Chicago surges with 57-percent growth in 40th Corporate Challenge

It was the 40th running of the J.P. Morgan Corporate Challenge Chicago tonight at Grant Park but consider it the start of a new era.

The Corporate Challenge endured two years away during COVID-19 (2020 and 2021) and then ramped up slowly in 2022 with its first crowd below 10,000 participants  in 34 years. It would be natural to have some uncertainty about the future of an event that had experienced almost non-stop growth since its 1982 debut.

No more. This year’s Corporate Challenge – held in pristine conditions in the event’s familiar month of May – surged back to health. A crowd of 15,017 entrants from 409 companies participated in the 3-5-mile team road race, representing a 57% increase in the total number of entries and a 47% increase in the number of participating companies from 2022.

“I have immense pride in seeing a large J.P. Morgan Corporate Challenge crowd return to Grant Park,” said Maggie O’Brien, Managing Director, Co-Head of Chicago for J.P. Morgan’s Private Bank. “For years, the surest sign of the coming summer was wearing a Corporate Challenge runners’ bib number and enjoying a post-race party in the park. COVID was a formidable foe for us all, but a massive, face-to-face participatory event like this sends a positive signal of a bright future to the business community.”

And it’s not just Chicago which is thriving. Through three events in the 2023 J.P. Morgan Corporate Challenge Series – also including Johannesburg (March 30) and Singapore (April 27) – overall participation is up a whopping 81%.

The Chicago leaders of the pack by participants were JPMorgan Chase (1,689 entrants), Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois (224), Morningstar (219), Capital One (203), Molex (199), Northern Trust (198), CME Group (196), University of Chicago (188), Citadel (185), and Echo Global Logistics (178).

Most of those large companies have been loyal participants of the Corporate Challenge for years, but what portends future success is that 46-percent of the entered companies were either brand new to the event or returning for the first time since 2019.

Kathy Rugebregt, Chief People Officer for Brookfield Properties, was delighted to serve as team captain and shepherd 147 of her colleagues to the Columbus Drive starting line.

“The Corporate Challenge is a great opportunity for us to live one of our core company values: Win together,” said Rugebregt. “It’s become a fun and rewarding tradition for Brookfield Properties to come together, support a good cause, and celebrate with a post-race reception.”

Brookfield’s post-race reception – one of more than 200 held in hospitality tents reserved by companies within Grant Park – celebrated the return of face-to-face collegiality.

“We believe that relationships are best nurtured in person,” Rugebregt said. “Energy is higher, and people are better connected when we’re all together. The Corporate Challenge is a fun opportunity to socialize as a team and spend time with colleagues that we don’t work with every day.”

The 3.5-mile road race also ushered in a new era of competition, with a revised race course that started with the participants heading south on Columbus Drive and then finishing on Jackson Drive. The results were, in a word, spectacular. The winning male and female both ran the fastest times thus far in the 2023 J.P. Morgan Corporate Challenge Series.

Phil Lambert, representing DL Trading, clocked a phenomenal winning time of 16:26 (4:42 mile pace) in the men’s division, and Petra Bakosova, representing Hull Tactical, won the women’s race with a time of 19:57 (5:42 mile pace). Lambert was the first male to break 17 minutes in the Corporate Challenge Series this year and Bakosova the first female to break 20. For the sake of comparison, the 2022 winning Corporate Challenge times in Chicago were 17:05 and 21:18, so Lambert and Bakosova were flying!

Lambert noted that he and his DL Trading colleagues registered for the Corporate Challenge because they were looking for an event to promote the idea of wellness in the workplace. And Lambert sure led by example with his winning effort.

“It was super fun. Great weather today and I was really just trying to keep it controlled until the very end,” Lambert said. “Then we came up to the hill coming off (Lake Michigan) and I gave it a little push and that ended up being the decisive move. It was very exciting to have everybody out here.”

For Bakosova and her Hull Tactical colleagues, it proved you didn’t have to register with a huge team to find the spotlight.

“I am very excited,” Bakosova said. “We had five people racing last year and this year we grew to nine. We were looking forward to this for the last couple of months, egging each other on in the office.”

And it was a big win also for the community. The 40th Corporate Challenge’s impact will be felt long beyond the finish line with the JPMorgan Chase Foundation donating in celebration of the Corporate Challenge to UCAN, one of Chicago’s oldest, most innovative social services agencies. UCAN helps build strong youth and families through compassionate healing, education and empowerment.

Rochester, New York is the next stop in the 47th year of the J.P. Morgan Corporate Challenge Series with a Thursday, May 25 race night.