Exercise builds more than muscle

One CEO came late to the fitness party, after his employees provided the invitation.

Another CEO, a marathon runner, led his workers on the road to fitness.

These days, the work forces at Service Management Group and Genesys, as a whole, are exercising more, eating healthier, weighing less, and enjoying bonds that didn't exist before.

About five years ago, some of Andy Fromm's employees at Service Management Group in Kansas City, Mo., asked him to sponsor a softball team.

"It cost a little bit of money, but I thought, `Yeah, OK,'" Fromm said. "Then I saw how lots of people got involved and had fun doing it, and I started to pay more attention."

In short order, the research and consulting firm CEO got involved in extracurricular athletic activities himself. Last year, he ran a 5-K race, his first. This year, Fromm committed to participate in the Kansas City Corporate Challenge triathlon.

"We had 25 participants from our place - 20 percent of our work force - registered in either the triathlon or duathalon," Fromm said of the events, which were scheduled for June 3. "Sixteen of them had never done an event like that before."

To the group's dismay, rain and lightning caused cancellation of the races, "but we handled it in true triathlete style," Fromm joked. "We ended up going out for a pancake breakfast."

Even if they didn't get to compete, he said, "It was a life-changing thing for many of the participants, and it was a company-changing event in terms of camaraderie and morale."

At Genesys, a material handling systems integrator based in Lee's Summit, Mo., CEO Patrick Perry was known as something of a fitness nut.

He made sure his company had free fruit and vegetables available daily to its 175 workers as an alternative to candy bars in snack machines.

And, for about four years, the guy described as an "ultrarunner" had been evangelizing about the benefits of long-distance running to his employees, his customers and his suppliers. Gradually, he won converts.

Last month, 20 of them joined him to run 26.2 miles on Mark Twain National Forest trails. The group figures they lost a collective 215 pounds, thanks to the training.

Many factors affect health-care costs and workplace attendance. Playing together on a softball team or running a marathon won't guarantee health or company loyalty.

But both CEOs believe that providing a healthy workplace environment and encouraging healthy habits is good business. Neither can say for sure that their group health insurance costs are holding steady, much less going down, because of the fitness focus.

But here's a no-brainer: The focus on fitness goes beyond helping existing workers. It's also a recruitment tool for other high-energy people. And that's a good quality in any worker.

Diane Stafford is the workplace and careers columnist at The Kansas City Star and the author of "Your Job: Getting It, Keeping It, Improving It, Changing It," a career advice book. She can be reached at