How the Founder of CrossFit Followed His Own Path to Forge a Fitness Empire

By Dave Hendrick

CrossFit founder and CEO Greg Glassman has followed no one else’s path but his own in his professional journey, parlaying unique ideas about training and fitness into an empire of more than 13,000 locations around the world.

Speaking to students at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business as part of the Darden Dialogues series, Glassman recounted how he grew what he described as “the fastest-growing chain in world history” with no sales, no marketing and no business plan.

Instead, Glassman said he had happy, fit clients and a differentiated product of high-intensity, community-minded workouts incorporating elements of gymnastics, weightlifting and running, among other disciplines. In Glassman’s telling, the business simply happened, beginning with a single affiliate agreement with friends from Seattle who wanted to replicate his program closer to home.

“Business is the art and science of providing unique, attractive opportunities for other people,” Glassman said, emphasizing that the “other people”— not the business owner — gets to decide whether the opportunity is worthwhile.

Glassman said he has grown his company using his own sense of what makes sense for CrossFit, which is often at odds with maximizing revenue. The company charges “affiliates” a fee to set up their own CrossFit gyms — or “box,” in the parlance of the company — and provides them access to the training regimen, but lets them operate independently with wide latitude.

The founder said he sees his customer as the affiliate, not the end user, and putting undue burden or requirements on affiliate owners feels like “eating my seed crop.”

“I’m running the company I would work for,” Glassman said. “I don’t know any other way to do it.”

Glassman said he had borrowed money only once in growing the company, when he needed a significant infusion of capital to buyout his former wife’s shares. The experience taught him to be wary of those offering funding, he said.

“Beware investors,” Glassman said. “I got an up-close look at the in-it-for-the-money crowd, and I wouldn’t want them around anything that was dear to me.”

About the University of Virginia Darden School of Business

The University of Virginia Darden School of Business delivers the world’s best business education experience to prepare entrepreneurial, global and responsible leaders through its MBA, Ph.D., MSBA and Executive Education programs. Darden’s top-ranked faculty is renowned for teaching excellence and advances practical business knowledge through research. Darden was established in 1955 at the University of Virginia, a top public university founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819 in Charlottesville, Virginia.


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