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A wellness program saved their sanity

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in Best-Practices Leadership,Leaders & Managers

After Mark Bonfigli and four colleagues co-founded Dealer.com in 1998, they poured their heart and soul into the startup. And they paid the price.

They drove themselves so hard that they became ill. Bonfigli, a tennis star in high school, gained over 50 pounds. Another co-founder came down with Crohn’s disease, and a third member of the founding team had to have his gallbladder taken out.

Stepping back, Bonfigli and his partners not only began to prioritize their physical health, but also launched wellness initiatives for their employees. The company, which provides online marketing tools to auto dealers, was growing fast and it wanted to attract and retain top people.

Then CEO, Bonfigli invested in a large new fitness facility at Dealer.com’s headquarters in Burlington, Vt. It included an indoor tennis court, fitness coaches and a masseuse. Over time, he subsidized an organic “Dot Calm Café” for employees, an on-site yoga studio and a rooftop vegetable garden.

The costs added up, but so did the benefits. Dealer.com became famous for its health-oriented culture and its commitment to balance mind, body and spirit. Job applications streamed in from highly skilled candidates, and its head count exceeded 1,000 by 2012.

Many entrepreneurial companies struggle to maintain high morale during a hiring spree. But Bonfigli pulled it off, and in late 2013 he sold Dealer.com for $1 billion to Dealertrack Technologies.

“We had something [our competitors] did not have—happy, enthusiastic, inspired and super-pumped-up employees who were smiling on the other end of the phone,” Bonfigli says. Creating a wellness culture proved the ultimate motivator.

— Adapted from Built for Growth, Chris Kuenne and John Danner, Harvard Business School Press.

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