All podcasts

Andrew Messick, CEO Of IRONMAN Group

Every single little detail counts for your customer. If you’re managing IRONMAN triathlons, the athletes expect you to have everything lined up. They’ve been training for months, and they expect to have a smooth experience all throughout. Join J.R. Lowry as he talks to Andrew Messick, CEO of the IRONMAN Group about how they manage customer experience and Andrew’s broader experiences in leading the organization over the past 11+ years. Andrew talks as well about his time with AEG, the NBA, Sara Lee, McKinsey & Company, and in advertising. Learn how these work experiences added up for him and shaped him to be who he is. Know why it’s important to run through all the details for your customer. Finally, hear Andrew’s advice for doing good work and taking chances.

Watch the episode here

Listen to the podcast here


Andrew Messick, CEO Of IRONMAN Group

On Taking Chances And Learning To Sweat The Details Of The Customer Experience

My guest today is Andrew Messick, who I first met when we were both working at McKinsey’s Chicago Office back in the mid-1990s. Andrew is the CEO of the IRONMAN Group, a role he has held for the past 11 years. Prior to taking the helm at IRONMAN, he was the President of the Sports Division for the entertainment company, AEG. Prior to that, he was a Senior Vice President of International for the National Basketball Association.

Before entering the sports management world, Andrew worked at McKinsey and Sara Lee in a variety of marketing and business development roles in the UK, Australia, and Canada. He is an experienced marathoner, road cyclist, and mountain biker himself. He’s competed in four full distance IRONMAN races, and he qualified for and raced in an IRONMAN 70.3 World Championship. He earned his Bachelor’s degree in Economics and Psychology from UC Davis and his MBA from the Yale School of Management. He and his wife and son live in Santa Barbara, California.

Andrew, thanks for making time for our discussion.

It’s a pleasure. It’s good to reconnect, talk about careers, and what we’ve learned over our long years of grinding away.

I know from some of the interviews and the podcasts you’ve done in the past that you have a great career story to tell. I’m looking forward, as an endurance athlete myself, to getting to connect with you, and hearing a little bit about the inside perspective of working with the IRONMAN Group will be great.

Let’s talk first about your own IRONMAN experience. I know you’ve done a number of the full distance ones, which I have incredible respect for. My brother’s done two. I have done zero. What’s your favorite discipline: swimming, cycling, or running?

I think that I like the cycling part the best, but relatively speaking, I’m a better runner. I don’t think anybody enjoys a marathon [alone], but I really don’t think anyone enjoys a marathon in an IRONMAN. It’s too late in the stage and everything hurts too much. I like the bike course because you’re seeing a lot of ground. It’s long enough so that there’s a beginning, a middle, and an end to the bike session. You’re never at a robotic level where you can’t talk to people. You can talk to volunteers and other athletes. There’s a nice social component to it that I quite enjoy.

What’s the toughest of the ones you’ve done?

I’ve done Lake Placid twice. I’ve been up in Quebec on my first IRONMAN Canada. All of them, relatively speaking, are on the harder side of things in terms of courses because none of the courses are flat. I think Placid is probably the hardest because it’s quite a hilly bike and run. In the later stages, the hills are not your friend, not going up or down.

I know Kona is Kona, but I’ve always heard people talk with the most reverence about Lake Placid and what a tough IRONMAN that one is, and getting into it is an accomplishment. Being able to go do it and finish it is also an accomplishment.

Let’s go back a little bit. I know you’re from the Southern California area originally. What was your first paying job?

People underestimate the early formative jobs that they took. You can learn a lot from them that helps you in your future career. Click To Tweet

I grew up in Santa Barbara, California. My parents taught at UC Santa Barbara. In my first job, I was scooping ice cream at Baskin Robbins when I was sixteen years old. I did that when I was in high school. I waited tables at the Biltmore Hotel in Santa Barbara all during college. As I’ve gotten older, I realized that all my early jobs were customer-facing jobs. In my formative years, I wasn’t working construction. I was always talking to customers.

Over the course of my career, I’ve realized that I think that helped me a lot to be able to talk and listen to people. It was certainly wasn’t when I was scooping ice cream in high school. I didn’t think like, “This is a great job. I’m super psyched about it.” But I think I learned a bunch of stuff that has proven to be pretty useful. It was good for me to work when I was young and working with people has helped me.

I think all of us do, to some extent. I mowed lawns. I’ve talked about that in some of the earlier episodes. I learned how to ask for business, and soldier through it when it had rained a lot and the grass was high, and getting that lawn mowed was going to be a huge hassle. I’m sure you had similar experiences that even decades later, you still carry with you.

Those formative jobs when you’re young and learning…What does it mean to go to work? What does it mean to try to do a good job? What does it mean to listen? These are things that we tend to underestimate from those earlier years. Some people who’ve been successful have great tools but maybe haven’t been successful. You look at them and go, “Why did your career come off the rails?” Sometimes it’s because they aren’t good at listening. Maybe they didn’t have experiences like the ones that we had where you have to look people in the eye and shake their hands. You have to listen to and process what they’re saying.

Sometimes, you have to acknowledge that you’re not always right. If you made a mistake you have to be prepared to address all of that. I feel very fortunate to have a lot of the work experiences that I did when I was young. Certainly, when I was at McKinsey, I didn’t appreciate it. You don’t think, “That person’s going to be a great consultant because they scooped ice cream when they were sixteen.” But those skills are difference makers for you later in the course of your career.

You’ve fast-forwarded a little bit. You said you went to UC Davis. I know you majored in Economics and Psychology, went to Yale, and got your MBA. Was there a job in between there, or did you go right into that Master’s program?

No. I worked for a number of years. I moved to New York and worked in the advertising industry for about three years. It started with the old Ted Bates advertising agency in New York. I got a job in the research department. I’m analytically reasonably strong. I was able to do reasonably well there, but I realized that at least in the advertising world in the ‘80s, being on the account management side is the more interesting job. I moved into that and had an opportunity to go work for one of my clients, which I did for about a year.

I realized that if I wanted to advance in consumer-packaged goods marketing, I needed to go to graduate school, and that led me to Yale. Oddly enough, a lot of the experiences that I had working in advertising were ones that were useful at McKinsey, especially the consumer-packaged goods practice in Chicago, which is how I ended up there after graduate school.

CSCL 13 | Customer Experience Details

Customer Experience Details: Sometimes you do things that don’t work out, and you get egg on your face. In general, you rarely look back on those with regret, but you do look back on things you didn’t do with regret.


What led you to end up at McKinsey where you and I met way back in the day? Post getting your MBA, you could have gone right back into the consumer-packaged goods space directly, but you did a few years in consulting. What drove that decision for you?

Through the intellectual rigor of being a consultant, you get a chance to punch above your weight a little bit and focus on problems when you’re quite young that you wouldn’t necessarily get to focus on until you’re a lot further along in your career. You learn a lot. I liked the problem-solving part and the idea of being able to go into an engagement and be focused on what are, in many cases, the most important problems that our clients are facing. Helping them think both intellectually and organizationally…How do you solve those? It was fun. It was attractive and the pay was pretty good too.

You talked a little bit about what you learned in advertising and from your ice cream scooping days. Apart from the problem-solving aspect of being at McKinsey, what do you look back and say that you took away from that experience that fueled you later on?

There are two things that I feel McKinsey helped with that have proven to be enormously useful. One of them is analytic problem-solving. It’s being able to get to the heart of the matter quickly and have the skills and the experience to be able to strip away the things that are extraneous and understand what is the beating heart of an issue, and how do you bring information to bear to be able to prove that.

Have you not boiled the ocean? Have you very quickly been able to frame a problem in a way that is going to be useful operationally and able to be solved? I think that’s part of what you do every day [at McKinsey], or at least what you did in the ‘90s when we were there. A huge part of what you do is [determining] what’s the problem we’re trying to solve and having to convince ourselves that it’s true. That over the entire course of my career has been enormously helpful.

The second thing is team and project management. The engagement manager skills of [leading] a bunch of people. Sometimes they’re super-capable or people who have different levels of experience. How do you organize them in a way that enables the team to be able to get a result? That’s a critical part of being an engagement manager. I think that has always been helpful to me.

Whenever we were trying to solve a problem, at IRONMAN, in my AEG days, or Sara Lee, I’ve been able to say, “These are the things we need to do. These are the tasks. Here’s how we’re going to organize ourselves. Here’s how we’re going to measure progress.” All those things have proven to be useful to me over a period of decades. It’s the day in, day out what we did for all those McKinsey years.

I often describe to people the pattern recognition. You walk into a lot of situations. You’re expected to hit the ground running. You have to figure out what problem you’re trying to solve and how do we prove whether we’re right or wrong. It’s the inference-based approach to solving a problem. You get to see a lot of companies and cultures. Over time, you start to see patterns. For me, that’s always served me very well in my post-McKinsey life.

You mentioned Sara Lee. What drove the decision to go there? I know you were in a few different countries working for them before you moved into the sports portion of your career. Talk a little bit about what you did there. What do you take away from that?

When dealing with customers, you have to acknowledge that you're not always right. Click To Tweet

They were my main client for the last couple of years that I was at [McKinsey]. I had an opportunity to move over into working in a business development role on the client side. We made a series of acquisitions and they needed somebody to help figure out what to do with them. The business unit I had been serving was based in London. We moved there and bought a company in Australia. They needed somebody to help figure out what to do with it. We moved there. That business had an operating company in Western Canada, so I moved there.

It was an interesting period of trying to help build, by Sara Lee standards, a relatively small operating division. Through a series of acquisitions, how do you cobble it together and turn it into something that resembles a global business? That proved in later jobs to be useful because a lot of my broad international skills made me attractive to the NBA. When David Stern hired me to run International for the NBA, it was because I’d spent a large amount of my career focused on working for American companies and working outside of the United States. For a global basketball brand, that proved to be advantageous for me.

I think you were working in Canada at the time. It’s one of those classic stories of the phone rang. You took a phone call and that ultimately led to your jump into the sports management world. Describe how that all played out.

It wasn’t just a phone call. It was a McKinsey phone call. It was Claudio Aspesi who’s been a great friend of mine forever. We worked together a lot at McKinsey. Interestingly enough, the phone rang on the day before Good Friday of 2000. It was Claudio. He said, “I got this interesting recruiter call for the NBA. They’re looking for somebody to run their international businesses. They want a sports fan, somebody with P&L experience, who has international experience, been consumer-facing, and an American or someone who understands the power of the NBA brand.

Claudio, who’s an Italian national, said, “I told them I was the wrong guy, but you were the right guy.” I hang up the phone, and the recruiter calls me half an hour later and says, “What are you doing tomorrow?” We were living in Calgary. He said, “I’m flying to Calgary. Will you have lunch with me?” We had lunch on Good Friday 22 years ago. I was getting ready on Easter Sunday to fly to the Netherlands to present my operating plan to Sara Lee management. I got a call when I was in the Netherlands saying, “When you come back to North America, divert to New York. The commissioner wants to meet you.” I did.

I got to New York and was led into David Stern’s office. He’s got an office that has a conference room attached to it. The conference room is soundproof because the guy yelled so much.  I sit there for a while. He walks in and he has my resume. This is the first thing out of his mouth: “I’ve looked at your resume. I suspect you think that for a guy your age, you’ve had a pretty good run so far, but I feel compelled to tell you, you haven’t done a damn thing.” I said, “My name’s Andrew, and I’m pleased to meet you.”

That’s what got me into sports. I worked for David and Adam Silver. Adam was my boss for most of the seven years that I was there. It was great. This was when Yao Ming was coming into the league, and Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, the second great wave of globalization of basketball. It was terrific, exciting, and a lot of fun. I got an opportunity for seven years to learn the sports business. Every business is unusual, but I think the sports business is particularly unusual.

To see how David and Adam thought about building a global brand. That has proven to be pretty useful to me as I’ve thought about trying to build IRONMAN into a global sports brand. There’s a bunch of us who are ex-NBA people who are at IRONMAN now and we mine the NBA playbook every day.

CSCL 13 | Customer Experience Details

Customer Experience Details: There’s much less strategy with a capital S and more individual agreements in sports management. It’s more of a deal-by-deal type and negotiation-by-negotiation business.


Prior to getting that call from Claudio, did you have designs on getting into sports management, or had you not thought that precisely about things?

I’d never considered it. I’ve been an athlete most of my life, not a good one, but one who’s passionate. I’d been deeply engaged in sports, as a fan and spectator. Sports have been a big part of my life. I never thought about making my living in sports. I was quite ambivalent about taking the job. It was a big leap and a massive career change. I was doing well at Sara Lee. I felt like I had a future there. I understood how to get ahead, do good work, and advance in that company and in that culture.

It came down to a conversation I had with my wife who told me, “You’ve been passionate about sports your whole life. It doesn’t matter if it’s a good job. What matters is that you’re not going to regret it. If you have an opportunity to make your living in sports, when you care as much about sports as you do, you will kick yourself forever if you don’t try it.” That was probably the single best piece of career advice I’ve ever gotten.

Sometimes, you do things, and they don’t work out. You get egg on your face and that happens. In general, you rarely look back on those with regret, but you do look back on things you didn’t do with regret. You try to remember, “Why didn’t I take this opportunity? I don’t remember why I didn’t do this exciting thing. I had some reason at the time.” But what you remember is that you didn’t do it. I took the leap. We moved back to New York and I started working in the sports business, which was a pretty different animal.

What surprised you most? You’re a passionate sports guy. You get a job that’s arguably a dream job for anybody who’s a sports fan. What was surprising other than David Stern’s intro once you got on the inside?

I spent all these years at McKinsey thinking about strategy. One of the things that I learned at the NBA is there is much less strategy with a capital S than I thought. There are individual agreements. It’s more of a deal type of transaction. You have a strategy. You know where you want to go, but you have to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement with your players. You negotiate the best agreement you can. You have to negotiate an agreement with your broadcasters. The way the business is run is this sequence of individual transactions and individually negotiated agreements. You have a strategic plan, but what you’re trying to do is the best deal you possibly can.

How do you create leverage for yourself in the future? It’s much more detailed and focused than what we used to think about at McKinsey. David always used to say that there’s only detail, and if you’ve got the most important person from one of your partner organizations coming to an event, you have to make sure that person’s [partner] is picked up at the airport. If the wife or husband of one of your most senior partner executives doesn’t get picked up at the airport, that executive isn’t going to talk about anything else other than like, “My partner is at the airport. When is he or she going to get collected?”

You have to get the details right, and if you don’t, all the other stuff doesn’t matter. We see that in sports. The games have to start on time. The referees have to show up and follow the rules. There needs to be a fair implementation of whatever your disciplinary procedure is. You have to be able to allocate the games in a particular season to the different broadcasters in a way that’s fair. If you don’t, that’s all your broadcasters want to talk about. It’s “These guys got the Lakers or the Golden State games,” and you can’t get past that. There’s a super detailed orientation that I was unaccustomed to. You spend so much time on little stuff.

It's the little stuff that becomes the platform for being able to do the big stuff. Click To Tweet

But it’s the little stuff that becomes the platform for being able to do the big stuff. That was a revelation to me. It’s proven to be useful in my job because what I tell the organization all the time is if you have to have ice at the aid station at Mile 24 of the [IRONMAN] run course. There needs to be ice there because if there isn’t, for the athletes, that’s a huge problem. That’s what they’re going to remember. They’re going to remember you ran out of water or lost their gear bag. You have to build an organization that pays attention to all of that stuff.

You’re running [the Boston Marathon] on Monday. The bus has to arrive on time. If the bus that takes you to Hopkinton doesn’t show up on time, you don’t care about strategy.  You’re thinking, “I want my bus because to get me to the start so I can have the race that I want. When I get there, there need to be bathrooms, water, a place for me to drop all my excess clothes, etc.” All that stuff has to be dialed in.

[I lead] an organization that’s built around the delivery of that. It’s both good and bad. The good part is that there’s this focus all through the organization on attention to detail. I’m making sure that the little things are done right. If you can’t do the little things, how can you do the big things right? At the same time, the challenge is that at some point you do need to be thinking about the big picture. What does this aggregation of individual decisions make when it all rolls together? Is it taking you to the place you want to go?

For me, one of the most interesting parts of my job is that we need to have an organization and a company that’s laser-focused on delivering a great experience. The ice is there for you. The timing chip and the tracking app work. Your family knows where you are at Mile 13. All that stuff has to work. It’s an outdoor event. It takes place over a broad distance. It’s not like you’re operating in an arena. All that stuff is hard, but you have to get it right.

That becomes table stakes for all the other things you want to do in terms of how you build loyalty among your athletes. How do you get people to race with you more? How do you build the brand and be able to leverage other aspects of the brand? Like that NBA experience, it was like, “Welcome to detail.” You need to have the details right.

You’ve described detail a lot, but you mentioned the word experience. Ultimately, a lot of what you’re describing is about getting the customer experience nailed. There’s a tremendous amount of attention that the customer experience is getting. We’ve got more and more companies having chief customer experience officers and things like that. You’ve got people who are putting themselves out physically, mentally, and emotionally to compete in a very hard race that they’ve been training for months, and for things to go as well as can be expected that day, weather and other factors coming in. You’ve got to deliver for them. They’ve put themselves out just to be there.

A typical IRONMAN athlete – they’re going to train for a year for the event. During that year, they’re thinking about the race every single day, “Am I training enough? Am I training too much? Do I have the right equipment? Do I have the right nutrition?” It’s this extraordinary engagement of these capable people. That creates a huge responsibility for us. One that I think we all take pretty seriously. I’m an athlete too, but the people who I train with, who I see on [race] weekends, these are people who I know, and in many cases, have known for a long time.

We all feel the pressure and the responsibility to make sure all the little things are right because collectively they do make a difference. It is a bit of a joke within the company that I’m always talking about this hypothetical aid station at Mile 24 of the run course. When you’re two miles away and have been at it for thirteen hours, and all of a sudden, there is no food there. There aren’t calories. It’s the heat of the day and there isn’t ice. That’s a problem.

CSCL 13 | Customer Experience Details

Customer Experience Details: You want IRONMAN New Zealand to feel different from IRONMAN California. At the same time, you want it to be recognizable as an IRONMAN event. You want a balance of recognizability and uniqueness.


Reinforcing that attention to detail matters because that’s part of what I think differentiates us as an operating company. We do 250 events a year. If we’re not the best in the world at delivering this athlete experience… No one has more repetitions. No one has a better opportunity to leverage best practices. No one has a better platform to be able to experiment, try different things, and see what works and what is better. We do all of that. I think we do view ourselves as an organization that should be the best. If we’re not, why not? We’re the biggest organizer of mass participation and sporting events in the world. We should be the ones that have the most knowledge, the best processes, and the best understanding of our customers.

It’s an incredibly well-known brand, instantly recognizable. Describe the organization though. How many people work in the organization? How many countries are you in? You talked about running 250 events a year. I know you’ve had some changes in ownership over the years. Give people a little bit of a sense of IRONMAN, the company.

We have 250 events in 55 countries around the world, and 30 offices in 17 countries. The whole question of how many employees we have is surprisingly difficult to answer because we’re a seasonal event business. We have around 700 full-time, twelve-month-a-year employees. We probably have that many of what we call seasonal full-time people. They’re ski patrol people in the winter. They come on and work from May to October on events. They are a part of our operating teams around the world. We have a few thousand people who are contractors for certain events. We have a few thousand volunteers at every race. When you start thinking about what’s the total span of the organization, it’s anywhere from 7,000 to 10,000, depending on what definition you want to use.

It’s such an interesting business. You’ve got race locales, as you mentioned, in 55 countries. You’ve got corporate sponsors who support the events. You’ve got the athletes themselves, arguably the most Type A client base imaginable. You’ve got an army of volunteers you depend on. How do you balance the needs and expectations of all those groups?

This was a big part of my first five years on the job, which was trying to identify, What is the brand? What are the critical brand standards? What does it mean for a race to be an IRONMAN branded race? What are the promises that we implicitly or explicitly make to our athletes around experience, course, all that stuff? As we’ve gotten better at it, I think we built an organization that is getting pretty good at being able to say that for any IRONMAN race around the world or IRONMAN 70.3 race. To a lesser extent, we also own the Rock and Roll Running Series. We own the Epic series of mountain biking events. We’re partners in UTB and ultra-trail running.

We have the Haute Route Cycling Series as well. From an IRONMAN perspective, we’re probably the furthest along in thinking about, What is that fundamental brand promise? What are the things that have to be the same everywhere in the world? What are the things that you want to be different? You want IRONMAN New Zealand to feel different from IRONMAN California and from IRONMAN France. At the same time, you want it to be recognizable as an IRONMAN event. You want an athlete who might live in Perth, Western Australia, to be able to look around our portfolio of races and have confidence that there’s going to be a bedrock experience, irrespective of what continent that race is in.

You also want that racing experience for the person who travels from Perth to France. You don’t want [all the races] to be identical. You want Nice to feel uniquely French. Finding that balance, there’s quite a bit of art in that. The core promise of, “You’re going to get an extraordinary experience and the finish line is going to be amazing. You’re going to be supported. It’s going to be safe.” All those things are bedrock operating principles. We’ve done a ton of work over the years to build out what it means to deliver a great racing experience to an athlete.

We’re doing that in all the other brands too, recognizing that trail runners are different from triathletes. Trail runners are different from road runners. The Rock and Roll experience in Las Vegas is going to be very different from the Canyons endurance run in Auburn, California, which takes place on the Western States Endurance Run course. We want to be able to make sure that we’re delivering a great athlete experience to everybody. What those people are looking for and what we deliver is different by brand.

You want IRONMAN New Zealand to feel different from IRONMAN California and from IRONMAN France. At the same time, you want it to be recognizable as an IRONMAN event. Click To Tweet

In these populations of endurance athletes, there is some overlap and certain similarities, but they’re quite different and distinct. With all that complexity, we find ourselves delivering differently across regions. One of the reasons we have all of these offices around the world is that part of the event business is that it’s a very local business.

You need the mayor to give you permission. You need the health and safety guy to say, “We’re going to have ambulances.”You need the local water safety people to say, “Here’s the extraction protocol if someone gets in trouble on the swim and how we are going to get them out of the water.” We need local people to say yes to all that stuff.

What we found over the years is that if you want to have a business in New Zealand, you need an office in New Zealand and you need it full of Kiwis. Having Australians fly across the Tasman [Sea] is not the same. Having Germans go into Austria is not the same. Having French people go into French-speaking Belgium is not the same. There’s this very local component to our business as well. These races are implemented in local communities where we’re using public waterways, roads, and infrastructure. We’re not a huge company, but we’ve got people all over the place because you have to if you’re going to organize the events and get the people who need to say yes.

Your move to St. George for the 2022 world championship is an example of where local policy, in this case, the impracticalities of trying to hold an event in Hawaii with COVID continuing to hit, ultimately affects what you’re able to deliver. Maintaining that level of local support must be incredibly important to the continued success of the business.

It is going back to a lot of the old McKinsey frameworks that we learned. The events take place within a particular community. There are concentrated benefits and diffuse costs associated with the event business. It’s very easy to be able to say, “We’re going to bring in 5,000 athletes and their friends and family. It’s going to translate into a certain number of hotel room nights. There’s going to be a certain amount of lift in your restaurants.” Those constituents love our events. Ten miles out of town near the bike course, a mother and father are trying to get their kids to saxophone lessons. The road’s closed because the bike course is going through. Maybe they don’t like the event quite as much.

The art of what we’re doing is trying to balance and manage the community impact, recognizing that there are people for whom the events are unambiguously a good thing. There are people for whom, while they appreciate the events taking place and they like that, they’re inconvenienced. How do we help manage those people through that? How do we communicate with them effectively? How do we support organizations that we think are being disproportionately impacted? That’s a lot of what we do too. We want to be welcomed back into a community year after year. It doesn’t happen by itself. It requires effort.

It’s effort, nurturing, and all of that to deliver that consistent experience and manage that level of detail. What do you look for most in your leadership team and in the broader culture of the company that helps deliver that in a consistent fashion?

Where I try to start with is for people to appreciate the psyche of our customers and the athletes, and put themselves in the athlete’s shoes. You’ve trained for a year. It’s all coming down to one day. You have to understand what it feels like to be an athlete with a race number on the front of your shirt. You work backward from there. How does the registration process work? How does the race process work? What does the branding look like? How do we integrate with our partners? How do we think about content and media distribution?

CSCL 13 | Customer Experience Details

Customer Experience Details: When hiring people for IRONMAN, you want people to appreciate the psyche of the athletes. Put yourself in the shoes of these athletes who’ve trained all year for this day, and then work backward from there.


All of those things, it’s helpful if you’re thinking with the athlete in mind. As we think about, “What are the values that we appreciate? What do we look for in leadership?”, it’s this understanding that it doesn’t matter if you’re in operations, sales, marketing, IT, or finance. The delivery of the race experience is the beating heart of the company. I think what I look for mostly is people who have the ability to make that pivot from just having the functional expertise or geographic expertise to translating that into delivering a great experience for the customer. If that’s too big a leap, and there are always people for whom the customer is not the friend, those are folks who have a hard time in our organization.

I can easily see that. You had a pivotal moment several years ago. What was it that led you into feeling like you were clear on what you wanted to do with your professional life? When did that moment occur for you, that moment of longer-term clarity?

I was being interviewed for the IRONMAN job. I’d spent seven years in the NBA. They were great years and I loved it, but I was never a basketball guy. I wasn’t a basketball junkie. I was a fan of basketball, but it was never my top sport. One of the owners, Barry Allen, the former Chairman of the Board of Harley Davidson, was our board chair. He’s like, “Andrew, why would you do this?” I was like, “I got into an endurance athletics a long time ago. There’s no better job, organization, or brand for me, where I’ll able to have personal passion. By the time I got the job, I had completed two IRONMAN races. I’d qualified for 70.3 Worlds and raced in it. I was a paid in full member of the endurance community.

To be able to make your living and have an influence on the preeminent brand in a segment where you have enormous personal passion, how many shots at that do you get in your career? It was the easiest decision ever. Maybe it wouldn’t have worked out, but it did. There were times over the course of my career where I said, “I’m the man for the job. What is the job?” I moved to Amsterdam with McKinsey. I took a leap and moved to London with Sara Lee. I moved countries [twice more] with Sara Lee.

I was always the person who was willing to say, “I’m prepared to uproot my life because there’s a better opportunity. There’s a more compelling career.” It turns out by serendipity that the vast majority of those, the leaps that I took, were useful to me in this role. I’ve worked a lot in Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and Asia. I’ve got a lot of experience. I’ve worked in global sports and brands. I understand sales and marketing.

All these things turned out to have been useful for me. I’ve thought about and worked with our team to build IRONMAN. I tell this to young people all the time and always get the sense that they’re disappointed. There wasn’t a master plan, like “When I’m 40, I’m going to be running an IRONMAN.” I was trying to do good work and put myself in a position where I had options. It’s worked out so far. 2022 could be a challenging year so we’ll see.

I’m sure it feels good to be able to get more of your events back on the schedule relative to the last couple of years. There are some long-term things that the pandemic has changed in the way the world works. We were talking [prior to recording] about hybrid and what’s the definition of work and so many other [affects of the pandemic] as well.

I wish you the best of luck as things are going forward. You’ve been super generous with your time. Any final thoughts you want to share for people who are reading?

I’ve said this a lot and you’ve probably heard this, but I think it is worth saying that for young people, in particular. I know that I felt this way. I felt that people who were more senior in the organization were always trying to figure out who was going to advance and who wasn’t. As I’ve been on the other side of that table, what I’ve realized and what I tell people is that people in organizations are desperate for talented and motivated individuals.

If you can't do the little things right, you won't be able to do the big things right. Click To Tweet

As a senior person in an organization, you spend a huge amount of time saying, “How do we find a person who can solve this problem for us? How can we find a leader who can address this need for us?” The advice that I give young people always is, “Andrew’s rules of advice.” I’ve got like three pieces of advice, and they add up to ten words. The first piece of advice is, “Do good work.” Be the person whose work is accurate, on time, complete, and goes the extra mile. People who do that are extraordinarily valuable. They’re rare. It’s not like there are a million people in any organization whose work when you look at it is not full of mistakes and not complete. Do good work. That’s the first thing.

The second thing is, “Take your chances.” If you do good work, you’re going to be given opportunities in the company you’re in or in another company. You’ll be given an opportunity to grow, stretch, move to a different part of the company, lead a new initiative, and take on more responsibility. It’s always amazed me over the course of my career how many people say no to that. How many people say things like, “That’s a great opportunity, but I’d have to move.” There’s a list of reasons why you don’t do it: your family, your spouse, your kids, your mortgage, whatever.

Many people say “No” and I’ve always said “Yes.” It’s disruptive. It’s harder than the status quo, but if you take your chances, you avail yourself of so many new opportunities. I always tell people to take their chances. If you’re given a remarkable opportunity to go do something, even if it’s scary, say “Yes” to it. What’s the worst that can happen?

The third piece of advice is, “Don’t be a jerk.” For the course of our careers, the arc of our careers is long. Over time, if you get a reputation as a good person to work with: someone honest, someone who’s candid, and someone who doesn’t play political games. That reputation helps you down the road. It’s been remarkable to me how many people I keep seeing and stumbling across. Your reputation matters. If you’re not honest, stab people in the back, are unkind, people remember it.

It matters if you’re honest, a good person to be around, and somebody who is wanted on teams. You say, “I’d like Jane to be on the team.” Everyone goes, “I like Jane. I like working with Jane.” That’s the thing that helps you over time in your career. Those are the three pieces of advice I give people. Do good work, Take your chances, and Don’t be a jerk.

This has been great, Andrew. I appreciate it. It’s been nice to reconnect. It’s been a long time. I wish you and the organization the best for 2022 as you manage your way hopefully back into something resembling more of a normal schedule for your organization.

I appreciate that. I wish you the very best of luck [running the Boston Marathon]. It’s one of those events where you feel like the whole running world is there and you’re at the center of the beating heart of running it. That’s always a special feeling. I know you’re going to have a great time.

It’s been a long time since I’ve run on the course. I’m looking forward to it and hopefully will have a good day. You never know completely how it’s going to go out there. The important part is I’ve raised a bunch of money and that’s what matters. This is the reward in a way for that. Thanks, Andrew.

Take care.


Important Links


About Andrew Messick

CSCL 13 | Customer Experience DetailsAndrew Messick is the CEO of the IRONMAN Group, a role he has held for the past 11+ years. Prior to taking the helm at IRONMAN, Andrew was the President of the Sports division for the entertainment company AEG. Prior to that, he was the Senior Vice President of International for the National Basketball Association. Before entering the sports world, Andrew worked at McKinsey & Company, in Chicago and Amsterdam, and then at Sara Lee, in various marketing and business development roles in the UK, Australia, and Canada. He began his career working in advertising in New York. Andrew is an experienced marathoner, road cyclist, and mountain biker himself. He has competed in 4 IRONMAN races and also qualified for and raced in an IRONMAN 70.3 World Championship. Andrew earned his Bachelor’s degree in Economics and Psychology from UC Davis and his MBA from the Yale School of Management. He and his wife and son live in Santa Barbara, California.

Share with friends

©2023 PathWise. All Rights Reserved