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Aug. 27, 2014
To view a photo gallery featuring photos of Brian Weaver, including photos not published in the printed edition of the Northwest Alumni Magazine, click here.
It’s around 10 in the morning on a Thursday in May at a park in Johnson County, Kan. The ripples on the lake are sparkling under the bright sunlight. And Brian Weaver ’95 is pushing through the wind on a racing bike worth almost as much as the average new American car. He’s in the middle of his racing season, during which he will compete at more than a dozen Ironman triathlon events including a national championship and the world championship.
As he laps the lake during a grueling 4-hour interval workout, he’s thinking about things like pace, hydration and the elevation change. He’s also considering customer issues and business strategy for next year. He is driven by a curiosity to do things efficiently and a knack for problem-solving.
Weaver reserves Thursdays for long bike rides. He ate breakfast hours earlier and worked through some business issues well before the sun was rising. He also made sure to wake his two daughters, ages 8 and 11, and converse with them before leaving their house for the first of his daily workouts. Weaver is a busy man, but his family is his top priority.
After the Thursday morning bike workout and spending the afternoon in his office, he was meeting his wife, Angi Sailsbury Weaver ’95, at a gym for the oldest daughter’s aerial acrobatics practice. Then, he took in the youngest daughter’s soccer game and wrapped up the day running simulated hills on a treadmill.
“Every single morning, I get my kids up at 6:50 and we go through this routine when I wake them up,” Weaver said. “At night, we have another routine where my wife and I put them to bed. I am very busy way before they are up, to claw back a few extra minutes to invest with them. I think I am most proud to keep that in check and keep that in balance.”
Weaver’s workouts span three to five hours a day – sometimes separated into morning and evening sessions – seven days a week. He started the week with a 5-hour bike ride Sunday. He ran 10 miles and swam Monday. He was back on the bike with a track session Tuesday. He rode a few hours Wednesday with a longer swim later. His Friday would include an interval run totaling 12 miles, and he planned to run a half marathon and swim Saturday. Weaver put more miles on his body last year than his car.
Weaver is so disciplined about his training regimen it’s not surprising he holds Ironman’s No. 1 world ranking for his amateur class. Forbes Magazine has ranked him at No. 8 on its list of “Top 25 Fittest CEOs of the Decade,” and Men’s Health Magazine named him one of the “World’s Richest and Fittest Guys.”
By the way, Weaver also is the founder and CEO of Anthem Media Group – a Kansas City-based company named to Inc. Magazine’s list of fastest-growing companies four times.
Anthem has evolved into a venture portfolio of data and research technologies, professional services and marketing communications companies that was responsible for delivering billions in revenue last year for clients that include some of the best-known brands in the world. They include Anheuser-Busch, Geico, Sentient Technologies, Coca-Cola, Motorola, Rolex, Sprint, Ferrari and Microsoft.
Anthem may not have been born, though, if not for Weaver’s curiosity and vision to solve one company’s need to reach its customers. Anthem began its extraordinary growth after a moment in 2001 when Weaver knew he could lose everything or be on the verge of something special.
He had quit his job with Abarta Metro Publishing – a Florida-based publisher of leisure and travel-related books, magazines and guides – after he was reprimanded for focusing on a product request for a client that didn’t fit the company’s core business. That client was the newly built Kansas Speedway, and its proprietors wanted fan guides to distribute to ticket holders. Weaver describes it as his proudest moment on his LinkedIn profile.
“I got a call to do this product, not knowing that everybody in town had turned them down,” Weaver recalled. “I was maybe naive and said, ‘Yeah, sure, we’ll do it.’ It was the Kansas Speedway stuff, and I got in trouble for it. (Abarta) wanted us focused on what we owned, which was a bunch of magazines.”
Weaver saw the promise in developing the fan guides to share valuable information with racing fans about area hotels, restaurants and other little experiences.
“It was all about customer retention,” Weaver said. “I was mapping emotional needs and then figuring out how somebody might spend their time here.”
So Weaver, with no severance pay as a cushion, set out to start his own company. He ran up a credit card bill to buy a computer and phone system, and he retained the Kansas Speedway as his first client. He spent months having conversations with other racetracks, too, trying to sell them on similar fan engagement products – products that no one but Weaver was doing.
The pivotal point came 18 months into Weaver’s business venture when he received a phone call from Tom Pokorny, an executive with International Speedway Corporation, the largest track owner in the world. All of the NASCAR race tracks were, in fact, working together and wanted guides like those Weaver was producing. If Weaver wanted their business, he needed to submit one bid for all of them.
To save his new business, let alone grow it, Weaver saw no alternative.
“I did this big proposal at Kinko’s and overnighted it to him, but it worked,” Weaver said. “Even when I got that business, the risk was there. Selling him was the easy part, but if I didn’t execute correctly, I was going to lose everything. My house, everything. I had to be that guy who just was going to make it happen. I had no choice. I had to swim.”
In an interesting twist, Pokorny now serves as a president at Anthem. That is illustrative of another facet in Weaver’s success – the ability to attract people who have the skillsets and network to advance the business.
“I have always been a really intense person – type A, like to do things a certain way, stubborn,” Weaver said. “I knew that I had to continually evolve as a leader to unlock more growth. I had to let go. I had to enable others. The biggest change for me was knowing I had to get better people around me. If I was going to continue to succeed, I needed brilliant people who could run the business. I started searching and that delivered another epiphany.”
In the months since he quit Abarta, Weaver had been meeting other entrepreneurs, listening to their stories and applying advice to shape his vision for Anthem.
“When you don’t go to an office nine to five, you end up bumping into people who don’t go to an office nine to five, and often they are extremely successful,” he said. “They come into your life, and whether it’s karma or you are just open to absorbing what they are sharing at that moment – that happened to me.”
Weaver began building a team with anybody he believed he could rely on. He soon had a small team of four people working with him in his basement and five more in a small office.
“When you attract good people, they bring along the network they’ve relied on,” Weaver said. “I had this idea. I did this thing for Kansas Speedway. I did what I thought was a normal thing. Fast forward 15 years, a little battle scarred, older and wiser, and you have something magical that you can play with a little.”
Within three years of Weaver launching the company, Anthem moved into its first office building and increased its staff to 35 employees. It was producing more than 350 million pages of content for every major speedway in the U.S.
The guy who reprimanded Weaver at Abarta? Weaver hired him, too. Before supervising Weaver at Abarta, that guy had hired Weaver fresh off of graduating from Northwest, where he studied a major in communications and a minor in philosophy, to join The Kansas City Star’s advertising sales team.
Weaver’s hire of his former boss led serendipitously to Anthem acquiring Abarta in 2004 as part of his effort to diversify Anthem’s revenue stream. Anthem acquired Allied Media, a Los Angeles-based company with a reputation as one of the world’s foremost medical device technology media firms, in 2009.
More recently, Anthem has been reinventing itself, hiring network theorists, mathematicians and software developers to offer more data insight, professional services and sales campaigns. Anthem embeds staff members with clients to assist with their business needs, and Weaver thinks the future of Anthem will include more of that type of work.
“We’re not just a service provider,” Weaver said. “We’re really ingrained with the customer. If you really listen to what your customer needs, live in their world and can figure out a strategy for them to succeed, they’ll drag you along with them.”
Weaver works equally hard to listen to his employees’ needs. Some of Anthem’s original employees still work for the company, which now employs hundreds in a half dozen offices throughout the country.
Last spring, Anthem moved its headquarters from a high-rise to the Kansas City suburb of Leawood, Kan. It now resides at a two-story office building planted in a retail district that includes a bike path, a grocery store and an array of restaurants and shops within walking distance. A handful of bikes in the office’s atrium are available for employees to run errands.
The move was just another step in the company’s efforts to attract and retain valuable employees. Weaver is opening a second Kansas City-area office in the fall, and Anthem plans to offer unlimited vacation for its employees later this year.
“It really is about flexibility,” Weaver said. “You’re always going to be beholden to somebody. It’s not like this utopian thing. I have customers who are waiting on me right now, and I need to answer them. They know that we are 24-7 and will respond within 60 minutes. But I have an entire mobile technology platform to help me with that. I want my employees to be able to run an errand or take a kid to a doctor or just spend the afternoon with their spouse.”
Anthem employees use cloud-based technology as well as a traditional office environment to actively interface with each other and complete tasks. A private Facebook-like application allows them to check in with each other and share their work and even photos of where they are working that day. Email, instant messaging and video conferencing are all integrated and mobile. Employee goals and job performance metrics are transparently published to the entire company.
Weaver gave up a large corner office, preferring instead to pull up a chair to a “hot desk” or converse with team members at a bar in a common area. He’s the CEO who wears sneakers and jeans to the office.
The seeming lack of structure may not appeal to everyone. But Anthem embraces the idea that technology can be anywhere at any time, and Weaver believes his employees are happier because of it.
“The one benefit that I am thankful for every day is ultimate flexibility and freedom, “Weaver said. “If I need to do something today I can go do it. If I can create an environment where the people who work for me can have that same opportunity I am going to try my best to build a business where that is possible.”
Creative types like Weaver know the best ideas don’t always come in front of a computer in an office, and his renewed focus on fitness may be another reason behind Anthem’s growth.
He stops in the middle of a run to write himself a note, record a voice memo or drop an idea in an email to a couple colleagues. His workouts allow him valuable time in solitude to consider goals, strategy and relationships.
“When you are in the office and with people all day, they ask you questions, they look for validation or feedback on a particular issue, or literally just a quick decision on something,” Weaver said. “That time is valuable but usually not the time you are engaged as a CEO or shouldering the responsibility that you have for your people and your business and your customers. You’ve got to have that brain time.”
Weaver denies he’s a health nut, but fitness was never foreign to him either. His father is a lifelong runner and competed in triathlons, and Weaver dabbled with tennis and swimming during his youth. Tennis, after all, attracted him to Northwest, where he joined the Bearcat men’s tennis team as a walk-on.
As Weaver transitioned from college to professional life, however, the frantic pace of an entrepreneur and poor eating habits caused him to fall out of shape. His weight jumped to 240 pounds – he stands around 170 pounds today – on his 6-foot, 2-inch frame.
His wife, Angi, who has completed numerous marathons, eventually dragged him to a running club. The couple met at Northwest by having classes together and “making eyes” with each other.
“I remember the day I ran my first 10 miles,” Weaver said. “I was scared. It was freezing cold. My eyebrows were covered with ice and my face was totally numb, but it was this moment when I started getting fit and did a marathon.”
On a whim, he decided to try a triathlon, too. Later, when his father was confronted with a rare brain tumor, Weaver found more motivation and promised his father that after his recovery they would train and complete an Ironman competition together, which put him on his current path.
Being a CEO is a responsibility Weaver doesn’t take lightly. “You put food on the table of a lot of people, and often you have to make tough decisions,” he says. But the lessons Weaver has learned in Ironman competition – lessons like surrounding himself with the best people, being consistent and disciplined, holding a steady pace and enjoying the journey – have helped him get closer to achieving the ultimate goal.
“If you focus on the process of doing it, the execution rather than the race result, it is a much more satisfying experience,” Weaver said. “The same is absolutely true with business.”employees.
Mark Hornickel, Communication Manager
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