Michael Gross and his Victrex teammates are all smiles at the 2008 JPMorgan Chase Corporate Challenge in London in July.
Circumstances have changed for Victrex' Gross, but not his love of the Championship
This is the first in a series of stories profiling notable individuals and companies from the JPMorgan Chase Corporate Challenge.
Through the efforts of Michael Gross, Mark McKenzie and others, GE has had a big impact on the Series Championship.
NEW YORK, August 11, 2008 – From 1991 to 2004, Michael Gross competed in 14 consecutive JPMorgan Chase Corporate Challenge Championships. The former General Electric employee, thus, is probably more familiar with Park Avenue than most New York City cab drivers.
"The Championship," he says from a well-experienced perspective, "is a spectacular event."
Registration is now open for the 26th running of the invitational Series Championship on New York City 's famed Park Avenue, to be held this year on Saturday, October 4. Gross – now employed with United Kingdom-based Victrex -- took some time recently to reflect on his years at what he calls "the best corporate running experience that there was, and still is."
"Having the Championship dinner on the 49th floor of the JPMorgan Chase headquarters building in mid-Manhattan was pretty darned cool each year," said Gross. "Competing in 2001, when the Championship was pushed back until December because of 9/11,
I remember stopping by ground zero after the race. Somber event that year."
Two big changes affected the competition through the years, he said. The first came when the makeup of teams was changed. Instead of five runner teams for men, and three for women, the new rules stipulated the current four person teams for all of the divisions.
"The thing about the Corporate Challenge is that it really is a true team event," Gross said. "You can't win with just one great runner. You need four very good runners. And back when you needed five for the men's teams, it was even tougher, particularly for the smaller companies. If you had four good runners and your fifth guy came in at 28 minutes, there's no way you could win."
The other big change affecting the Championship, Gross said, was the increasing international makeup of the fields, particularly after five teams were invited from each city.
"That has been a great change," Gross said. "All in all, through the years and the changes, the Championship has remained just a well-run, spectacular event."
To this day, Gross has never tired of competing on Park Avenue. These days, however, he is far less likely to have the opportunity to return to the Series Finals.
Gross is now electronics business manager at Victrex, a maker of high-performance polymers. He is no longer surrounded by GE's competitive running culture and huge roster of employees that resulted in title-challenging teams in virtually every Corporate Challenge race they entered. Instead, Gross captained the Victrex team at July's JPMorgan Chase Corporate Challenge in London. The team had all of nine members.
Yet, he remains as enamored of the Corporate Challenge as he was when former colleague Mark McKenzie helped recruit him and "showed him the ropes" at his first race for GE at Albany, N.Y., in 1990.
"Competing with Victrex at London this year was a blast," said Gross, who added that he shifted his thinking, knowing his team had virtually no chance of finishing in the top five in London's demanding elite racing environment.
"It used to be when I was competing with GE that the race in Albany would be a good race, but it wasn't the race for us," he said. "The Championship was the race. With Victrex, London was the race for us."
"My new company is headquartered in the UK and never participated in the past," he added. "We have a number of runners at the company and after telling them about the event, it was an easy sell."
Michael Gross (middle in second row of runners) competes for GE at Syracuse in 1994. In inset photo, he runs at the 2001 Championship at Park Avenue. Gross also has run in JPMorgan Chase Corporate Challenge events in Albany, Boston, Chicago, London, and Philadelphia, as well as 14 Series Championships.
So, even though Gross is based in the United States, he put together Victrex' first team. On his roster was a runner from another far-flung Victrex outpost in Southeast Asia who signed up.
"I would have known maybe one or two of these people without the Corporate Challenge," Gross said. "But, we all happened to be runners. So, even though we came from totally different cultures, we were the same. We had a bond. And that was pretty cool."
Except for the unique international aspects of Gross' involvement with Victrex, it was the same experience in many ways that Gross enjoyed with his GE teams - and there were a lot of them.
"GE has locations in almost every city that JPMorgan has a race and I had a position that required me to travel to those offices, so I was able to arrange the travel around the dates of the races and run with the local teams," said Gross. As a result, he ran in Corporate Challenges in seven cities - Albany, Syracuse, Philadelphia, Boston, Chicago, the Championship in New York, and, now, London.
"The Corporate Challenge is one of the few events that puts people from upper management, sales, marketing, customer service, manufacturing, and technology all on the same footing," said Gross. "We all become the same when we put on the same uniform and run. It bonds us all together. It's a great way to get to know people. That is the best thing about this event!"
Gross and Victrex already are planning for next year's London event. He says the team will be larger, may include a board member who could seriously compete for the Most Senior Executive title, and could well improve on this year's surprisingly strong performance - 18th place, despite their small numbers.
All of which may not allow Gross to add to his considerable collection of "great" Tiffany prizes from a wide variety of cities. And it might not get him a spot on the starting line of the 2009 JPMorgan Chase Corporate Challenge Championship on Park Avenue.
But the experience will still be rewarding, as it always has been in the Corporate Challenge, for Gross and his teammates.