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CEO Corner: Andrew Messick on Being Athlete to Boss of The IRONMAN Group

CEO Corner: Andrew Messick on Being Athlete to Boss of The IRONMAN Group

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Andrew Messick’s connection with THE IRONMAN Group runs deep. Prior to becoming the company’s president & CEO, Messick was an IRONMAN athlete in his late 30s. He reflects on his journey in endurance sports, his current job, and the future of fitness for Athletech News’s CEO/Founder Corner series. 

The IRONMAN Triathlon Series, IRONKIDS, and the IRONMAN Virtual Racing Series are just a few of the many widely known fitness events under the IRONMAN Group umbrella. The IRONMAN Group not only gives athletes from around the globe a high profile chance to demonstrate their endurance, but the brand has, in turn, become a worldwide phenomenon in recent years. 

IRONMAN Group President & CEO Andrew Messick started his career in sports within the NBA and in time was chosen to steer the IRONMAN ship towards an exceptional reputation in business and health. For Athletech News’s CEO/Founder Corner series, Messick exclusively reveals his journey to becoming the President and CEO of The IRONMAN Group, including details of his very first job, his greatest accomplishment, and his thoughts on the future of fitness.

Athletech News (ATN): Please tell us about your current company and how either your role or the company (if you are a founder) came to fruition.

Andrew Messick: IRONMAN was founded in 1978 and has grown significantly in the last 40+ years, largely due to the passion of our athletes. Successfully completing an IRONMAN triathlon has transformed millions of athletes. Our company’s growth is based on our ability to create unique and exceptional event experiences that can transform individuals.

Before joining the company, I was a long-time IRONMAN athlete. I started my endurance journey in my late 30s and completed my first IRONMAN event more than 15 years ago. Like many other competitors, I was changed and enriched by the experience. When I was presented the opportunity to be CEO of The IRONMAN Group, it was an easy choice. 

As I look back on my journey over the last 10 years, I’m pleased I’ve had the opportunity to grow the company and provide opportunities for athletes to compete all over the world. I’m inspired every day by our athletes and motivated to provide a platform for those who want to change their lives through sport. 

ATN: What was your journey like to get to this point?

Andrew Messick: I never expected to be offered the role as CEO of The IRONMAN Group. Throughout my career, I made a series of decisions and pursued opportunities that prepared me very well for this job, but I never thought that any of those decisions would put me in the chair that I’m in today. 

I started my career in advertising and consumer marketing. From there, I went to business school, became a strategy consultant, and was then offered an opportunity to work for one of my consumer-oriented clients in the UK, Australia and Canada. I joined the sports industry with the NBA (National Basketball Association) and helped to globalize the brand. I subsequently led the sports division at AEG in Los Angeles, which was my first opportunity to work in the mass participation endurance space. 

My experiences at the NBA and AEG, combined with my personal passion for endurance sports, made me a credible candidate for the IRONMAN job. 

ATN: What is your greatest strength?

Andrew Messick: My greatest strength is the passion I have for the athletes and the races. I feel that I understand what matters to our athletes. I love the races and have great respect for both the events and the athletes. The athlete experience is our north star and a critical part of my job is making sure that we continue to be highly athlete-centric.

ATN: What motivates you?

Andrew Messick: A giant motivator for me is the fear of disappointing. It’s our mission at The IRONMAN Group to deliver great experiences for our athletes. Every athlete at every race is full of hope and expectations for a superb race experience. Every athlete has spent considerable time on their long training journey and have sacrificed much to get to the start line. I want us to be worthy of that sacrifice and commitment. 

ATN: What are some of your daily habits?

Andrew Messick: I have certain daily routines I follow, one of course being exercise. I try to ensure I have some form of physical movement each day as it helps me clear my head and allows the opportunity to think about things from a different perspective. Physical activity gives me energy and helps me be more present and engaged. I also try and find time to be outside almost every day. Spending time with nature is very important and helps me stay fresh and sharp. 

ATN: What is your greatest accomplishment?

Andrew Messick: My greatest career accomplishment is the work that has been done at The IRONMAN Group. Over the last 10 years, we’ve expanded the brand internationally and have built a platform that enables people of all ages, genders, and backgrounds to transform their lives through sport. 

When I started at the company, we had never hosted a World Championship outside of the United States. If you go to one of our World Championship events now, the athletes represented are from countries all over the world. Through our work, The IRONMAN Group has become a truly international phenomenon. This can be seen at our events, as the athletes that participate in our races showcase a real reflection of the extraordinary diversity of our community. It’s exciting and rewarding to be a part of it.

ATN: Where do you accomplish your best work?

Andrew Messick: I’m always the most energized when I’m at an IRONMAN event. It reminds me of the importance of what we do and allows me the opportunity to talk to the athletes, teams, partners, community members, among others. Every time I go to a race, I come back with a list of ideas outlining new opportunities and ways that we can grow. 

I frequently participate. I’ll do the swim, bike, or run, as I believe there’s no substitute for experiencing a race firsthand. I like to see what our athletes are going through from my own perspective. It also sends a powerful signal to the organization that the standard in which we operate really matters – not only is the boss watching, but he is also racing! 

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ATN: What was your first job?

Andrew Messick: When I was young, I worked service jobs. My first job was scooping ice cream at Baskin Robbins when I was a junior in high school. From there, I spent five years waiting tables all throughout college. Not only have these jobs shown me the importance of treating people with respect, but have also taught me to be solutions-oriented from a young age. Now looking back, the skills obtained in those jobs have proven to be vastly more useful than I could have ever imagined. 

ATN: Where do you see the future of fitness going?

Andrew Messick: One of the key learnings from the pandemic was that the fitness industry is continuously reinventing itself. In a world where people are increasingly choosing physical experiences and prioritizing health and wellness, our industry is extraordinarily well positioned to succeed. Looking ahead, I believe the companies that will be successful are ones that have premium intellectual property, produce events that capture consumers’ imagination, and have the commitment to getting more involved in the journey of participants. 

At The IRONMAN Group, we are prioritizing this by creating tools and platforms to help participants become the most prepared they can be, so when they get to the start line, they can experience the race that they dreamed of. In a move to further enhance the athlete experience, our company has recently acquired FulGaz, an indoor training app for cycling, that will serve as the technological and operational platform to help IRONMAN athletes prepare for races. The acquisition marks a milestone as we continue our growth and movement into the connected fitness space and showcases our commitment to delivering enhanced services to athletes competing across our events. 

Our company is becoming increasingly more invested and involved in the journey of its athletes, and I believe that’s the future of the industry.

ATN: Who is your mentor? Role model? 

Andrew Messick: In terms of mentors and role models, I have a few of them, and each one represents a set of characteristics that I admire. 

David Stern (the former NBA commissioner) and Adam Silver (the current NBA commissioner) were the ones that taught me how to grow a global sports brand. The development of the NBA has guided me throughout my journey on building The IRONMAN Group. When it comes to salesmanship, my former supervisor at AEG, Tim Leiweke, was a visionary. I learned from him how to capture and shape people’s imagination with a compelling idea. 

My colleagues at McKinsey taught me to think about systems and processes and instilled in me ways to design a company that works effectively. 

Overall, I always try to take specific things I’ve learned from mentors and organizations in my past to be able to bring different aspects to my future. Not everyone is equally good at everything, so if you can lift the best aspects of a person or an organization and bring those best practices to bear, you’ll prove to be pretty successful. 

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