Henrik Kjellberg’s average day starts before dawn with a 16-mile bike ride from his Tiburon, California, home into his San Francisco office, where he takes a shower and starts work at 7:50 a.m. After a full day in his role as president of Hotwire and CarRentals.com, he leaves as the sun goes down and bikes the 16 miles back. “And then the next day, instead of biking, I might go for a nine-mile run and take public transit into the city,” he says. “I try to mix it up.”
Mixing it up–fitness-wise–is a relatively new thing for Kjellberg. A poor athlete in high school and most of his 20s, he adopted a regular exercise regimen about eight years ago when he moved to Hong Kong (one of nine countries he’s lived in) and was invited on a run by a group of colleagues. “I said I didn’t run,” he remembers. “And they said, ‘Yes you do.’” He gave it a try and got hooked, soon signing up for his first Ironman.
Kjellberg spent six months training, completed the Ironman (2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride, 26.2-mile run) in 2009 and has since completed additional ones. In June, he did his first multiday ultra marathon–a 62-mile race through the Gobi Desert in China.
The result of all these physical challenges? “I was better at work and a better father and husband,” he says. “It balanced me, and I realized that I needed to stay physically active.” Indeed, while Kjellberg explains that Hotwire and CarRentals.com’s parent company Expedia doesn’t break out numbers or growth rates of its individual business units, he asserts, “I have overseen many high-growth units over the course of my long-term career at Expedia and Hotwire.” Here’s what else Kjellberg tells Fast Company about how his active life impacts his work.
I’m a believer in work/leisure balance. I think life can contain both. Everyone says work/life, but that implies that work isn’t part of life, which is strange because I love my work. The more senior you get, the more stress comes with your job. You need to be in a good mental space, and for me, that means working out. I exercise without headphones and get great ideas when I exercise. Even on a four-hour bike ride or a three-hour run, I never get bored.
Once I’m finished, even if I’m in a tough spot at work, I come in calm and balanced, ready to make good decisions. Almost no senior leader I admire comes to work stressed. They are all calm and collected–that comes from the mechanisms they have to deal with stress.
The ideas that surface during my workouts are both personal and professional. One that was especially pertinent to my job was when I got the idea to aggressively launch our hotels on the retail section of Hotwire, rather than just under the “Hot Rate” tab. Now Hot Rate surfaces first in the search, but it is followed by our retail options.
Working out has helped me deal with a variety of sticky situations at work. We had a big reorganization a few years back; it impacted a lot of our employees and caused tension within the team. Exercising made it easier for me to deal with people in a fairly stressful and delicate situation.
I get inspired when I’m out doing things, like the run through the Gobi Desert. When you do those things, you meet people who are even crazier than you are and do races that you would have never dreamed of.
Being in remote places also gives me inspiration. When I was running up Mauna Kea (a 13,802-foot dormant volcano on Hawaii’s Big Island), I came up with the idea to further improve our packages product to make it easier for people to save money who want to book both a flight and a hotel.
I also find inspiration by reading fiction. Right now I’m reading Underworld: A Novel, by Don DeLillo. I like it, but it is tough–800 pages with something like 45 characters. It is mentally challenging to keep it all together.
I travel constantly, so it is important for me to get my workouts in no matter what. I target a specific number of miles for the week, so if I skip a day, I know I’ll need to make it up on another day. I prefer to work out in the mornings. I’ll go for a run no matter what city I’m in, regardless of the season. Running in New York in the winter, for example, can be beautiful.
What gets me really excited is discovering something new about a place and about myself. When I was in Mongolia a few months ago, I got to drink horse’s milk—something I didn’t even know existed. I realized that it wasn’t my thing, but I’m glad I dared to do it. I like pushing myself out of my comfort zone.
A few years ago, I took my wife and kids on a camping trip north of the Arctic Circle in Sweden. It was summer and we had to drink water from the streams and carry our own food for nine days. We were completely off the grid, no guide, and it was beautiful. There wasn’t any cell service, so I didn’t have a choice but to be disconnected, which was great. Of course, I can’t disconnect on every trip, but I love it when I can, and find that I’m much more rejuvenated and productive when I return to the office.
Katie Morell is a San Francisco-based business writer. Read more of her work at www.katiemorell.com