For the past three years, the lightning speed of J.J. Jackson has helped him win the 60-yard dash in the Battle of the Corporate Stars finals.
Jackson, 35, is a former all-American sprinter for the University of Texas who now works as a service representative for the Southland Corp., which owns the 7-Eleven chain of convenience stores. He is so quick that he has helped keep NBC Burbank, Calif., a perennial Corporate Stars power, from winning the national finals.
NBC hates losing so much that in two years, it has twice tried to hire Jackson so he could compete for their team, and the offers were at least halfway serious.
"We'd love to have him here," says Pat Schultz, 32, a publicist for NBC Burbank, which has been runner-up in the finals for three years. "He does some accounting work . . . if we went to the guy who is the director of accounting and said 'hire him,' he'd laugh at us. We kid about getting people jobs because they are great athletes, but it's only kidding around."
For the moment.
Corporations haven't reached the point where they are recruiting employes or hiring away other companies' staffers because of athletic ability. But despite the joking, it sometimes seems as if things are moving in that direction.
In the past 10 years, studies have linked corporate fitness programs to increased productivity in terms of reduced sick leave, heightened morale, reduced turnover and more creative thinking.
The results all point to the same conclusion: A healthier worker is a more productive worker.
Because of those studies, fitness has become a serious priority for corporations nationwide. More than 1,000 corporations spend $2 billion a year on employe fitness programs. And out of these fitness programs grew corporate athletic competitions.
"It helps morale," says Mitch Meyers, 28, associate product manager for Bud Light in St. Louis. "People are united around an event. People are pulled together. And people come out and cheer for them. You have a person in the mail room who doesn't even know the vice president before the event, then he's calling the vice president by his first name."
Corporations started by developing large exercise facilities, such as Xerox's $3.5 million employe Fitness and Recreation Center in Leesburg, which opened in 1974.
The events began to emerge a few years later. In 1978, Runner's World magazine created the Corporate Cup Relays, the first series of corporate fitness competitions, to promote productivity through physical fitness.
The Battle of the Corporate Stars, a Washington-based enterprised sponsored by Bud Light and Chrysler-Plymouth, began in 1982 and has become the world's largest corporate sports program. Over the past three years, 24 Battle competitions in 14 locations have brought together competitors and coworkers and have raised more than $600,000 for local and national charities.
This year, Corporate Stars will hold two-day regional meets in 16 cities, including the District (July 12 to 14), with the top teams advancing to the finals in Texas. The meets include track and field, swimming, volleyball and a number of unusual events like sprinting while wearing scuba flippers.
Xerox Corp. began its 11-city Team Xerox Corporate Marathon Relay last year. Teams run a 2.6-mile course in relay-like fashion. The Washington meet was held May 4 at the Xerox Training Center and the winners will compete Saturday in the finals in San Francisco.
Dan Snyder, the 44-year-old founder of the "Corporate Stars," says people get excited about competing because "they become an overnight star when they win in their city. They're going to be on television, meeting people from different cities."
L ocally -- as if American Security and Riggs banks aren't competitive L enough -- they have fought neck-and-neck battles in the last two years that Washington has been on the circuit. American Security has won the meet both times, with Riggs close behind.
"There are no two banks that are more competitive than Riggs and us," says Roger Conner, 36, team coach/organizer and vice president of corporate communication at American Security. "We've won it for two years, and everybody's dying to knock us off."
Some corporations have become so serious about winning the meets that they begin practice eight months before their regional competition. American Security draws more than 80 employes to its tryouts, while Southland in Dallas, which employs almost 20,000 people, attracts 500 to 600 enthusiasts.
"It's almost a year-round thing," says Schultz, NBC's team coordinator. "Tryouts in July, regionals in September and the finals in November. Practices are twice a week."
Some teams have a winning-is-everything attitude; others are there simply for the enjoyment.
"You get the hard-hitting sales types that always want to win," says Synder of the Corporate Stars, "and you get those types who are laid back and say, 'Sure I want to win, but not at all costs.' "
And the events have become big time and expensive. More than 1,800 corporations will spend in excess of $1 billion on event sponsorship in 1985, according to Special Events Report, a twice-monthly Chicago-based newsletter.
Not all of the corporate sponsorship of these events is altuistic. Grass-roots sporting events attract loyal consumers, says Bud Light's Meyers. "If they participate in an event and it's well-run," he says, "there's more of an impact than watching a 30-second commerical. And it's a good way to touch people and sample our products.
"There's an image you want to build by the kinds of events you sponsor. For Bud Light in particular, we're looking for active 25- to 49-year-old people who are upwardly mobile and health conscious and more white collar than blue collar."
Which may be a good reason to hire employes who can help out athletically.
Says American Security's Conner: "There have been comments like, 'Have you revised your employment application to see if these people you're hiring are good athletes?' All of that is good-natured fun. The company still has to hire qualified workers."
Which may be why even star athletes like J.J. Jackson are still waiting for six-figure offers.