Meet the heads of top sports brands who steer their companies with their fitness experiences

On the leader board

As our interest in leisure sports grow, the top bosses of companies that sell gear for it find that to truly understand the product they sell and the consumers they’re selling to, they must participate themselves. In India, a few began to take up sport once they entered leadership positions, while for some, it is an extension of who they’ve always been. Radhika Gordhandas, a psychologist who worked with the Sports Authority of India, and currently heads Talent and Performance Management at Tata CliQ, says it helps both the company and the individual. “You are better connected mentally if your values match with the ecosystem you propagate,” she says, adding, “The company benefits through high levels of positive engagement that they bring.” Here, leaders tell us their stories.

Meet the heads of top sports brands who steer their companies with their fitness experiences

Navneet Banka, 43, Country Manager, Trek Bikes

Banka, who formerly worked with a motorcycle company (where he rode as well), began cycling when he joined Trek Bikes, which sells super premium cycles in India. After having visited the headquarters a few times over two years — where “people cycle to work, and go out for a ride after lunch” — he was influenced by a lifestyle where cycles were everywhere, even “in the office next to the desk”. While Delhi traffic doesn’t allow for it to become a commute option, he tries to ride 28-30 km thrice a week, early in the morning, so he’s back by 7 am. He usually cycles in Gurugram, using low-traffic zones like the Golf Course Extension and the Gurugram-Faridabad roads.

“It’s a non-impact sport,” he says, adding that it is now being seen as a recreation and fun activity. While he hasn’t built up his capacity to do long rides, he hopes to “slowly reach that level”. Over the weekend he and his 10-year-old son ride within the society they live in, and, when the roads aren’t crowded, outside as well.

The advantage of being a cyclist is that he can speak to people who buy his brand with understanding. “Customers in the segment are well read and know the technicalities. When I talk to dealer partners, I can have a more detailed conversation. Also, while product planning, I know what to bring into the country.” Mostly though, it helps him to have conversations on safety with fellow riders — on wearing high-visibility clothing, using daytime running lamps, and a helmet.

Meet the heads of top sports brands who steer their companies with their fitness experiences

Vijayaraghavan Venugopal, 44, CEO of Fast & Up

When he started running, Venugopal didn’t think he’d be working at, much less heading, a fitness-nutrition brand. In 2012, when he was still “in the corporate life”, he decided to lace up and head out — it was “a way to get into some kind of activity and do something different from work”.

At the time, Pune, his city of residence, was seeing the nascent stages of a running culture. He was 37 then, and started looking forward to weekend runs. “In school and college, I was always into sport. But in your early 20s and 30s, with work, travel, marriage, and kids, you lose almost 15 years,” he says.

Venugopal sees this trend reflected even with the customers of his company Fast & Up, a once-dormant Swiss brand that he’s revamped. As CEO for the past four years, he’s noticed that those who take to running more seriously, and require gels and supplements, are usually all in their early 30s.

In the initial few years, getting the word out about the business would mean participating in runs with various locals clubs. They now partner with four major marathons across the country, supply to cricket teams at Ranji level upwards, and have grown to a company of 75 people.

The only two challenges that sometimes force structured running to take a back seat are travel and family, he says. “I try to do five days of running a week, taking into account some early morning or late night flights. I also aim to finish by 7-7.30 am” so that he’s available to help send his children to school. “In fact, my older daughter nowadays wakes me up for a run sometimes — she’s taken to it already — and because I don’t want to say no to her, I’m forced to get up!”

In the last seven years, Venugopal has completed six full marathons in under three hours. Having conquered Berlin, Boston, Chicago, and New York, his next goals will be repeating the feat in London and Tokyo.

Meet the heads of top sports brands who steer their companies with their fitness experiences

Rajat Khurana, 45, MD, Asics India and South Asia

After his first visit to the Asics headquarters in Japan, a few months after he’d joined the company in 2011, Khurana decided at midnight to run 12 km from home to work the next day. He’d been inspired by the ‘sound mind, sound body’ philosophy of the sports performance brand. He did, and was “shattered”. It took him two hours, 45 minutes in a run-walk combination and while “mentally I was strong, the body requires training,” he says, of his inability to go to work for a couple of days because of the soreness. At the same time though, “I felt proud,” says the now full-marathoner, who participated in his first 42 km in Tokyo last year. In fact, his most recent achievement is a half marathon every week over the weekend (recorded on the RunKeeper app) for 52 weeks.

It has been a smooth journey for Khurana in terms of training, who says he was never an athlete in school or college, and came to it much later in life. The first year, he did the Bengaluru 10 km and the Airtel Delhi Half Marathon with not-great timing. Over the years, though, he’s consistently run four times a week and a day over the weekend. What has suffered is his socialising (he sleeps at 10 pm, with a 5 am wake up, daily), though not his relationships (“my family and friends know which days I run and plan accordingly”). But, he says, “Everything comes at a price, so if you want to be fit and healthy you need to sacrifice something.”

Despite frequent travel, both within and out of the country, he makes sure to pack his shoes. “It is the best way to explore a new place. Even if I’m jet lagged, I reach the hotel and go for a run. It helps me physically and mentally,” he says. Though there may be days he misses, he’ll make up over the weekend. “It is not about the distance, it is about the feeling.”

Meet the heads of top sports brands who steer their companies with their fitness experiences

Sanil Sachar, 27, co-owner, Trusox

Sachar says that when he gets up in the morning, coffee in one hand and his workout clothes in the other, he is on auto-pilot. After he was scouted for Wakefield at 15, he played club football in England during his teenage years — he was a left winger, running down the flank with the ball, which required speed, endurance, and stamina. He now runs “at least 6 km thrice a week,” and does HIIT in the gym another three — “but not the kind they show on YouTube”, he says, speaking of doing a great deal of pulling and pushing exercises, as well as heavy lifting. He still sometimes follows his former coach’s running regime and plays tennis that he played in school at the state level. Sachar says he was one of the early investors in Trusox that was recently launched in India, feeding into the pool of knowledge as the product was tested and improved upon.

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Printable version | Mar 31, 2020 7:49:11 PM |

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