Current Executive Chairman of Athletes’ Performance and Core Performance Bill Allard's career has covered a lot of bases: from sports management and athletic performance training to private jet space. The former CEO of Marquis Jet Partners and former President and COO of SFX Sports Group oversees the Athletes' Performance's Norwell corporate office and has led the company through significant growth over the last five years.
A South Shore resident, Babson graduate, and Harvard Business School alum, Bill has significant ties to both the Boston area. His connection to the world of sports is no less: he's been named one of the Sporting News “Top 100 Most Powerful People in Sports” and The Guardian’s “50 Most Powerful People in the World of Sports.” He sat down with Ted Chan to share his story.
TC: Bill, tell us about Athletes’ Performance and how you ended up there. It seems like a pretty amazing job.
BA: After I left Marquis Jet, I joined Polaris Ventures as an Executive-in-Residence. I thought it would be a great role to be part of an exceptional firm, and was excited about the opportunity to advise seed and early stage companies on effective growth and high-level strategy. Soon after I joined Polaris, I sat on the board at AP and realized it was a huge opportunity both personally and professionally for me, and that the business had tremendous potential to impact not just athletes, but a much broader universe of consumers.
As someone with experience in the sports world and a former athlete myself, that’s something that really appealed to me, so I joined the AP team full-time in 2007.
TC: AP is backed by Polaris Ventures, a Boston-based VC that is known for Tech and Media. How did you sell this type of model to them?
BA: I’ve known the Polaris team for years, and they bring an invaluable perspective to our business, particularly in the technology space.
Fundamentally, as a company, Athletes’ Performance has always been an industry leader in training elite athletes, including some of Boston’s favorites—Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, and up and coming stars like Will Middlebrooks, but our greatest growth opportunity resides with the Core Performance side of our business.
Core Performance is focused on bringing the proven methodology of AP to leading-edge companies, helping employees get healthier while helping employers lower their health-care costs. As a result, we really need to be a solutions-based company. Polaris saw that immediately and knew that we would need a world-class technology team and a product roadmap that was IP-based versus relying solely on great coaches and nutritionists. To scale, we needed innovative solutions at price points that were palatable to employers while still being engaging, fun, and results-driven for employees. By recruiting top talent, developing proprietary technology, and rapidly deploying new products, Athletes’ Performance has been able to grow exponentially since 2006 and a significant portion of that growth has come on the Core Performance side of the business from partnering with best-in-class companies like Intel, Walgreens, and Sheraton to deliver wellness solutions for their teams.
TC: What other athletes have you worked with?
BA: This year we trained the top four NFL Draft picks for the NFL Combine, including Andrew Luck and RG3, and we also trained the two first round selections for the New England Patriots: Chandler Jones and Dont’a Hightower, so we’ll be cheering those guys in Foxboro along with Ryan Mallett, who also trained with us for Combine.
In baseball we’ve worked with countless members of the Red Sox staff over the years, from Lou Merloni to Curt Schilling to current players like Dustin Pedroia, Ryan Lavarnway, and Jacoby Ellsbury. Our business is also growing exponentially abroad—we are working with more than 70 Chinese Olympic athletes to prepare them for the London games, as well as the German National Soccer Team and the Polish National Soccer Team, so we have coaches and nutritionists all over the world at this point.
TC: Another exciting thing you’ve done was run Marquis Jets. How did that come about?
BA: Marquis is an incredible business, and it was a lot of fun to be a part of building and growing that brand. It’s a great story, but as I have told HBS students when I talk with them, it’s also a story about persistence—we needed a great partner in NetJets to make the business work, and it took no less than six meetings with NetJets Chairman Rich Santulli for him to say yes.
TC: I notice you also do work with public safety and military groups. What does that entail?
BA: We have been very proud to support great military personnel hailing from this area and throughout the United States. One of the projects we are really proud of is the Navy Operational Fitness & Fueling System, which provides fitness and nutrition programming to sailors whether they are on board a submarine or completing a workout in the comfort of their home.
The idea is to reduce musculoskeletal injuries, improve performance, and increase their nutrition awareness with easy-to-use materials and very minimal equipment—it’s a really powerful concept with significant implications for the well-being of our military personnel at home and abroad.
TC: How did Athletes' Performance end up being based out of Norwell/Boston? Do you feel you benefit from being here? It’s a great sports town.
BA: Boston is absolutely a great sports town, and it’s also a great place to recruit talent. That, combined with proximity to Polaris, was a strong reason why we chose to have a corporate office here. We have Babson, Simmons, Harvard, MIT, Northeastern, and BU all represented in our Norwell office, so we’ve taken full advantage of proximity to great schools to find great people.
Our office in Norwell also serves as the hub for our sales, marketing, digital, and financial operations, and an East Coast showcase for our methodology. New England-based companies who want to see our equipment or experience an evaluation can do so with a quick car trip.
Last year, we worked with Fenway Sports Management to host a workout at Fenway for local executives and provide Red Sox employees with a “game day workout” to stay fit
when they are working long hours—experiences like that are so unique to this city, and we are proud to work with great partners, companies, and athletes in the area.
TC: I saw you spoke at the MIT Sports Analytics conference. The first year I went, it was in two classrooms; now it’s a huge event. What did you talk about?
BA: I’m so impressed with what that Conference has grown into and was happy to be a part of it a few years back—I was there when it was still on the MIT campus, so I got to see it in the early stages. I talked about careers in sports: one thing that always kills me is that people interview for sports jobs based on how much they love the team or the brand. What I want to know is why are you the best person for the job and what unique proposition or skill-set do you bring to the table? I don’t hire people because of who they cheer for—I hire people because they are best in class in what they do.
This year, my colleague, AP founder Mark Verstegen, presented along with one of our partners, Axon Potential—Axon is doing training “above the neck”—helping football players read coverages faster and helping baseball players identify pitches quickly. At AP, we are always trying to stay on top of our game for our athletes, so technology, data, and innovation are critical to being leaders in the field.
TC: What are your thoughts on the mental/statistical element to training?
BA: I think there’s a great balance—elite coaches and GMs know how to strike the balance between data and gut instincts, and I love that the MIT team is always pushing the envelope on how teams can get faster, strong, and more analytical in everything they do.
TC: Last question, what advice do you have to aspiring entrepreneurs?
BA: It always looks easy from the rear-view mirror—looking back now, people congratulate me on our success at Marquis, and I remind aspiring entrepreneurs that it wasn’t an easy road. To me, there are three keys to success in a rapidly growing company:
A great team: whether you’re a basketball team or a top company, you need world-class talent, people who aren’t afraid to take risks, and critical thinkers, but you also want people you enjoy being around, because you’re going to spend a LOT of time with them in a small company.
A passion for what you do: In our business, you have to care at your core about helping people get healthier. AP's founder will still stay late at our corporate wellness facilities at Intel to show people how to improve their running form or suggest minor tweaks to their nutrition program—if you’re not truly and deeply passionate about what you do, the long hours and late nights aren’t worth it. Find something you love and do it incredibly well.
Competing to win: I’m a competitor at heart, and I think entrepreneurs need to be the most competitive set around. You need to knock down doors to close sales, be endlessly persistent about making great products, and continuously responsive until you get something right—you better have a competitive edge in the start-up world, because it’s not for the faint of heart.
Ted Chan is Founder and CEO of Upward Moblity, TestConquest and Noyo, three companies in the mobile education market, and a management consultant in telecom, media, and technology at Boston-based CSMG.
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