Chief spar­tan in the house

China Daily (Canada) - - SHANGHAI - By WANG YING in Shang­hai wang_y­ing@chi­

The CEO of the widely pop­u­lar Spar­tan Race says that re­silience and au­then­tic­ity are key to at­tain­ing suc­cess in busi­ness and life

For the past year, Joe De Sena, the CEO of Spar­tan Race, has been car­ry­ing a 20-kilo­gram ket­tle­bell ev­ery­where he goes.

Be it to the air­port, to a cafe for a meal or even for a jog, the ket­tle­bell is al­ways with him, and it was no dif­fer­ent dur­ing his re­cent busi­ness trip to Shang­hai to pre­pare for the up­com­ing Spar­tan Race in May.

De Sena said that the act of car­ry­ing the ket­tle­bell is a show of sup­port to a 696-pound man who he had en­cour­aged to lose weight. He had ini­tially car­ried a sand­bag around for nearly two years, but the ob­ject ended up be­ing con­fis­cated at an air­port. He then switched to a ket­tle­bell.

The 48-year-old added that an­other rea­son why he car­ries a ket­tle­bell ev­ery­where is to pro­mote healthy liv­ing.

“We are all get­ting un­healthy. Al­though I am not a doc­tor, I can tell you for sure that many of us now live un­healthy life­styles — the way we eat, the way we drink, the way we live. I want to change that,” said De Sena.

Af­ter spend­ing 17 years to de­velop Spar­tan Race into the world’s largest ob­sta­cle race and en­durance brand, De Sena said his am­bi­tion now is to make China the com­pany’s largest mar­ket by 2020.

The event was first in­tro­duced in China last year, with 18,000 par­tic­i­pants sign­ing up for the four races held in Bei­jing, Shang­hai, Hong Kong and Taipei. De Sena said that the race will ex­pand its foot­print this year, with more than 200 set to take place across the world, in­clud­ing eight to 10 events in China.

De Sena’s goal of fur­ther de­vel­op­ing Spar­tan Race in China comes at a time when an in­creas­ing num­ber of Chi­nese are start­ing to pay more at­ten­tion to the im­por­tance of fit­ness. Ac­cord­ing to China Cen­tral Tele­vi­sion, China’s State Coun­cil pro­jected that sport­sre­lated con­sump­tion would reach 1.5 tril­lion yuan ($216.86 bil­lion) by 2020.

Sta­tis­tics from the Shang­hai Dis­tance Run­ning As­so­ci­a­tion also showed that more than 900,000 peo­ple had taken part in a va­ri­ety of dis­tance run­ning events across the coun­try in 2014. In ad­di­tion, more than 200,000 peo­ple in Shang­hai run reg­u­larly.

De Sena said that he is con­fi­dent that the race will ap­peal to ev­ery­one, re­gard­less of where they come from.

“Peo­ple have said stuff like ‘this will not work in Spain’ or ‘this will not work in Mex­ico’ or ‘this will not work in Ja­pan’. In re­al­ity, the race works ev­ery­where,” said De Sena.

“The rea­son it works is be­cause we are all hu­man be­ings, and hu­man be­ings are an­i­mals, but some­how we for­got that we are an­i­mals. An­i­mals are sup­posed to climb, crawl, jump, swim, breathe. An­i­mals are not sup­posed to type, sit on the couch and watch TV.“You don’t need much prac­tice for the race. Just 30 days of train­ing is enough. All types of peo­ple can take part, be it chil­dren or grand­par­ents. You just need to do ev­ery­thing that hu­man be­ings are sup­posed to be able to do, such as hang, pull and crawl. These are the com­mon char­ac­ter­is­tics amongst our species.”

Re­fer­ring to how Al­bert Ein­stein once said that ad­ver­sity in­tro­duces hu­mans to them­selves, De Sena said that the Spar­tan Race does ex­actly this by putting par­tic­i­pants through a gru­el­ing work­out that spans two to three hours.

In or­der to de­velop China into the brand’s largest mar­ket, De Sena re­vealed that he plans to go on a hir­ing spree. De Sena also said that he is in talks with of­fi­cials from 50 Chi­nese cities “who all seem very in­ter­ested”.

In or­der to host the event, cities need to have a piece of land that mea­sures about 150 acres. Ac­cord­ing to De Sena, the av­er­age cost of host­ing the Spar­tan Race is be­tween $500,000 to $600,000. The cost of en­try will be about $60 per per­son.

Born in Queens, New York, De Sena first dis­cov­ered he had a knack for entrepreneurship in 1978 when he was just 8 years old. Back then, he made $700 by sell­ing fire­works and sub­se­quently used the money to buy him­self a kids’ mo­tor­cy­cle.

“I grew up in a neigh­bor­hood where ev­ery­body worked very hard from five in the morn­ing till very late. I wanted to work hard and get ahead, so I started my busi­ness at a very young age. I don’t even know how I did it,” said De Sena.

He was later thrown out of school be­cause the sale of fire­works was il­le­gal. De Sena ended up in an­other school lo­cated an hour’s drive away. But the ex­pe­ri­ence did not dampen his de­sire for do­ing busi­ness. In­stead, it spurred him.

De Sena started a pool clean­ing busi­ness when he was just 12. He then got into the con­struc­tion in­dus­try and be­came a mil­lion­aire by the time he was study­ing at Cor­nell Uni­ver­sity. He said that it was his ethos of al­ways go­ing the ex­tra mile that made him his for­tune.

“My con­struc­tion busi­ness had 700 cus­tomers. I be­lieve that you should al­ways go above and be­yond for each one of them. That means if my cus­tomers are ex­pect­ing me to do this, I would do twice as much for the same price. I never asked for pay­ment — they paid me be­cause they were sat­is­fied, and my busi­ness grew very fast. I worked 24 hours a day,” said De Sena, who sold the con­struc­tion busi­ness when he was 25 be­fore start­ing a Wall Street firm.

De Sena has since 2000 been or­ga­niz­ing nu­mer­ous races around the world but they did not prove to be too pop­u­lar. Spar­tan Race, which he founded in 2010, has been the most suc­cess­ful. Au­then­tic­ity, he said, is one of the keys to suc­cess.

“We are not do­ing this sim­ply as a busi­ness. We are do­ing this be­cause we want to help peo­ple, and when you do some­thing be­cause you re­ally be­lieve in it, you have a pur­pose, and with this you are more likely to be suc­cess­ful,” said De Sena.

“I did not get paid to run this busi­ness for the past 16 years. I wanted to quit ev­ery year, but I didn’t. I only re­ceived my first pay check at the end of last year. It was ex­cit­ing.”

When you do some­thing be­cause you re­ally be­lieve in it, you have a pur­pose, and with this you are more likely to be suc­cess­ful.”

Zhang Han in Shang­hai con­trib­uted to the story.


Spar­tan Race CEO Joe De Sena made his first mil­lion when he was still a stu­dent at Cor­nell Uni­ver­sity. He is aim­ing to make China the com­pany’s largest mar­ket by 2020.


Staff from Spar­tan Race demon­strate how to clear ob­sta­cles dur­ing a re­cent road show in Shang­hai.

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