We live in one of America’s healthiest cities. Rankings from Women’s Health magazine and others say so, and it’s plain to see: greenways, parks and programs are everywhere to lure us up and out. It’s not rare for deskbound folks to schedule a workout into their day, and for local companies to encourage it.
And then there are places like Bandwidth.com. At the wireless technology company on N.C. State’s Centennial Campus, a daily workout isn’t just encouraged, it’s effectively required. The faint of heart need not apply – not when the executive team is swimming the English Channel, cycling Death Valley, or tag-team racing across the country. “We are better for it,” says David Morken, 43, co-founder and CEO of the 325-employee, quickly-growing communications technology company. A David, so to speak, to the proverbial Goliaths in its industry – Bandwidth’s new wifi phone challenges wireless giants like AT&T and Verizon – its athletic employee culture mirrors the company’s “bring it on” intensity. So much so, in fact, that Bandwidth has begun recruiting employees at triathalons and road races, says Noreen Allen, the company’s chief marketing officer.
Encouraging athleticism during working hours “cultivates a culture that allows people to be holistically and uniquely who they are,” says President John Murdock. “We are physical beings, and we are intellectual beings. And we want to be whole people at work.”
Morken, a former Marine, accomplished endurance competitor, and father of six, sets the tone. “Physical discipline has always been important to me,” he says. “I’ve got tons of energy.”
He and Murdock both block out an hour and a half in the middle of every day to exercise, and have given that chunk of time to everyone else at the company, too. “If we’re gonna do it as leaders, everyone gets to do it,” Morken says. Suffice it to say that if you’re banging away at your computer through the lunch hour, you don’t work at this place.
Some, like COO Chris Chuang, play basketball in Carmichael Gym on campus – Bandwidth provides a bus to take the company’s basketball players there every day – some, like executive vice president Jim Mulcahy, cross-train. Some take exercise classes, meditate, or do yoga. And still others are bold enough to prepare with their boss for extreme endurance competitions.
In 2010, Morken teamed up with Murdock and director of strategic services Joe Parke to win the 3,000-mile Race Across America on their bikes. Last year, Morken and Murdock cycled triumphantly across the hottest place on earth in Death Valley’s Furnace Creek 508. To include the rest of the Bandwidthers in on the Furnace Creek action, they set up a stationary bike in the office equipped with a simulator of the course they were racing, and challenged the rest of the crew to beat their time – in real time. Morken and Murdock won.
Morken takes on solo challenges as well, such as his 2011 attempt to swim the English Channel. “It was the most brutal smackdown,” he says. Forced to abandon the quest when he became hypothermic and delirious, Morken says the experience was fruitful in different ways. “You learn so much more from your failures than from your successes,” he says. “I wasn’t sure where I was anymore, but I knew I had to stop. I learned discretion really can be the better part of valor.”
Bandwidth’s exercise culture took root in 2001 when Morken first began working with company co-founder Henry Kaestner. One day the two decided to go out for a bike ride. “He fully expected to annihilate me,” Morken laughs. “When that didn’t happen, it sparked an unmitigated desire to destroy me.”
And so “Project Pegasus” was born. Every day at lunchtime, the two would leave the office – then on Cary’s Meridien Parkway – to race on local roads, logging their results on a spreadsheet. After Pegasus got old, “Icarus” became a daily running showdown.
“A tradition was born,” Morken says. “From 11:30 to one every day, it became company policy that you have 90 minutes to go work out.” The daily battles with Kaestner are no longer a regular event – Kaestner is now executive chairman at the company, with a focus on strategy and not-for-profit efforts – but the culture remains alive and well.
For Morken, who admits that he has so much energy to burn that he needs to exercise the way he does, it’s about more than keeping fit. It’s about working better. He realized that early on, when he and Kaestner ventured out, “we thought differently…we were better business partners, bosses, husbands and fathers.”
And he’s convinced that sharing this with his employees is vital. “There is an esprit de corps, a camaraderie” that’s built, he says. “It’s a soulful deal for us. It’s an inspirational thing. I wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t say that.” -L.R.