Sunday, November 22, 2009

Chris Downie - Founder/CEO of SparkPeople

Chris Downie

Bio: Chris is the Founder/CEO of, one of the largest health and goal setting related websites in the world. Prior to SparkPeople, Chris was one of two original co-founders of, an online auction site that was acquired by eBay in 1998 for approximately $100 million. Chris started his career with Procter & Gamble. He now spends much of his time in the SparkPeople Silicon Valley office with his wife and two sons. In his spare time, he loves playing tennis and helping other people reach goals.

Opening Remarks (from Chris): First, here’s a note about my perspective. I’ll answer as an entrepreneur currently building one of the world’s largest health-related websites (with my great team) and also a father of two young boys. So, life is a little crazy now.

FCL: How would you define a leader?
Chris: "I’d define a leader as someone who is able to develop a worthwhile vision, convince others to believe in the vision, develop good strategies for implementing the vision, and then execute like mad to reach success. Different leaders are better at each of these areas. Good leaders recognize their strengths and put themselves in position to use those strengths while surrounding themselves with a team great at other areas."

FCL: Who are your biggest influences as a leader?
"Entrepreneurs who build something from nothing but a spark in their head inspire me. eBay Founders Pierre Omidyar and Jeff Skoll are role models because they are using their success from eBay to become a new breed of philanthropists. I consider SparkPeople to be an example of “for-profit social entrepreneurship” similar to what they are doing.

In the corporate world, I worked at Procter & Gamble when John Pepper became CEO and will never forget the standing ovation he received from over 10,000 people."

FCL: What gives you the greatest joy in being a leader?
"At SparkPeople, every day people tell me our website has changed their life. It’s a humbling position to be in. For example, a member who has lost 30 pounds on our site said, “This website has permanently improved my entire life.” To see the original leadership vision come alive with the help of an amazing small team in Cincinnati is a great joy!"

FCL: What is your biggest pet peeve as a leader?
"I always want things to happen faster."

FCL: What is your biggest challenge as a leader?
"I still have a touch of anxiety from childhood, so some aspects of leadership still cause me a lot of stress. So, I do many things like consistent exercise to combat this."

FCL: Who has impacted you the most in your life as a leader?
"I’d have to say the members of SparkPeople. Seeing how much a website can truly change someone’s life impacts me every day."

FCL: What are your favorite books and what are you currently reading?
"With this company in hyper-growth mode and being the father of two young boys, I don’t get to read much lately. I do read Fortune magazine regularly while riding the exercise bike. A book that has had a great deal of influence on me is Viktor Frankl’s 'Man’s Search for Meaning'."

FCL: What is your vision for business and community leadership in Cincinnati?
"I would love to see Cincinnati reach its potential as a city by maximizing the talents of its great people."

FCL: Where do you see yourself five years from today?
"Wow! This is a hard one. In the internet world, we think in terms of every 3 months so it’s harder to look out that far. But, I’d say my 5-year goals would be:
1. To be a great Dad to my two boys and a good husband
2. I’d like to be the Chairman of the Board of a standalone SparkPeople – a company helping millions of people
3. Enjoying life by continuing to challenge myself to reach many types of goals
4. Sparking other people to maximize their potential and reach goals!"

Closing remarks (from Herman): Chris, this is magnificent stuff. It's true... having a worthwhile vision and developing a team are key components of great leadership. Congratulations on SparkPeople being voted best health site by Business Week's 2006 "Best of the Web". It's great to know a leader whose number one goal is to be a great dad and a good husband. Thanks for modeling first class leadership."