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Net Net: Promoting innovation and managing change

CrossFit, mud runs and a little soul: Wall Street's new way to entertain

Mud runs on Wall Street

The meal ticket to lock in new business on Wall Street may soon have a lot less to do with food and drinks.

Firms are looking for more creative ways beyond traditional dinners to entertain clients and prospective business partners.

It's now becoming about sweat, stamina and overcoming obstacles at activities such as spinning, CrossFit and even races like Tough Mudders.

Stephanie Cadet, a sales rep at investment bank CLSA, has scheduled events for clients at SoulCycle, the boutique indoor cycling chain. She has another one coming up later this month.

"There are definitely many more options now—especially in the past couple of years. They have sort of flourished," Cadet said.

Tough Mudder event in Chicago.
Source: Courtesy Tough Mudder

Her CLSA colleague Kelly Wong typically takes clients to a sporting event, show or dinner and drinks about two or three times a week. She has also started taking them to spin events.

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"I plan to do in the future a Barry's bootcamp and a CrossFit event," said Wong, whose clients are often grateful for the opportunity to incorporate fitness into their busy workdays.

Flywheel Sports co-founder and CEO Jay Galuzzo is accommodating more Wall Street events than ever at his Manhattan locations.

"We have seen it from our very first studio opening," said Galluzzo, who debuted his first high-tech spin studio in the Flatiron District in 2010. "It was really Wall Street salespeople bringing in three, four or five clients to an evening class in lieu of the business dinner or drinks. We have seen that increase everywhere in the past few years."

After the classes, he sees many business partners and their clients discussing work in the facility's common area which is stocked with fresh fruit and water.

"You take a class and it's an icebreaker with the client," said Galluzzo, who doesn't believe a hard, sweaty workout would be a turn-off to doing business.

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But what if you're drenched in water? Or mud?

It appears Tough Mudders events are also becoming a top destination for firms who are trying to grow their business relationships.

At the events, participants run a 10- to 12-mile race which includes climbing over walls, jumping through 80,000 pounds of ice and water and sprinting through dangling wires charged with 10,000 volts of electricity.

Not only are more companies such as Bank of America and UnderArmour doing team-building at corporate events there, more clients are coming, too, Alex Patterson, Tough Mudder's vice president of brand, said. In fact, corporate sales last year surged by 800 percent.

"It's the new way to do business," Patterson said. "It is a little uncomfortable. But, that is what breaks down the barriers. You are getting to know someone. You are literally shoving people over a wall."

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Brian Epstein has been shoved over a wall, run through mud and shocked by electricity.

The 28-year-old who works in the audio visual industry has done a few Tough Mudder races with friends and even has a tattoo commemorating his participation. Tough Mudders are, according to the company's web site, "hardcore" 10- to 12-mile obstacle races designed by British Special Forces "to challenge the toughest of the tough."

"I like the camaraderie," said Epstein, of Atlanta. "I would be more inclined to do business with someone who would do this with me. It would show the willingness of the person to step outside their comfort zone."

Epstein doesn't think getting sweaty or muddy in front of potential clients is relevant anymore as the need for work-life balance grows in corporate America.

"I think it shows the ability to work cooperatively and it could even show you the inward personality of someone you are working with based on their desire to help out other members that may not be part of the team," Epstein added.

Not everyone thinks it's such a great idea.

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Austen Shantz, who has completed a Tough Mudder, said he would never ask a client to do the race with him.

He said that it could be embarrassing if you don't complete the race or get injured—which he saw a lot in his last race.

And, this could sabotage a business relationship before it even gets off the ground.

"Physical performance and physical activity carries a certain amount of humility and bravery to a certain extent, " said Shantz, 29, an IT business analyst also from Atlanta. "It is something that is so long and taxing on the human body. And, it could break you down a lot. I wouldn't want a potential client to see this."