Co-founder and CEO of MD Insider
It is no secret that building a successful business requires building successful relationships, but what might be surprising is how today’s CEOs are forging those relationships.
In the 80s, business relationships were established on the putting greens, and deals were closed over beers at the 19th hole. But today’s generation of executives are more health-conscious than their plaid-clad predecessors.
Today’s business leaders crave the adrenaline that comes from strenuous, enjoyable physical gain. We want our engagements with people to mean something. We don’t just want to stand around and talk; we want to get out and do.
That is why cycling has become the new golf, with groups of riders from complementary industries taking to the road and forming real bonds on bikes that translate into meaningful business relationships.
It was an incredible experience that left everyone feeling good, healthy and connected. And from a business perspective, it was a great success. We built the kind of relationships with industry leaders that would not have been possible on a convention room floor or at the craps table.
Medical studies support what everyone on group rides knows instinctively: That engaging in strenuous exercise strengthens interpersonal connections. Scientists chalk this up to endorphins, the chemical in the brain released during physical activity that creates a feeling of wellbeing and reduced stress. And while that might be true on a chemical level, on an emotional level, it just feels good to be around people with a common interest and a shared passion.
That’s what makes business-related cycling events so successful: A surprising number of business leaders are avid – even zealous – cyclists. More senior executives, like David Cordani (CEO of Cigna), Rick Wallace (CEO of KLA-Tencore), and Mike Dean (CSO of LifeLock) are very visible, active cyclists. In magazine interviews, top Silicon Valley CEOs often manage to work in a casual reference to their $20,000 Cervélo Rca bikes or a mention of their latest race time.
And these execs are hardly alone. USA Cycling says the number of people taking out a cycling racing license increased 76% in the last decade. Anyone can capitalize on this trend with the right amount of planning and a little creativity.
A well-run ride hints at a well-run company, so we make sure to scout out ride routes carefully, identifying places to stop that are scenic or are safe places to regroup. I often have pro-cyclists join our rides to make them even more memorable and exciting.
Next we collect rider profiles to ensure each group is well-matched based on skill level and experience. This usually involves exchanging a few emails with participants, which allows us to get to know a rider (and vice versa) before we ever even shake hands. It also helps ensure that everyone gets the most out of the ride. (If you’re going swimming with Michael Phelps, and all you know how to do is tread water, the experience isn’t going to be much fun for either of you.)
On the morning of the ride, we typically host a coffee and bagel breakfast as riders gather to get their MD Insider-branded water bottles and information about the ride route. Once we’re on the route, I make a point of spending time riding with all the groups, to get to know each rider and talk with everyone. On a 2- to 4-hour ride, there is always plenty of time for interaction.
On particularly intense rides, we’ll arrange for a support vehicle to follow us with food and water. Anyone who has had enough can hop a ride in SAG wagon and go back in comfort. Again, it’s the thoughtful steps that stand out and help participants remember you and your company.
After the ride, we usually host a lunch that is always much more casual and friendly than a typical business meal, with riders still in their spandex.
It’s important to remember that the ride isn’t a sales pitch. It’s a genuine, fun experience that allows you to deepen relationships, which over time can help your business grow and flourish. Think of your time on the trail as an investment, not a marketing opportunity.
Executives used to be taught to perfect their elevator pitch. But today’s executives crave connections that are much deeper and more meaningful. Plus, when you know that a glorious route awaits you, who would choose to ride an elevator?
David Norris is the co-founder and CEO of MD Insider, which uses big data to analyze the performance of physicians.