Walking the Walk (Running the Run, Etc.)
TRX sells physical-fitness products and programs, but that only begins to explain this company's obsession with fitness. Founder Randy Hetrick spent 14 years in the Navy SEALs, an organization he describes fondly as incredibly fit people achieving incredibly difficult missions with incredibly high esprit de corps. He has sought to build a similar culture in his company. "If you start with a group willing to achieve that level of fitness, they tend to be doers," he says. "It goes back to the Romans: A fit soldier is a happy soldier."
Fernando Chilvarguer spotted the damp Lycra and thought he had gone to heaven. It was 2007, and Chilvarguer, an independent IT contractor at the time, was a frequent visitor at TRX, one of his clients. Sitting in meetings, he would find himself surrounded by people in cycling togs still glistening from a 25-mile spin through the Marin Headlands. "I saw people leaving a meeting, putting their running shoes on, and saying, 'I'll be back!'" recalls Chilvarguer. "I thought, Perfect. Perfect."
Chilvarguer, who joined TRX three and a half years ago as director of technology, is an Ironman triathlete who must spend a few hours each day biking, running, or swimming while preparing for competitions. He had chosen self-employment so he could design his schedule around rigorous workouts. Until finding TRX, he didn't believe any company would offer him comparable freedom. "They want me to maintain this lifestyle," says Chilvarguer. "I adapt my workday, depending on the amount of training I have to do."
In most companies, the concept of work-life balance assumes segregating things that matter to the business from things that matter to the employee. The challenge is to prevent the former from overwhelming the latter. At TRX, what matters to the business is that employees be in the best shape possible so they can deliver exceptional work performance. Business hours are almost endlessly flexible, arranged around employees' personal fitness regimens.
"One of the strong attractors and retainers in the SEAL teams was that you didn't have to make the time to maintain fitness," says founder and CEO Randy Hetrick. "It was built into your day. If you didn't do it—that's when you got the slinky-eyed stare from your supervisor. It's like that here. If you're going on a bike ride, you don't sneak out the door. You prance out the door. And everyone's like, 'Dude, have a great ride.'"
Virtually all TRX employees routinely take off for extended workouts or grunt through one of four exercise classes held on-site every day. Any work missed during the day gets done in the evenings or on weekends—often after dark, when the outside world of hills and trails is less inviting. Customer service is the only position that requires normal work hours, and TRX staffs heavily there so someone is always around to cover for employees whose muscles need tending to.
A quick tour of TRX is enough to have new hires tearing up their health-club membership cards. (The company resides on the top four floors of a six-story building near the Embarcadero. You could use the elevator, but that would be embarrassing.) Employees sit on exercise balls, except for the few who prefer to work at standing desks. The kitchens and canteens offer an assortment of energy bars, dispensers of nuts and dried fruit, and heavy-duty blenders for the preparation of protein shakes. A storage room holds up to 40 bicycles, and the building's premier real estate—2,500 square feet on the top floor with the best views—is a gym. In April, TRX and its landlord began renovating the rooftop to include a training area and a three-lane track.
Employees come to TRX in various states of buffness, many having fallen off the exercise wagon and eager to get back on. Julia Levine is typical. A rower and equestrienne growing up, Levine laments that "as I got into my professional career, being active went by the wayside." Since joining TRX as an executive assistant, she says, "I have better muscle tone. I'm agile and limber. I feel like I can do anything." Even among so many glorious physical specimens, Levine says she never felt peer pressure to get back in shape. "I was inspired to do it," she says.
Even if there's no overt pressure, there exists an expectation that people will walk (or run, pedal, or swim) the talk. Roughly 10 percent of employees' performance evaluations cover how they live the company's values, expressed by the acronym FACEUP. That P is for physical (the other values are fun, authentic, competitive, effective, and united). At the start of each year, supervisors ask their reports to set personal athletic objectives: to run the San Francisco marathon or dunk a basketball or do 10 perfect pushups. Those goals are not formally tracked with scorecards, the way work-related goals are. Still, employees "get evaluated on whether they accomplished their goal," says Hetrick.
Most employees have no problem embodying the P. Kortney Jamtaas, who joined TRX as an education coordinator a year ago, took a moment away from work to describe her day so far: "This morning, I ran from my apartment to here, which is about 2.5 miles. I set up my indoor bike trainer in our workout room that looks out onto the bridge. I did an hour-and-a-half bike workout while watching the sun come up. Then I showered, ate my breakfast, and got to work before 9. Yesterday, I swam before work, came in, and then did the noon Pilates class."
Jamtaas is an Ironwoman. Her brother, who is training for an Ironman, was so envious of her working conditions that he recently came on board in Sales. "Ever since I came here," says Kortney Jamtaas, "it's been beautiful."