By Peter Saunders
Charlie Graves has an extensive background in both business and athletics. Today, his job as CEO for Athletic Republic, a franchise system of sports training centres, combines these two pursuits.
“One of the central themes in my career has been a competitive drive, developed through sports, which has ingrained an understanding that you can affect the outcome of the game,” he says.
In his youth, Graves excelled at swimming, to the level where he was set to compete at the Summer Olympic Games. Unfortunately, his chance would have come in 1980, when the U.S. ended up boycotting the games in Moscow following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
“My Olympic dreams were squashed, but business was on the horizon,” says Graves. “Athletically, I shifted my focus to running during the endurance boom of the early 1980s and became a top-ranked triathlete.”
With a business degree from Iowa State University, he started up and managed Inclyne Sports, an agency that managed and marketed athletes. Inclyne produced sports-based TV programming for major U.S. broadcast and cable networks, including ABC, CBS, NBC and ESPN.
“The networks were outsourcing program development and production at that time,” he says. “Eventually, though, the FCC loosened up the rules that had prevented broadcasters from owning content. Disney bought ABC and ESPN. The freelance sports production market was no longer viable, so I sold the assets of the company.”
After five years as executive vice-president (VP) of General Growth Properties, which managed shopping malls, Graves returned to the athletic sector as CEO of Connor Sport Court, a supplier of wooden and synthetic flooring materials for basketball and volleyball courts.
“After we sold the company and I had fulfilled my contract,” he says, “I started to look at sportsplexes, which were coming into local markets and opening up new categories of athletic training.”
One example was the approach of John Frappier, who had founded Frappier Acceleration Sport Training (FAST) in 1990. He licensed training protocols and products to independent facilities until getting into franchising in 2005.
In 2007, Graves and a new group of investors took a controlling interest in FAST. They changed the name to Athletic Republic, to help unify approximately 160 training facilities under a common brand, so new customers would know better what to expect. A further 70 franchises have been added since, with an increasing percentage going into sportsplexes and rinks.
“After stepping in as CEO, I spent the next few years making sure the business side was every bit as good as the training side,” says Graves.