IN INDIA, it is move over, golf, and all hail the hottest new sport for corporate networking: endurance running.
For decades, those who wanted to ascend the corporate ladder had to be seen on the golf course. Not anymore. In recent years, endurance running events are replacing golf as schmooze fests for corporate high-flyers. “When non-runners see the high-voltage networking that goes on, more and more of them show up; and they get hooked to both the running and the networking,” says Pankaj Rai, director of analytics at Dell India.
“Now, running is the new golf,” says Rai, who has been running for nearly a decade and has completed six marathons. A former employee of General Electric (GE), Rai says a relaxed golf game used to be the time-honoured route to mount the corporate ladder at GE.
In Bengaluru, a wide number of C-suite executives are members of endurance running groups and regularly show up at events. “Since it is a large bunch of smart, successful, hardworking people, it becomes easy to build relationships that will help your career progression,” says Navneet Kapoor, president and MD of American discount retailer Target’s 2,600-people India operations.
For ambitious ladder-climbers, endurance running has displaced golf because of a practical reason too. “India has very few golf courses and the entry barrier for new players is very high; running is far less intimidating,” says Ramesh Viswanathan, head of technology and innovation at Siemens Technology India.
Viswanathan started running less than a year ago and has already run several half marathons and three full marathons. Endurance running is a neat replacement for golf because it comes with far less costs and time commitments. A five-kilometre run, for instance, takes about 40 minutes while a round of golf can last a few hours.
All these are recent changes in Indian corporate-dom. Not long ago, half-marathons, marathons and other such endurance races were the sole domain of fitness fiends. But running has taken off in cities like Bengaluru and Mumbai in a big way. The same runners congregate at events around the country — from the high altitude Ladakh Marathon to the newly-launched 10-km beach run in the coastal town of Kannur in northern Kerala. There are no less than 150 running events in India, averaging a run every three days.
The participation in these events has rocketed too. For instance, on December 5, the Bengaluru Midnight Marathon — Asia’s very first midnight marathon — marks its ninth edition. Participation in the event has soared from 2,500 runners in its first year to over 10,000 runners last year.
Apart from marquee running events, even casual weekend runs lend themselves to networking as runners effortlessly slip into “runversations” says Rai, the Dell executive. “A few days ago, a runner shared that he was laid off. Immediately, some of us asked him to send us his CV,” he says. Runners tap the network for all kinds of resources, from PR people to doctors. It is the diversity in the groups that makes networking all the more interesting, he says.
If networking has arrived at endurance events, corporate sponsorship and company-branded running contingents cannot be far behind. The Bengaluru Midnight Marathon has a CXO run where top honchos from Ola, Goldman Sachs, IBM and the like participate. In Bengaluru, every neighborhood has its own group of runners with names such as Jayanagar Jaguars and Proton Runners, each with a couple of hundred members who form the networks within networks.
Viswanathan from Siemens says at running events, bonhomie is visibly on the rise. At a recent run, he bumped into the CEO of Mercedes-Benz. “It was a good chance for folks like me to go up and talk to him because running is a great leveller,” he says. Running also makes things happen serendipitously, says Viswanathan.
While training at the Indian Institute of Management-Bengaluru recently, he wanted to go for a run. Looking around the room, he spotted a fellow participant in running shoes. “It turned out he was an ultra-marathoner, we hit it off immediately,” he says. The two have forged a strong bond and stay in regular touch.
Kapoor, the head of Target India, says running events these days slide into picnics and parties with some hardcore networking thrown in. He scours the events for talent to hire. “You meet so many people without their suits on, it makes things easier,” he says.