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Martin Franklin: CEO on a Running Mission

In 2006 Dean Karnazes ran 50 marathons in 50 days in 50 states. When Martin Franklin, the 45-year old CEO of a 2.76 billion dollar conglomerate called the Jarden Company, told his son about Karnazes’ mad running feat, they boy responded, “You know, you should do that with your company.”

By Mark Johnson

In 2006 Dean Karnazes ran 50 marathons in 50 days in 50 states. When Martin Franklin, the 45-year old CEO of a 2.76 billion dollar conglomerate called the Jarden Corporation, told his son about Karnazes’ mad running feat, the boy responded,  “You know, you should do that with your company.”

And so Franklin did. Only instead of running 50 marathons, through Friday, May 14 the executive is running ten 10ks in as many days—each one at a different Jarden facility around the United States.

“It turns out we were doing the kick off for what they call the Shape up the Nation Program,” Franklin explains. “Jarden is participating in it with the kicking off of our company wellness program. So we decided to launch it through what we call ‘Ten 10ks in Ten Days in 2010.’”

Two Brown University students founded Shape up the Nation four years ago when they observed that patients were most successful at losing weight, quitting smoking, and regularly exercising when they did so as part of a larger social network. Shape up the Nation works with employers like Jarden to facilitate such positive networking in the workplace. If all your friends and co-workers are going out for a walk or run at lunch, studies show that you are much more likely to do so, too.

Over the past week Franklin has been flying to ten Jarden locations around the U.S. and doing a 10k with employees at each one. “Starting in Boca Raton, Florida we did our first run. It was about 92 degrees and 375 employees came out out of a total of 420—which is tremendous turnout.” The London-born CEO has run in locations including Ohio, South Carolina, Missouri, Kansas and Kentucky.

Some Jarden employees of course, can’t miss an opportunity to go mano-a-mano with the big cheese. “Some of them are very competitive,” the good-natured Franklin recalls with a laugh.  “I didn’t intend to have six people beat me when we got to Seattle with K2!”

Yes, Jarden owns the iconic ski company, plus a lot of other products in your house and garage that you probably didn’t know came from a conglomerate that also runs Zoot Sports, Marmot, Coleman, Volkl, Crock-Pot, Marker, Rawlings and Bicycle—as in the poker playing cards. And these brands offer just a peek under the company’s enormous tent of consumer and industrial products.

Franklin’s 10ks bring employees together—in some cases, to the point of exchanging footwear. “I ran today in Reedsburg, Wisconsin, where we have Nuk, our baby bottle company,” Franklin recounts.

“We have an injection molding company there. The one guy that could really run didn’t have any running shoes. He didn’t own running shoes. So I asked him what size foot he has. He said size 10. So I took off my shoes. I had a pair of Zoot shoes on, good running shoes that were new. I said, try these. And he said, ‘Mr. Franklin I’ve never worn shoes so comfortable, these are great.’ I said, well, carry on running with them and I ran the last five and a half miles barefoot. It was kind of cool!”

Besides being a healthy role model for his employees—if an insanely-busy Franklin can make time to exercise, then anyone can—the company’s 5k walks and 10k runs create a sense of belonging. “It’s all in the spirit of bringing people together,” Franklin explains. “The spirit of it has been fantastic, and really good for morale.” In fact, one Coleman employee who joined Jarden’s Shape up the Nation program lost 160 pounds in ten months. To capitalize on natural human ambitions, participants get pedometers which then track competitions between business units and groups using metrics like most miles walked and weight lost.

“It’s good that they see that their leadership is not sitting behind a desk getting fat,” Franklin theorizes about the importance of practicing the good health he preaches. “That in fact we are living the lifestyle and really care about the wellness of the employees. It’s been inspirational for me as well as for them.”

Franklin’s run of 10k’s is no fluke. After playing soccer until he was 35, his brother encouraged him to enter a triathlon. To prepare, “I borrowed a bike and swam a few laps in a swimming pool.” He completed the Olympic-distance Westchester Triathlon (which Jarden now sponsors) “and absolutely loved it.” Franklin had the tri bug, bad.

Within two years he was doing half Ironmans. “And then I met a guy who said, ‘You could never do an Ironman.’ And that’s all you needed to say, so I signed up for the next Ironman I could get into.”

After completing Ironmans at Lake Placid and Kona, “I met  a guy from Zoot, the guy who controlled the brand, and he said, ‘Oh, Ironman is for wimps. You should try doing ultras.’” Martin set his sites on the baddest ultra out there, Badwater, a 135-mile run in the heat of summer from Death Valley to Mt. Whitney.  “So I tried to find out how to get into Badwater, and the guy who runs the race told me you have to have run 100 miles within 24 hours in the previous 12 months before you could even apply.”

North Carolina’s Hinson Lake 24-hour Ultra was the only 100 miler that fit into a work schedule that would seem to have the globe-trotting executive doing most of his running through airplane terminals. “I just ran around a lake, a 1.6-mile lake 66 times for about 22 hours. I was done at like 5:30 in the morning. I got changed and went over to do a factory visit at about eight in the morning in North Carolina where we have a firelog plant. I had to do it in a golf cart  because I couldn’t walk. That was my introduction to ultra marathons.”

After doing Badwater in 2007, Franklin completed the Leadville 100-mile trail run in Colorado, where he has a house in Aspen and is an acquaintance of fellow Aspenite Lance Armstrong.

Franklin does not train much. His job does not allow him the luxury of time. “The truth is, I don’t train that hard. I did one 32-mile run before Leadville and I did one 18-mile run before I ran the Boston Marathon.” He feels he does not have to train at extreme levels because he does endurance events for the experiences. “I’m in it for the camaraderie, I’m not in it to win. To me, all of these races are about crossing the finish line in one piece.” Asked to name his favorite leg of the triathlon and Franklin mirthfully responds: “The finish—the fourth leg.”

Granted, Franklin admits, if his day job were Armstrong’s, he would ratchet-up his training to the seven-time Tour winner’s zealous level. But as someone who is paid to guide 25,000 employees around the globe, “I’m not fanatical. I don’t watch my calorie intake that closely. I have a good martini every evening and I’m one who believes that you live life because it’s relatively short. My day job is inspiring others.”