Cross country skiing – the business leader’s new hobby
Cross-country skiing is back, and the traditional Scandinavian sport has found its way into boardrooms as well. Like tennis, golf, and sailing, skiing is now the sport of choice for many business directors.
By day, they are managers; by night, they’re semiprofessional athletes.
Although the race organizers don’t have data on the competitors’ professions or their titles, the trend is supported by other evidence, circumstantial as it may be. Norwegian financial papers list high-profile business leaders’ race times, there are more and more elite training programs for managers, and the races have been fully booked for several years now.
In a few weeks, more than 60,000 skiers hope to finish the Vasaloppet and Birkebeinerrennet. Vasaloppet in Sweden is a 90-km race from Sälen to Mora, while Birkebeinerrennet in Norway is 54km from Rena to Lillehammer. To illustrate the popularity of cross-country ski races, a year ago, Vasaloppet got booked in 83 seconds.
This is where all the training is put to a test.
Sweden’s Henrik Granström, 43, COO of Stronghold and CEO of Newsec, is one of those who have put in the hours. He’s participated in CCC 1,000 (Cross Country Clinic), in which hopeful athletes are drilled to finish in the top 1,000 in the Vasaloppet.
The punishing training is proven to yield results. In his 11th Vasaloppet, Granström finished 415th, a personal record.
“My goal is to repeat the feat and finish in the top 500,” Granström says.
“It’s great that people who have the same ambitions can come together and compete toward a common goal. All the people in our group are managers or business leaders, and we are all trying to balance work with family life and training.”
The image of status-seeking business leaders plowing their way through Birkebeinerrennet has not only generated particular interest in the sport, but has also prompted scientists to study cross-country skiers. There is growing interest in finding out what makes people like Granström want to take on these tough challenges.
“It’s difficult to say what makes me take on a challenge like that, but I like to set goals for myself,” Granström says. “Over the past few years, I’ve wanted to get better, go faster, and finish higher each year.”
There is research that shows that there is a particular group of people who train harder – those who are highly educated. At least Granström believes that people who have done well at work may be more prone to set themselves ambitious goals on the ski tracks as well.
According to Birkebeinerrennet statistics, 65 to 70% of all participants have a post-secondary education, and the majority earn more than the average salary in Norway.
Norwegian Sverre Hurum, 60, is CEO of consulting firm Bouvet ASA, with 1,030 employees in Norway and Sweden, and he has participated in endurance races since the early 1990s.
“I don’t know if there’s any status in the actual race times,” he says. “It’s more about being able to discuss training programs at lunch. I think it’s more the training that has become an important factor.”
New research shows that outdoor physical activity, such as skiing, cycling, or running, helps to reduce the body’s stress levels even more than working out in the gym does.
“People who are employed in the business world often have sedentary jobs that involve little physical activity but that have stressful deadlines and demands,” says Jo Gunnar Ellevold, CEO of Birken AS.
“It’s conceivable to think that outdoor exercise and fitness goals are appealing to this group.”
Skiing has been an important piece of the puzzle for the work lives of both Granström and Hurum. As well as good health, it has provided them with other benefits, such as a vast network of contacts with whom they have been training for many years.
“I’ve done a lot of business with my training buddies, too,” Granström says.
Sport and business undoubtedly have a great deal in common. Skiing has gradually developed from being an individual sport into more of a team sport. Take the Norwegian women’s ski team: behind their many individual successes, the group concept has been highlighted as the way to achieve big wins. To put it simply, each individual pushes the others to improve. Hurum says that’s something that sport has learned from business.
“At work, we discuss how we can work as a team,” he says. “We work together to achieve our goals, and I think we are seeing more of that in cross-country skiing too. On the other hand, sport teaches you how to stay in shape and how to be the best at anything.”
Text: Fredrik Wallin
Published: January 8, 2016