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Better Than Ever: Zeal for Sports Is a Family Matter for ECMC Group CEO

November 13, 2019

The following article is from the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal

When it comes to staying active, athletics is a core component of Jeremy Wheaton's DNA.

"My dad is an athlete, my sister is an athlete," Wheaton said. "I really appreciated team sports in school. And I've seen the benefits of that throughout my career."

Wheaton is CEO of Minneapolis-based ECMC Group, a nonprofit that provides financial services for students, as well as career education and funding for post-secondary programs to underserved populations. He relocated from Chicago to the Twin Cities to join ECMC Group in 2017, kicking off his move here by training for his first-ever marathon.

Wheaton, who said he enjoys reading about people who push themselves beyond their limits, used the 2018 Twin Cities Marathon as an opportunity to bond with his new work team. He also started a company 5K in advance of the big race. When Wheaton crossed the finish line, he happily closed the door on any future marathons, though.

"It was a one-and-done marathon," he said. "I checked that box."

While Wheaton may be done with marathons, he's still got plenty of competitive spirit left. Along with his wife and three children, Wheaton is a triathlete at heart. Last winter, the entire family competed in the Midtown YMCA's indoor winter triathlon together.

"Fifteen years ago, I wanted to still compete, so my wife and I began doing triathlons," Wheaton said.

While he has long loved biking and running, it took some time for Wheaton to warm to swimming.

"I have come to love swimming," he said. "Now I find the pool is a bit therapeutic."

For Wheaton, wellness is a combination of the physical and the mental. And ECMC Group's dedication to its employees' overall wellness helped draw him to the CEO position. "Wellness is one of their core values," he said. "And now that's transitioning to well-being."

Among the company's wellness initiatives are standing desks for all employees; step challenges; sponsored runs; and an on-site gym with meditation, yoga and spin classes. Wheaton said the company also has started offering lunch-and-learn events for employees interested in personal goal setting and financial fitness.

"So it's not just about physical activity, but whatever's going on at home," Wheaton said.

On seeking balance

How do you typically start your day? I start my day with a 5:30 a.m. workout. Early morning is the part of the day I hold the most control over. I find if I defer my workout to later in the day, it doesn't happen or isn't as high-quality. If the weather is 40 degrees or above, I like to bike or run outdoors. We are fortunate to live near trails, a lake and a pool, which makes exercise accessible and convenient.

How do you typically end your day? The end of the day is dedicated to family time whenever possible. While my entire family is involved in a variety of activities that keep us busy, we prioritize family dinners as much as possible. We also tend to go to bed a bit earlier than most, which is getting harder and harder as the kids get older.

Where can people find you on weekends? Outdoors! My children are active, so depending on the time of year, we may be on a softball diamond, soccer field, basketball court or sailing on a lake. Given their weekend activity schedules, my wife and I fit our training in around them. We also enjoy being active as a family, so whenever possible, we are on the lake or ski slopes, depending on the season.

What's the most stressful or challenging part of your job? At ECMC Group, I am blessed with a wonderful team of highly motivated, talented professionals dedicated to helping students recognize and realize their full potential — particularly underserved students — through a variety of resources and support in communities throughout the country. My greatest challenge is balancing the pace of our work with the opportunity within the constituencies we serve to maximize our impact each and every day.

How do you cope with those demanding aspects of your career? I focus on the foundational items: how grateful I am to have a healthy and loving family, supportive friends, and a team that is the best I have worked with in my 25-year career. I look at the progress ECMC Group has made in recent years and our potential for the future, while also taking time to balance self-care, work and family.

Are you involved in the community? Having moved to Minneapolis from Chicago two years ago, it was important for us to become active members of the community so we could forge new relationships while giving back. From sports, to service activities, to my position on the board of the Jeremiah Program, which works to end poverty by aiding single mothers, we play a very active role in our surrounding neighborhoods and beyond.

How do you balance it all? While there are many things that compete for my time, fortunately, it is a team effort and success is achieved thanks to having a wonderful wife, family, friends and the talented team at ECMC Group. With that said, we are all working hard!

What advice would you give other business leaders and young executives working to advance their careers about staying healthy or finding work/life balance? I have spent a great deal of time contemplating this over the years. While putting yourself in the right position at the right time certainly plays a role, there are several common attributes that successful individuals employ, including surrounding yourself with positive influences while building lasting relationships, taking risks, working hard and always learning. In a nutshell, successful people build their own brands and leverage that brand whenever possible.

Is there a podcast, blog, magazine or website, you regularly check for tips on health, wellness or nutrition? I don't subscribe to specific outlets but gather information for my various training regimens from a variety of online sources. I am currently reading the "Blue Zone" books on how to live a long, happy life. In addition, books like "The Endurance," "Unbroken" and "Last of the Mohicans" serve as reminders of the power of the human spirit. I also love "Bon Appetit" and have decades of recipes torn from the pages that we enjoy preparing as a family.

At a glance

President and CEO, ECMC Group
Tenure with organization: Two years
Age: 47
Family: Wife of almost 20 years, Kara; three children, ages 15, 13 and 11
Education: Bachelor's degree, finance and political science, Clarkson University in New York; master's degree, Moravian College in Pennsylvania

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