, I became excited to think of all the possibilities this presented every day to a dedicated person. You just have to control the 8 hours which are yours and not get caught in the slippery slope of time-wasting detours.
How does an active physical lifestyle tie in to your work as an entrepreneur, businessman and leader?
I’m constantly on my feet, running around and multi-tasking on many business projects, which takes endurance. Making fitness one of my top priorities allows me to be healthy physically and mentally. For most people, fitness leads to better relationships, a better outlook on life and, ultimately, success. I love going on bike rides with industry folks, and meeting them at races, and other crossroads where endurance athletes meet. The foundation of all human relationships is common experience. So why not make that experience a healthy one?
What made you do Ironman? How many years did you train before you qualified for Kona?
I qualified the first year I tried to do Kona, in 1994, and I've qualified a few times after that. Every now and then I am honored to get one of the rare Willy Wonka's Golden Tickets because after writing hundreds of thousands of words about Ironman for the media over the last two decades, the WTC would sometimes invite me to come cover the event from the inside. I was the first photojournalist to photograph the Ironman from within the event in 1997, and I shot it again with a still digital camera in 2005. In 2007, I was also the first videographer to video the Ironman while doing the event. Ironman published these videos on Ironman.com's YouTube channel. Holding a camera, even with the safety strap for 10-12 hours is not as easy as it seems, but reading the comments from the inspired viewers made it all worth it. Inspiring and teaching others is one of the best feelings in the world.
, MARCH 16, 2010
INTERVIEW WITH A SERIAL IRONMAN & ENTREPRENEUR - MITCH THROWER (Part 2)
What’s the connection between physical activity and mental and emotional health?
Since the beginning of human history, our bodies were designed for movement. And if we are not moving our bodies, then they are deteriorating, they are degenerating. The process of aging accelerates this. Just by going on a long walk, it's been proven that millions of neurons are created in our brain, making us more intelligent, more alive. So plugging in the sport of triathlon or any physical activity into your day is a win/win decision. I really enjoy being active, and it enhances the enjoyment I feel writing, studying, reading, and meeting with friends, family and my business associates.
You have written some books. Is writing one of your passions?
Absolutely, I love to write and writing helps me in my teaching, which is also a big passion of mine. It allows me to put a kind of structure what I’ve been learning all along and share it with other. Lyons Press published one of my first books, The Attention Deficit Workplace: Winning Strategies for Success in Today’s Fast-Paced Business Environment and I’m currently working on another.
You are an entrepreneur. What lessons from triathlons have you brought into your profession as an entrepreneur and self-directed leader?
If you model your business career after the sport of triathlon, there really are four critical things you should think about. The first is preparation - in a business situation you need to be able to pull a file, work with information, and know how to use the data. Getting organized in life is worth a solid 10% gain in what you can achieve.
The second is transitions - you need to know when to make the transition from something that didn't work and wasn't generating revenue to creating something that does. Too many times people throw good money after bad, or chase losses with time and resources.
The third is training and learning - You have to stay on the cutting edge of technology, in sport and in business. With the knowledge base for almost anything becoming deeper and more universally available, staying on the cutting edge becomes more important.
Number four is networking - You become like the people you surround yourself with. We need to align ourselves with people who have sought success, made mistakes along the way and learned from them. Hang out with triathletes who know how to set goals and achieve them, and voila! You will too.
What made you do Ironman? How many years did you train before you qualified for Kona?
I qualified the first year I tried to do Kona, in 1994, and I've qualified a few times after that. Every now and then I am honored to get one of the rare Willy Wonka's Golden Tickets because after writing hundreds of thousands of words about Ironman for the media over the last twodecades, the WTC would sometimes invite me to come cover the event from the inside. I was the first photojournalist to photograph the Ironman from within the event in 1997, and I shot it again with a still digital camera in 2005. In 2007, I was also the first videographer to video the Ironman while doing the event. Ironman published these videos on Ironman.com's YouTube channel. Holding a camera, even with the safety strap for 10-12 hours is not as easy as it seems, but reading the comments from the inspired viewers made it all worth it. Inspiring and teaching others is one of the best feelings in the world.
Tell us more about your 18 Ironman finishes. What has inspired you to complete so many?
I've had a lot of time to analyze my motivation to engage in this sport. In every triathlon, your body and soul asks you why?
Nearing the end of every Ironman, when the pain is most intense, my answer's always been, "Okay, never again, I promise." And then, after I finish, and cross that magic pavement on Alii Drive, it's always, "I have to race again!" because the race, the journey and the people I meet along the way are so amazing.
But perhaps the driving force came from the death of my sister Stacey, who passed away at age 16. From that moment, that aching loss fueled my passion for fitness and living healthy. Part of it was not wanting to die, which I think we all share at some level - that fierce desire to stay on this amazing journey called life as long as possible, and be fit enough to really enjoy it.
What did your sister Stacey mean to you?
The more I think about it, the more I can see that she was probably the prime source of my triathlon motivation. Stacey and I were very close and when she got bone cancer at the age of 14, I identified with her struggle intently. The cancer spread to her lungs, ultimately filling them with fluid.
Luckily I was right there and I came running in the door just as she was losing consciousness – she couldn't get any air in her lungs because they were filling up with fluid. This was terrifying. I tried everything I knew and the emergency crews came but none of us were able to revive her. She died in my arms. I was 14 years old. And it had a dramatic impact on my determination to live every day to the fullest and to cherish every single breath. Every day, I'm so thankful that I'm alive.
When you're closely connected to someone, as Stacey and I were, you can see the world through their eyes. While I continued to be active during those two years she was ill and she could not, I felt things from her perspective. When she was heading to the hospital for chemo or coming home suffering with nausea from the chemotherapy, and I was just coming home from running track in junior high, I could sense her joy for me and her sadness that her gift of movement, that joy, was taken from her.
Because this was my sister, I could feel this in my soul and it multiplied my understanding how important and vital these simple, lovely pleasures of running, swimming, riding and breathing that children happily take for granted.
What happened with Triathlete Magazine?
I got involved thanks to the encouragement Triathlete magazine founder Bill Katovsky and the then owner, Jean Claude Garot. As I analyzed the company, I started peeling away what turned out to be the tangled layers of the magazine's ownership. This was something I tackled in a very bold and perhaps naive way. I didn't have the money to buy Triathlete magazine so I asked the owner if he would sell the magazine to me over time - because the people who bought my first business, The College Connection, which sold Eurail passes to college students and distributed a travel guide, paid for it
over time as well. Since I didn’t have all the money up front, I had to find other sources of capital. So I entered into a partnership with Scott Kyle to do a leveraged buyout over the magazine. Eight years later, I bought out Scott Kyle and a year after I led another group of investors to buy out the Belgian owner Jean Claude Garot. The year after we purchased the other 50%, we resold the magazine to the current majority owners, Competitor Group Inc., which is owned by the private equity group Falconhead Capital. I made an investment in this group because I really believe in the company.
To what degree did you actually take over the management of Triathlete?
Now, there was a tornado that swept me away from the actual triathlete activity! Scott Kyle and I took it through a one year transition, which included moving the office and changing personnel. Then we hired John Duke as a sales representative and later made him publisher. Through his involvement with the Multisport School of Champions and as a rep for several top triathletes, he really was the most connected guy in the sport, and had a strong publishing background.
At this time, (1997) I came up with the then-crazy notion to create a company which would provide online registration for all these athletic events. The idea hit me when I came to realize that filling out an Ironman application took forever. It was like a hundred pages. I'm kidding, but it felt like that. Every time you did an event, you had to fill out this long paper form. So I started the process of creating a company that was initially called Race Interaction, then Race Planner, then Race Gate, and then - via a 50/50 merger - Active USA and ultimately we bought the domain Active.com from this guy who was using it as a mail server. I remember staying up for 8 days straight to write a business plan before our investor presentation. A few weeks ago, Dave Alberga, the current CEO of Active, pulled out my business plan at a sales meeting and said, "Hey, this is the original business plan. We get it out and dust it off every now and then because it's pretty much exactly what happened in the last 10 years." I remember the process of hiring Dave. He came in actually a couple of years after the start but at a very good time in the early stage of the company, for sure. He's a good friend and a rock star CEO.
Evidently I had outlined a vision of Active back then that came to reality. Which really is a neat thing to see. Online registration was bound to happen, and many people had the idea and similar businesses. People were going to register online for their events, despite the initial resistance from event directors and credit-card-on-the-internet-shy participants. We luckily did the right thing by merging and partnering with as many people and companies and raising enough capital to make it happen in a big way, in one central place.
INTERVIEW WITH A SERIAL IRONMAN & ENTREPRENEUR - MITCH THROWER (Part 3)
How did you injure your inner ear membrane and how did it affect you?
At the University of California San Diego Masters workout, I jumped in the deep end of the pool really quickly and went straight to the bottom of the diving area. The implosive force was like a gunshot going off, and ripped my inner ear membrane, causing what is called a fistula in my inner ear. The tear immediately caused a clogged feeling, ringing, then dizziness, then extreme tinnitus, which is -- for those that don't know -- a ringing in the ear so loud it's hard to sleep, hear or think. Unfortunately, it's also sometimes an indicator of something more serious. I underwent a series of tests over the next few months, including blood tests, audiology tests, then CAT scans and MRIs to determine that I didn’t have a brain tumor or anything that serious. Luckily, it was a fistula caused by the accident, but unfortunately, the fistula left me unable to do anything physical for an extended period. The prescription for healing a fistula is a triathlete's nightmare - bed rest.
I ended up enduring several months of inactivity, and a year of tinnitus. Many of those weeks were strict bed rest - no coughing, no sneezing, no laughing, no pressure on the ear in any way, shape or form. And, for a while, no talking. From a sound perspective, it was quiet bed rest, but the reality was it was far from quiet - the tinnitus in my right ear sounded like someone was next to me blowing on a trumpet, all the time. As an active person, rest is a very hard thing to do. As a triathlete, I was used to controlling my physical environment and the uncontrolled, omnipresent blaring sound in my head was unbearable. It was made worse by the fact that they accelerated my obsessive-compulsive triathlon and work tendencies by giving me two high dose burst treatments of a corticosteroid called Prednisone, which intensified a host of anxious emotions that only those who have ever experienced it can understand. It was a nightmare, albeit filled with wonderful life lessons - thankfully it's over, and I'm back.
Many triathletes and recreational athletes deal with knee issues. What exactly happened when you fractured your knees in college? How did you recover?
I had incredible experiences at St. Lawrence University, but it all started with a big challenge. My freshman year, two things happened. One, I was really excited to try out for the lacrosse team but I got cut. They already had two goalies for a very small squad, which was essentially a club team. It was hard, but I understood that it was appropriate with a junior and senior ahead of me. Second, I fractured my knee falling on the ice at St. Lawrence campus one morning. This was just a run across the quad, part of my preseason training to make the club team to stay sharp and prepare for the next year. When I fell I came down on my knee and fractured the medial condyle. I was on crutches and had to undergo several surgeries and began a long journey of realization for me: "Hey, okay, you're active and athletic, but guess what? You can lose it in a nanosecond."
After a series of knee surgeries and many months not knowing whether or not I could run again, or if I could even walk, my perspective changed quite a bit. During this time, luckily, I immersed myself in debate and academics. But, at the same time I felt tremendous anxiety about being on the sidelines. Luckily, at the end of my college career, the knee healed in a really positive way. I sustained no ligament or tendon damage. The knee healed itself and I started running in the mornings with my college roommate Adam Thornborough, who was on the track team. It was so great! I felt like Forrest Gump -- once I recovered, I never wanted to stop running.
Have you been involved in other sports, and have they contributed to your triathlon career?
I’ve had a lifetime full of sports. I played freshman football in high school, but that wasn't for me. Then I started playing lacrosse, which was a good fit and I pursued it with all my heart. My high school lacrosse coach was very influential in my life. Pat Smith really showed what dedication and training was required to master a sport. He taught me that if you apply your very best effort, results will come. Ultimately I became a very good lacrosse goalie, the number one high school lacrosse goalie in the state of Connecticut for part of one season. Though it was just a few weeks of high school, that period when I made more saves than anyone in the state, was, for me, an incredibly powerful experience -- seeing the magic that can happen as part of a team, and experiencing the benefits of fitness.
How did you move the small start-up up to a successful large-scale company?
First of all, we relentlessly pursued necessary growth. But why did it succeed? There was a lot of luck combined with a very aggressive triathlete's approach to managing the business. The model that I followed was this: If someone is doing online registration I'm going to call them and try to get them to join us. Scale for Active came when we convinced more than 10 companies that we should be doing this together. I remember my pitch included the the idea that our enemy wasn't other small, start-up companies, our enemy was that much larger company that could inevitably come in and do this the right way if we didn’t ally and get there first. We made merger after merger, consolidation after consolidation. Ultimately, from a team of three starting in 1997 to a team of 2,600 today, it's been an incredibly wonderful journey.This sounds like the classic business school case study of who would finally prevail in the search engine business. Wasn’t it first about getting the scale of your corporation large enough to ward off larger interlopers? And two, are you doing it the most efficient way yourself?
Realistically, we knew we needed to create a company that was generating revenue. We charged for our services from day one. We were operating at a time in history when many companies weren't generating revenue. But they were generating customers, getting funded and selling quickly for tens of millions of dollars to entrepreneurs who saw the website and wanted to get on board the fast-moving Internet bubble. As we were growing, we were also selling a ton of registrations -- we were actually processing transactions and processing credit cards from day one. One of the things that I learned in the last 13 years being involved in Active.com — I am still a strategic consultant for Active.com and I served as CEO of the Active Europe venture for 5 year - is that businesses should be based on a reliable, renewable, high-margin, low maintenance revenue streams. Once you've developed the right idea and can execute it, then it becomes very valuable – an evergreen revenue stream.
How did you react to some people's opinion that you were put out of the center of the Active.com expansion to go to Europe and try and start that up while other people were becoming the chief honchos?
We bought a lot of companies and every time you buy a company, you add to its set of chiefs. We got to the point where we had a lot of chiefs in the room. This is where I may be actually may be a little bit unique, perhaps from my lessons in triathlon.
If there is someone who can pull a group through a windstorm better than I can, then please, have at it. I'm not the type of entrepreneur who wants to run the world. I'm the type of entrepreneur that wants to be successful. And the two are very different, insofar as one person won't let go of their ego because they have to control everything. I would much rather find someone to handle the job of being a CEO. I find there's way more to do in the day than I have time for. I prefer to recruit other people to take care of those tasks. And more power to them.
My decision to leave and basically launch Active Europe from the ground up came when the Active Network was winding down its operation in the wake of the dot-com bust in 2001. I had been running international development there internally. And they said, "Hey, we're going to pull out of Europe to just focus on the US." I negotiated a deal with the board to give me the opportunity to go to Europe, to build a small team, and to gain a foothold before any competitors were able to really get launched in that area. I remember I was on a bike ride with Billy Gerber – he’s a former President of Warner Brothers and a very good training partner. I said, "I'm thinking about running Active Europe and starting a company there. What do you think?" Billy looked at me and said, "Go. Leave tomorrow. Pack." I asked him why and he replied, "Because in five years you're going to look back on your life and say, ’Hey, I did four more triathlons in California and I worked to build a company here in the US.’ Or you could say ‘I just traveled around the world building a business and these are all the wonderful people I met and all the incredible experiences I had.’ You'll be a much more interesting person and have a much more interesting life if you do something like that." That was so influential. I literally said, "Okay, I'm doing this" and I left for Europe and spent five years building a company and operating in 27 countries, five languages and five currencies.
What’s next on the horizon in business?
I’m working on a new social media network called Bump.com. I had a few of my investors challenge me to come up with a business concept that would scale as fast as Twitter, with real revenue built into that growth. They were looking for my trademark formula of reliable, renewable, high-margin, low-maintenance revenue streams applied on a massive scale. I came up with a concept that I think we have all considered at one point in our lives. And that idea was: Why can't we initiate communication with people in automobiles? That idea has now becomebump.com -- the world's largest safety communications and marketing network, and it works around the platform of unique identifiers. If you look forward a year or two -- and we're hoping to launch the technology in just a few months – you can imagine the possibilities: People who are single can let people who are driving next to them know that they think they're cute. If Bump.com were around during the time ofAmerican Graffiti, Richard Dreyfuss’s character Curt would have found a way to contact the elusive blonde in the white T-Bird cruising the streets of 1960s Modesto.
Or you might hear a car alarm or notice that a car’s signal lights are misfiring and you'll be able to send a voice-to-text or a voicemail to that car saying, "Hey, your car alarm is going off,” or “Your brake light is out.” You can let people on the road know you want to buy their car. If you notice another car seems to be sharing your destination, you can exchange route tips.
Safety and privacy safeguards are built in. It's a voice-activated messaging platform, because we do not want people to text when they're driving. So our iPhone application and our BlackBerry app only allows you to use the text capacity to send a message when the phone is moving less than 5 miles an hour. We certainly want people to be safe. Also, as with social network sites, you don't have to respond to every communication. Bump is, in its simplest form, a way to communicate with someone via a unique identifier like their car's license plate. In a month or two, you can register (claim) your license plate (or the plate on your kids’ cars) at bump.com and get your messages.
Now, here's the really cool part. Everywhere there are cameras picking up cars driving by, and our marketing partners are putting up cameras watching you drive by. We are marking -- or we are connecting -- the geographic marketing initiatives to consumers. It's a safety and communications network between vehicles to find out where the traffic is, fill in details about Amber Alerts, and help anticipate where the accidents are and offer tips to avoid the tie-ups. It's also a way that you can report a bad driver or write on someone else's wall, because every car now has a wall similar to the Wall you might find on Facebook or other social networking sites. You can post any message to any license plate in the country, and soon around the world, just by typing in the state and plate at bump.com or email@example.com. That message goes on that license plate's wall. To make the technology work, each car owner will register on the network and immediately claim their plate number to take part in the Bump.com network. And the great news is we have an issued patent protecting the business and network rights.
What exactly does your La Jolla Foundation do? Tell us more about Project Active.
The La Jolla Foundation is the parent foundation encompassing several projects. Project Active delivers athletic equipment to war-torn areas. It's our attempt to defuse world tension through the positive influence of sport. Project Einstein is designed to help some talented children move forward in their educational career. And Project Bright Idea is aimed at identifying and funding social and business innovations.
Through Project Active we send athletic equipment around the world to many of the 41 areas of armed conflict defined by the United Nations. We've sent soccer balls to Afghanistan, Iraq and several hot zones in Africa. We've sent soccer balls strapped to nets on the top of tanks, and then distributed to the children in a war zone.
We also contributed to a mission that liberated child soldiers in Africa and put them in a soccer camp where everyone was kept safe from harm. It was an incredible. When you see the emotions of these kids who had been trained to fire machine guns and to kill for warlords now being trained to play soccer, you can't hold back a smile.
What was your inspiration to start Project Active?
I was on a bike ride in the Camp Pendleton Marine Base in Oceanside prior to Ironman California in 2000. At the time, I was hearing and listening to what was happening around the world and that set me to thinking about the issues of war and peace as I was biking past the tanks and seeing the military exercises in Camp Pendleton. The night before, I’d watched a television interview with a suicide bomber. His bomb did not go off and so he was captured and interviewed by a television news crew. The correspondent asked the bomber, "Would you go into this café and blow everyone up for your cause?" And he said, "Absolutely. I would do anything for my cause." Then the interviewer asked him: "You're a soccer fan?" And he said, "Yes." "Your team is X." And he said, "Yes." And the interviewer said, "Would you go into your soccer stadium and explode the bomb if they told you it was for the cause?" At that moment the would-be suicide bomber broke down crying and said, "No, I couldn't do that." And she said, "You know, that's your mission.” And he said, "I can't do that. I could never do that." And she said, "Why?" And he said, "Because that's my team."
So, I thought, "Hey, there's the answer." In Western society, so much of human aggression is channeled in positive ways via national and local club and college sporting events. I thought, at the end of the day, if we're going to plant the seeds of peace in these areas it should come through sport. I wrote an article in Triathlete magazine which read, "We need to defuse world tension by planting the seeds of sport in the children." It wasn't an original idea. Other people had been working on initiatives like this before. But in response I got e-mails from triathletes in various regions around the world the initiative was sparked.
Any final advice for entrepreneurs and athletes?
Align what you love with your work. That makes a dynamic difference. A successful career comes from a mindset where you don't want work to be something you have to do. You want work to be something youwant to do because it's your passion. It’s your life; it’s your career. Just as Henry David Thoreau wrote, many people live lives of quiet desperation and don’t know what to do about it. I lecture at the University of San Diego, Stanford University and UCLA and I often encounter students and recent graduates who say, "Hey, I'm bored working in a cubicle."
I'll then ask them how many people work in their organization. And they'll say, "Oh, there's about 200." And I'll say, "How many do you know?" And they'll say, "Three." And so, my challenge to them is this: “Have a breakfast, a lunch, or a coffee five days a week minimum with someone new. Even if you just meet one different person in that organization every day – you can cycle through the lessons and the lifestyles and the connectivity with the 200 or 300 people that work there in a year.”
The value in a business isn't typically putting something in an envelope and mailing it to someone so they pay you something for it. The diamonds we all seek are buried in the relationships we build. Too many people go to work and simply do whatever they're told. As opposed to going to work to build connections with people that they're going to end up spending 30 percent of their day with. Interacting with others and learning the life intelligence they have garnered over the years is essential for success.