A Chat With Virgin Sport CEO Mary Wittenberg
Picture this: after a decade of work, you’ve successfully helped establish your organization as a global player, inspiring millions to join your cause along the way. Mission accomplished right? Not for Mary Wittenberg.
As President and CEO of New York Road Runners, Mary helped catapult the organization onto the global stage, overseeing the New York City Marathon and countless community-based programs throughout the year. That’s when she decided to leave it all behind, and do it all again as CEO of Virgin Sport — aiming to change the community health and wellness game for good.
We recently spoke with Mary to dig deeper into her world of startup success. Now let’s hit the ground running.
What intrigued you to join Virgin Sport and leave such a highly recognized organization?
I couldn’t resist the opportunity to marry the aspirational Virgin brand with an effort to grow a global community by “re-imaging sport” and expanding the reach of mass participatory sports like running and cycling.
I loved my years at NYRR as we sought to inspire and influence people elsewhere while we focused on getting New Yorkers moving. Virgin Sport is the opportunity to have that kind of impact in communities around the world.
We have the chance with the Virgin brand and team, to help people overcome hurdles to fitness by creating memorable and celebratory events that excite them and ultimately unite friends, family and community. Ultimately, we want to help people move beyond the “bucket list” events. We want to support and inspire their daily fitness.
Is this your first start-up? Where do you see it in 10 years?
Yes! This is my first start up. I have always had an entrepreneurial streak within, and I applied it to help innovate the organization and further our mission while at NYRR. It’s incredibly energizing to be unleashing that initiative at Virgin Sport.
Ten years from now – we want to have changed the game when people say the word sport. We want to increase access to sport for all. Instead of thinking: “intimidating, only for the elite, not for me,” we want young girls in the UK, and young men working hard in their careers, and young mom’s and dad’s in their 30s (and the list goes on) all hear sport and especially Virgin Sport and think: “that’s for me, rewarding, my life, I want in.” We’ll want millions of more people moving and for Virgin Sport to be there for them with open arms and cheers to encourage everyone to take part and realize their fullest potential – often beyond their wildest dreams.
What do you think has been the secret ingredient in your career success?
Several secret ingredients:
1. My belief in the power of teamwork. All the most satisfying moments of my career have been working in partnership with, or standing back and cheering for, team members. As a rower in college, it was incredible to see how hard each team member worked to help our team reach our greatest potential. It’s similar in our work world, it’s inspiring to watch people grow and develop and stretch and get the best of themselves for the good of the whole and to watch one team member motivate another with his or her talents and efforts.
I am honored to join the Virgin team and excited to work with a fabulous and growing team at Virgin Sport.
2. I haven’t worked a day in 17 years. Or so it often seems. That’s the power of passion and purpose. I am so motivated to help others live their best lives through “moving” and being part of a community greater than themselves. We do our job right here – and the society will be a better one. We’ll have helped people unlock their potential in life through sport and to lifted whole communities in so doing.
3. Life is too short. Have fun. Every day. Again, I have been fortunate. Those of us who work in sports are fortunate. This is not rocket science (that’s reserved for our friends at Virgin Galactic!). We get to have a good time. Sure, there are moments of challenge and moments that require our most serious selves, but by and large, we have a good time and laugh a lot along the way.