Each morning at roughly 6 a.m., Strauss Zelnick (pictured above) is up and getting ready for what the coming day will bring. He might face any number of tasks: meeting with corporate boards, traveling by private jet, overseeing his real estate investments, making creative decisions about media initiatives, or simply tending to his young family. Only one thing about the coming day is certain: Zelnick will find time to exercise. Some days he goes for a run. Others, he lifts weights or maybe does some core training. “It all depends on the day,” Zelnick says, with a shrug in his voice. “The idea is to get moving.”
Getting moving has never really been a problem for Zelnick, the former president of 20th Century Fox and, later, BMG Entertainment. “I always knew, from when I was young, that I wanted to run a movie studio,” he says. “If you say as an adult that you want to run a movie studio, it makes some degree of sense. But as a 5-year-old, it sounds a little insane." “My father was a lawyer in Boston,” says Zelnick. “I knew no one in Hollywood. I had no connections whatsoever. But I knew what I wanted. It was all about working— and making things happen. Welcome to the movie business.”
Successful Men Reveal How they Juggle Work and Workouts
Robert Downey Jr.
After seven years in Hollywood, and having reached his initial goal, Zelnick headed for broader pastures. Through his company, Take-Two Interactive, he unleashed the smash-hit video games Grand Theft Auto IV and BioShock on the world. Today, he also runs ZelnickMedia, a diversified digital media company with interests in everything from mobile software and services to television. He sets his own hours, and—so far as can be seen—answers to no one. Other than his wife, of course.
An avid cyclist, skier, and boxer, Zelnick often indulges in twice-a-day training sessions, one in the early morning—usually private—and another in the afternoon, the latter often involving his “fitness posse,” a group of like-minded business executives, fellow powerbrokers, and even his own sons. At 55 years old, Zelnick is in great shape for his age. For any age, really. On top of that, business is thriving, and by all accounts he seems happy. He’s firing on all eight cylinders.
“All I know is this: The factor that most correlates with success in business is knowing what you want,” Zelnick says, “and then, of course, capability comes in. Don’t make the pool of what you want too big. Keep your interests reined in. Family. Business. Health. Then, once you identify what you want, it gets easier. When you know what your goals are, attaining them becomes easier.”
Sometime in the late 1980s, something happened to the most successful of America’s businessmen: They realized that the most prosperous and competitive among them were also the most fit. Not that there hasn’t always been a cell inside American business fixated on health. Henry Ford, for instance, was storied to be a nutritional nazi. Legend has it that when interviewing a job applicant, Ford would immediately eliminate the candidate if he salted his food before tasting it. Cereal magnate John Harvey Kellogg built an institute in Michigan to promote healthy living. But, just as often, if not more so, bigwigs were rotund men fixated on the business at hand who didn’t mind carrying around a few extra pounds. It made them appear to possess gravitas—or so they liked to believe.
Then, fitness and success got linked up. Despite the fact that Jim “the Running Doctor” Fixx died decades ago and Keith Richards is still vertical, titans have continued to discover a connection between enhanced health and their success in business. Even the once-pale and doughy Bill Gates is in good shape today, as is the squash-playing founder of Boston Scientific, John Abele. Ted Turner regularly works out (he’s said to have a treadmill tucked behind a wall in his office) and scrupulously watches his diet and alcohol use. “You have to exercise—you know, look out for your health,” Turner says.
“There are unexpected benefits to pursuing a life of fitness,” explains Duncan Simpson, Ph.D., a Florida-based sports psychologist. “In fitness, much like in business, there are pushes for personal achievement that often make you goal-oriented. There’s also a quest to push yourself to the limit—you come to understand what’s possible and what isn’t.”
To Simpson, the two—fitness and business success—have now, to a degree, intertwined. Like yin and yang, they feed off each other. “You become focused,” he says. “This translates into skills that maximize the effort. Preparation skills. Problem solving. With exercise and business success, it’s the same. It’s neither the chicken nor the egg.”
Simpson would know. He’s gotten inside the heads of everyone from pro golfers and tennis players to CEOs, and he’s come to know his way around. “The benefit we’ve seen in our research,” he says, “is that, whether you’re an elite athlete or a highly placed corporate leader, a workout gives you a break from the day-to-day, nine-to-five of being who you are. And you come to look forward to that.” The result is that you go back to your workday more focused and creative than you would without the workout.