Keeping the JPMorgan Corporate Challenge running smoothly
Event has grown to include 250,000+ participants across five continents
Each year, hundreds of thousands of runners from companies across the globe compete in the JPMorgan Corporate Challenge, a 3.5-mile road race in 13 cities celebrating the spirit of teamwork, camaraderie and community.
It was created by Barbara Paddock, now a managing director on JPMorgan Chase's Sports and Entertainment team. The first race, in 1977, was relatively humble: just 200 runners in New York City's Central Park. Today, the initiative is one of the world's largest corporate sporting events, with races in seven countries on five continents. Each year, more than 250,000 people—from 7,500 companies—participate.
Now, Ariel Johnson, a vice president on the team, leads the effort. In a recent interview, Johnson talked about the race's evolution, the herculean effort involved, and what's next.
Here's what she said, edited and condensed for clarity:
What is your background, and how did you come into this role?
I grew up as an athlete in Ohio, and studied political science at Spelman College in Atlanta. I never had an interest in finance, but I knew that I wanted to work in sports, at the intersection of philanthropy and social impact.
I saw an opportunity at JPMorgan Chase. I joined the Corporate Development Program straight out of college, in 2010. It's for motivated college graduates looking to drive meaningful impact, and gain knowledge across the firm's businesses.
Eventually, I transitioned to the JPMorgan Chase Foundation to focus on two of our largest corporate sponsorships—the US Open tennis tournament in New York and the Corporate Challenge. Luckily, my work here is an extension of my athletic lifestyle.
Take us behind the scenes. What's it like leading a global initiative of this scale?
We plan for the series year-round, but we dive into the details about six months before each event. The three of us on our core Sports and Entertainment team work with about 20 people from our global event planning team. We also work with hundreds of partners in each city to amplify the firm's work, and to add local flair.
Of course, we work with city officials – and law enforcement – to make sure the events go smoothly. I think that's important, too. There's a lot of opportunity for small businesses in each of the markets.
What's the biggest challenge year to year?
Managing our permits. We've gotten so big and popular that sometimes the new permits don't allow us to have the same size event that we've had in previous years.
What has changed in the time since you've been involved in the Corporate Challenge?
We've been trying to modernize the look and feel of the event. We've refreshed the branding, and globalized it under the JPMorgan name. We redesigned the website to reflect the brand more effectively.
What are some key things the Corporate Challenge has taught you about management, and leadership?
It's taught me to the importance of being flexible, and embracing change. No day or year will ever be the same. So I value learning to tackle the unexpected head on, and using it as a growth opportunity. Managing an always-on event within the financial space that is highly controls-focused isn't always easy. But it makes the challenge more rewarding.
What are your goals for the future of the Corporate Challenge?
We want to expand into additional cities, ideally to South America to round out our global footprint. We also want to spark creativity into the unique camaraderie and competition aspect the Corporate Challenge offers. Remember that you can only participate in the Corporate Challenge through the company you work for.
So, adding more intra-company connectivity, cross-industry competition or new categories for theme awards is definitely on the radar.
How does the firm measure the Corporate Challenge's impact?
It's a marquee event of our brand. We really cherish the event because it's one that we really own and operate. Our business is experiential, which focuses on driving affinity for the brand to provide benefits and social experiences to clients, prospective customers, and other stakeholders.
We have a unique opportunity to increase client engagement and grow business through relationships, as well as build brand perception. Most of our metrics are intangible.
Mariah Summers is a Chase News contributor. Her work has appeared in the Financial Times and BuzzFeed, among other media outlets.