“The link between participation in endurance sports and commercial performance in business”

Posted on 2nd October 2014 | Interviews

“The link between participation in endurance sports and commercial performance in business”

As a keen triathlete myself and having always been fascinated by the thought that there may be a correlation between participation in endurance events and someone’s performance in the business world, my eyes lit up when I read a news article about the Managing Director of a successful document management business who had recently rowed the Atlantic. Not only had he completed a year of gruelling training in preparation for the two month long event during which he battled 50 foot waves and raised over £250,000 for charity, but it also appeared his business had shown growth this year too. I had to get in touch.

Mark Brocklehurst is the Managing Director of Sharples Group one of the North West’s leading suppliers of document management solutions and office equipment. As well as leading a successful business, Mark regularly participates in endurance sports including cycling and triathlon and is an advocate of sporting participation to improve performance in work. Mark’s recent accomplishment of rowing the Atlantic raised over £250,000 for the Bolton Lads & Girls Club.

Mark was happy to talk to me and was incredibly generous with his time. What follows is an honest account of how his incredible sporting achievement has affected his own business performance…

The interview

Rob: Having completed numerous endurance events ranging from standard-distance triathlons through to Ironman events and even rowing the Atlantic, what is it that makes you want to do these events and put yourself through such incredible mental and physical hardship in the first place?

Mark: For me it’s about a number of things. Firstly as most of my events have raised money for charity, the bigger the event the more money you are likely to raise. Secondly it’s about proving to myself I can do it as I’ve always had a competitive side to my personality. Lastly and embarrassingly there’s probably a bit of ego in there as it’s always nice to have bragging rights to having done something most people will never do!

Rob: What do you believe is the key to overcoming adversity and pushing yourself to finishing these events?

Mark: That one’s easy, I can answer that straight away. I have an overwhelming fear of failure. Everyone has self-doubts but the thought of not finishing something I’ve committed to do scares me so much I’ll have to push myself to finish no matter how hard it hurts.

Rob: Do you believe it’s possible for anyone to achieve what you’ve achieved or is there something about your make up either (innate or environmental) that’s enabled you to go beyond the limits of the average man or woman?

Mark: It’s definitely not all innate. People are influenced during their lives, largely by experiences and by other people which then shapes their make up. Doing something special doesn’t have to be rowing the Atlantic or climbing Everest, but actually just pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone to achieve something, giving up smoking for example. I’ve helped a few people to give up smoking and seen their hardship but I’ve also seen the self-belief it gives them when they achieve it.

Rob: How has participating in endurance events affected your own performance as the Managing Director of your own business?

Mark: Keeping fit in general definitely makes you sharper and healthy body and mind produces better results in everything you do, but in competing in endurance events you actually acquire new skills like planning and resilience. You have no time to procrastinate when you’re racing so you learn to get the job done quicker and that can translate very positively in work. When I rowed the Atlantic I knew I was going to be away for a number of weeks which I’d never done before so I had to empower others to do my job successfully while I was gone. This had a tremendously positive impact on the business as I became more of a mentor and they began to acquire new skills too.

Rob: It has been claimed that the raw qualities of determination, competitiveness and hunger for achievement are the same qualities that make both a successful business person and a top athlete. For you Mark, is it the same set of skills that has made you successful in business that has made you push yourself in sport?

Mark: If you’re competitive on the sports field then you’ll be competitive in the boardroom and vice versa. You see it in most team sports athletes and if you look at a lot of business leaders they often come from an early sporting background – they all have that shared desire to win.

Rob: Some would argue that training so hard for so many hours can only have a negative effect on performance in work. What would you say to those people?

Mark: It’s a short sighted view. Most of the training takes place out of working hours and they should really be focused on the transferable skills that those activities will give employees that they can bring into the business. There’s also the marketing angle. Firms can gain a lot of exposure through their involvement in sporting events and it’s a great platform to promote the business positively.

Rob: Finally Mark, I understand that recently you managed to convince other members of the Sharples team to get together to race a triathlon. Most of these had never competed before I understand. How has this collective effort to achieve something together effected their performance in the business and has it had any impact positive or negative on their ability to work cohesively as a team?

Mark: I’m a big believer of throwing down the gauntlet! When someone in the office heard I’d done an Ironman and said they’d be able to do a triathlon, I said let’s do it and within minutes there was a white board on the wall with targets for times and training! By the end of that week, seven had entered the Horwich Triathlon in Bolton for 2014 and by the time the race came about in May, eight of us completed it. It was fantastic to see people who hadn’t swam, biked or ran since school days and who had previously seen completing a triathlon as unattainable, now all training together to reach a common goal – and achieve it! It made me feel incredibly proud to see it unfold and I still get great a great buzz from watching them work together. These days we do a lot of our shop-talk over a lunchtime run or ride. Everyone gets to know each other much better whilst getting fit in the process. New starters love it!

Rob: I understand your endurance activities haven’t exactly slowed down as rumour has it you’re racing a gruelling ultramarathon in the desert called Marathon Des Sables in a couple of years? Tell me about that.

Mark: I haven’t entered yet but it’s possibly on the cards for the future. I like the idea because it’s another iconic one. We’ll see.

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