Herb Elliot

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Joining me next is former Olympic middle distance runner, Herb Elliot. Today Herb is the chairman for the Global Corporate Challenge, a world first corporate health initiative which encourages corporate employees to get active and healthy. Recent studies conducted by Monash University show that Australian corporate workers really need to improve their health and lifestyle. Herb is going to discuss his research in how being healthy can improve performance at work.

Welcome Herb.
HE Peter, thank you.

PS Now, you’re more than just an Olympic middle distance runner. Why don’t you just give us a rough idea of what your sporting achievements were?

HE I suppose the greatest moment of my sporting career, which is almost so long it’s tickling the back of my memory buds, was when I won the Olympic gold medal in the 1,500m on the track in a world record time, so that was pretty much the swan song of my career and the greatest moment of my career.

PS Now tell us Herb, since then you’ve had a career in business. Why don’t you just give us a sketch along your business career as well?

HE Sure. Just after I retired from athletics I was with the Shell company for a number of years, ended up as a sales manager of their plastics division – plastics were quite new in those days, believe it or not – and then from there I eventually ended up as chief executive of Pump, the sports goods company in Australia, and from there to president in North America for the Pump Sports Goods Company. After that I came back to Australia and worked with the Australian Olympic Committee in the build up to the Olympic Games in 2000. It was a fantastic thing to be part of, and then I retired from all those sorts of things in 2001 and started to take up some board appointments. My first was with Pacific Dunlop and then Ansell, and I’m currently chairman of Fortescue Metals Group, chairman of the Telstra Foundation, which is a philanthropic arm of the Telstra Corporation, and most important of all chairman of Global Corporate Challenge.

PS Okay, so tell us where this came from Herb?

HE My son-in-law, Glen Risley, is the chief executive of the Global Corporate Challenge now, and there’s a bright young man called Shane Bisraba who’s a well-known nutritionist, particularly in Melbourne, who writes for the newspapers down there.

PS I think he’s been on my program in the past.

HE Has he? Okay. Shane and Glen came to see me to tell me about this idea where they were going into corporate health, giving pedometers to people and setting up some sort of software system that recorded their daily activities. They mumbled things about teams and stuff, and corporations and stuff, and I just said to them, ‘you really think that little machine on a person’s belt is going to change their lifestyle in any way at all?’ I said, ‘honestly, I don’t think this is going to work.’ But they persisted with the idea and they even rewarded me by making me chairman of the company that they established.

PS So you were a doubter but they made you chairman? [laughter]

HE Absolutely. So that’s a big risk on their part. In our first year, which was 2004, I think we had 2,800 participants, so that wasn’t a bad start really.

PS So, each one who signs up from a corporation has a pedometer so they can count their step effectively?

HE Exactly.

PS Well, we’ve used those.

HE You know why it works? I mean, looking back on it, I know that it was probably inevitable that it would work because you’ve got three ingredients to it, each of them motivational. One is that this little machine that you stick on your belt each morning, it’s just surprising how it motivates you. Look at it on the first day when you get in the car and you drive to the office and you sit at your desk, you get in your car, you drive home, you look at it at the end of the day and you find out you’ve done maybe 2,500 steps or 2,200.

PS When 10,000 would be a better target? [laughter]

HE Well that’s not enough to keep you healthy.

PS Really?

HE You think, okay I did 2,200 yesterday, tomorrow I’m going to do 3,000, it’s the natural competitiveness of the human being.

PS That’s good metrics as well, you can measure what you’re doing.

HE It is. Then the next thing, and I think this is one of the clever parts of it, you actually become part of a team, your corporation assists you to establish teams. The teams can be either in a division, or if, for instance in the case of a merger acquisition where you’ve got cultures that are different from one another and you’re trying to bring them together, you can have them across divisions or across companies if you wish to have them... You get these seven people in each team, you’ve got your pedometer and they’ve got this wonderful software system, Global Corporate Challenge, it enables you every day to put the number of steps that you’ve recorded on your pedometer, you’ve keyed them into your little spot in the software system, the software system aggregates your performance of the day with the other six members of the team and gives you a total. So if there’s somebody in the team that’s slacking off you don’t know who it is because your information is private to you but you can see that there’s somebody in the team who’s not doing their bit, and all of the sudden the phones start to ring. So during the period of the event, which I think is 120 days or something like that, you’ve got this daily team commitment, basically, which is pretty powerful motivation.

PS How do you guarantee a slacker also being a liar?

HE No guarantees there, they do have, and I’m probably not even suppose to say this, they do have auditing systems within their software systems so if anything looks a little bit out of the ordinary they then contact the person and may well ask them about it, but it’s no different to golf. I mean, who are you cheating if you cheat? You’re only cheating yourself, and this is not a race, the Global Corporate Challenge is not a race, the Global Corporate Challenge is a device to help you change your lifestyle just a little bit.

PS Self improvement.

HE Yeah, self improvement. There’s no big rewards or no big prizes for the people who do the most number of steps in a day.

PS Tell me how many people are in it now, because the first year was?

HE 2,800.

PS And how many have you got now?

HE In the challenge last year, we had just on 50,000 people, this year we close off at the end of March or early April, we look as if we’re going to get up to 80,000 people, out of 55 countries, so it’s come from this little idea into now an international corporate global exercise of quite some substance. The third motivation, which I haven’t got to, is that the software system accumulates the numbers of steps that the team has taken, turns it into meters and then moves you around the world so you can see where your team is moving around the world. You actually, as a team, share the experience of going through these various cities and varies places of interest around the world, and there’s a travel log about the place, about its history, about its politics and so on, and it’s quite extraordinary how senior self movers are dotting across a map of the world, it’s also motivational, you want to get further, you want to see more things. Those three things, the personal challenge of the pedometer, the team challenge because you don’t want to let the team down, and the reinforcement of seeing yourself move around the world, those things mean that, for the whole of the event (that’s four months), that that whole four months the retention rate and the participation rate remains exceptionally high.

PS And I know I’ve heard you say to me in the past that a lot of people had the little voice that goes against you that encourages you to stay in bed and not to do the hard work, by doing it as a team it works against that little voice that brings you undone.

HE I’ve been talking to people who’ve participated in the Global Corporate Challenge who had to work late and got home at midnight and go out for a walk at 1am in the

morning just so they wouldn’t let their team down.

PS Fantastic mate. Now if people want to learn more about it, what’s the website? Where do they go to?

HE It’s, and it’s all in there. You get into the website, you can experience the way that it moves around the world and so on. The evidence that we’ve got, that this works is outstanding, it has been anecdotal, it overcomes people’s depression, it does increase their turning up to work, the number of sick days decreases enormously. It more than pays for itself, and the waist measurement goes down quite substantially and the blood pressure goes down, and we’ve now got the Monash University providing us scientific information about this rather than just the anecdotal information. Your workforce benefits with higher productivity, the workers benefits personally by feeling a hell of a lot better about themselves and about their life, and it’s fun, so it all works really well.

PS Well Herb, as a young man you set the pace for the world and I think you’re doing it again in a different area, but I think it’s going to be just as worthwhile. Thanks very much for joining us.

HE Pleasure Peter, thank you.





Published: Thursday, July 08, 2010

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