CEOs as Chief Fitness Officers


By Stacy Perman

Slide Show >>

Running a successful company can be like competing in the Olympic Games. It takes an impressive skill set to oversee a multinational corporation, expand its revenues, be responsible for thousands of employees, or manage tens of millions of dollars. Like hard-core athletes, CEOs today need endurance, agility, and strength to log punishing hours, outsmart vicious competitors, globe-trot relentlessly, and engage in fierce battles. The goal: to emerge victorious -- time and again.

The crossover between sports and business is well documented. Consider the athletes-turned-businessmen like Olympic boxing champ Oscar de la Hoya. His Golden Boy Productions announced a $100 million deal in April to co-develop commercial and real estate projects in Southern California. And basketball legend Michael Jordan translated his finesse on the court into a celebrity brand at Nike (NKE) generating some $500 million.

But an elite group of CEOs take staying fit almost as seriously as they do running their individual businesses. President George W. Bush, 59, has turned criticism of the time he spends working out into being labeled the fittest President amid recent glowing TV and newspaper coverage of his 17-mile ride with seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong. At 79, Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan is said to still play a mean game of tennis on a regular basis.

"THAT EXTRA MILE." Ultracompetitive personality types, some top execs make time in their schedules to train exhaustively and participate in events around the globe. Staying at the top of their game literally not only has kept them in top physical shape but has helped hone leadership skills, teamwork abilities, discipline, and boosted energy levels. They way they see it, staying fit is a necessary component for success -- personally and professionally (see "Branson: 'I Love to Try Everything'").

Ewald Kist, the retired CEO of Dutch financial giant ING (ING), was a former Olympic field-hockey player, and during his tenure at ING he ran six marathons. He told USA Today that "sports helped him to go that extra mile." Perhaps not surprisingly, his company is a sponsor of the New York City Marathon and of marathons in Brussels and Amsterdam.

John Mackay, the CEO of Whole Foods (WFMI) based in Austin, takes hiking seriously enough that he took a five-month sabbatical in 2002 to hike the 2,168-mile-long Appalachian Trail from Maine to Georgia.

FIGHTING FOR THE TITLE. Five years ago, Ted Kennedy, started the CEO Ironman Challenge, a series of triathlon competitions in the U.S. and Europe. The top finishers who place best in the grueling 112-mile bicycle ride, a 26.2-mile marathon run, and a 2.4-mile swim are named the Fittest CEOs in their respective region and then can fly to Hawaii in October for the CEO Ironman finals. The winner earns the title Fittest CEO in the world.

The accompanying slide show profiles the CEOs BusinessWeek Online has identified in its own survey as being the fittest around. Take a look at our choices, and let us know if you think any others should be included (you'll find a survey question after the last slide). Who knows, maybe you'll be motivated to get up from the computer screen and run around the block.

Perman is a reporter for BusinessWeek Online in New York


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