Conversations with members of the Harvard and Radcliffe Class of 1992.
Hosted by Will Bachman.

Episode: 49

Tim Whitmire, Founder at CXN Advisory

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Show notes

Show Notes:

Will Bachman and Tim Whitmire talk about Whitmire’s journey since graduating from Harvard. Whitmire started as a freelance journalist, then got a job at the Associated Press and covered Harvard Men’s Basketball. He moved to the Providence Bureau of the Associated Press and eventually to New York City. He was transferred to Lexington, Kentucky to work as a sports writer and moved to Charlotte, North Carolina after that. He worked at the Charlotte Observer and then returned to the Associated Press to work as the head of the Charlotte Bureau until 2006. 


Forming the Non-profit F3 Nation

Tim Whitmire was working for the AAP when he decided to look for work in Charlotte, NC. He ended up getting hired in a marketing and business development role at a sell side and investment bank. He then co-founded a firm called Black Arch Partners, where he worked for a few years. After leaving the second bank, he found his way into his current work as an executive strategy consultant. Will then asked him about his nonprofit, F3 Nation. The Mission of F3 is to plant, grow and serve small workout groups for men for the invigoration of male community leadership. 


Finding Groups to Form Friendships

Will and Tim discussed the difficulties men face in forming friendships. Will suggests that people meet through parents of their kids’ friends, their work colleagues, golf clubs, or religious institutions. Tim Whitmire suggests F3, a free workout group focused on fellowship and fitness. Tim explains the format of F3 workouts. F3 stands for Fitness, Fellowship, Faith. 

The group usually meets at a local coffee shop where they can hang out and chat. F3 also encourages events such as distance running relays, mud runs, and, in Tim’s words, “other completely stupid and utterly pointless activities” that foster friendship and bonding. F3’s expansion process, called the Leap, involved creating a logo to sell gear from, with 10% of the proceeds going back to F3 for growth.

Tim, a former member of the executive board of F3, explains that the group had to find innovative ways to get members out to cities in the Carolinas, and eventually beyond. In 2014, Tim took a trip to Richmond, Virginia, New Orleans, and Nashville, and others went to different cities. He would run workouts early in the morning and teach a class in the evening about the core principles of F3. This was called Gross School. He explains that the concept of shared leadership was developed and that each workout has a different attendee to lead it. The idea is to rotate the leadership of the organization to ensure that everyone is able to take on a leadership role. He also explains that F3 is now crossing international borders, with a Grow Rock event set to take place in England this fall.


Team Alignment and Goal Setting Skills

Tim Whitmire is an expert in team alignment and goal setting. He discusses the lessons of F3 and how they helped develop these skills. The main lesson is that not everyone has the same skill set or will lead in the same way, so it is important to leave space for people to express themselves and to lead. He also described the workouts themselves, which can be quite varied. His experiences with the group inspired him to  co-author a book called Free to Lead about the F3 experience.

Harvard classes and professors Tim found inspiring include: Verlyn Klinkenborg’s  creative writing classes, and George Dominguez’ teachings on the Cuban Revolution.


02:40 From Investment Banking to Executive Strategy Consulting and F3 Nation 

12:49 The Story of F3: How a Small Workout Group Grew to Become a Global Phenomenon 

13:09 Empowering Leadership and Building Community Through Fitness 

17:36 Exploring the Benefits of Men’s Fellowship

18:49 Exploring the Need for Male Bonding

23:09 Building Male Friendships in F3 Workouts 

28:35 Exploring the Growth of F3: A Conversation with Tim Whitmire 

32:37 F3: Exploring Shared Leadership and Expansion Beyond the Carolinas 

35:00 F3 and the Benefits of Shared Leadership 

41:18 The Benefits of Group Fitness and Fellowship Across Class Lines 



Freed to Lead



Twitter: @trwhitmire_OBT

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Tim Whitmire, Will Bachman


Will Bachman  00:01

Hello, and welcome to the 92 report conversations with members of the Harvard and Radcliffe class of 1992. I’m your host, will Bachman. And I’m excited to be here today with Tim wittmeyer. Tim, welcome to the show.


Tim Whitmire  00:16

Thanks for having me. Well,


Will Bachman  00:18

Tim, tell me about your journey since graduating from Harvard.


Tim Whitmire  00:24

I’ve, I’ve had multiple multiple careers at this point. So I, I started as a as a journalist I had written for for the independent as an undergraduate and so started basically freelancing around the Boston area, what was called string earring in those days, for a bunch of suburban Boston papers, I was trying to break into sports writing, and eventually got hired by the AP sports writer. And in Boston, a guy named Howard Allman to string in the Harvard men’s basketball games for him. And this was, this was in the era when the Harvard men’s basketball team had never won an Ivy League title. And so I would, I would go to the games and I think they paid me 40 bucks to game or something to call in, you know, 200 words after the game about it, and and eventually, the guys on the desk in Boston, got to like me and started sending me to some other stuff. And then that led to a job in the Providence Bureau of the AAP. And I worked for the Associated Press for, I guess, probably, almost 15 years after that. So I was in the Providence Bureau for two years, and then went to New York City and worked on the New York City desk at HP headquarters, which was at that time was at Rock Center. And then I got it, I finally realize my dream of becoming a sports writer, by getting a transfer to Lexington, Kentucky were covered University of Kentucky Wildcats for two years and and then left the AP got a job at the Charlotte Observer, which is why I moved to Charlotte, where I’ve been for almost a quarter century now and then went back to work at the AP as the head of their Charlotte Bureau and was doing did that for from 2002 to 2006.


Will Bachman  02:23

And what happened after 2006?


Tim Whitmire  02:25

Oh, after 2006 the APA is a little bit like the the army or the Catholic Church and that they elect to move people around. And I’m gonna apologize here because I’ve got a train that runs by my office window. No,


Will Bachman  02:40

no, no that that podcast very day know that that’s authentic podcasting for you.


Tim Whitmire  02:47

So the AAP was on my case, you know, we love what you’re doing. And Charlotte, do you want to go to Dallas? Do you want to go to Miami? Do you want to go to San Francisco. And I really didn’t want to want to do that. At that point. I had three kids and my wife and I were very happy. And in Charlotte. So I started looking around for what I could do. And I ended up getting hired in kind of a marketing and business development role at a sell side and investment bank, here in Charlotte. And I really had no no background in finance at all. But I was sort of able to learn the business well enough to kind of fake my way around it. And, and so I was at a firm called entropy partners for a couple years. And then was part of a group who spun out of that and founded another firm called Black arch partners. And they’re both kind of sellside focused investment banks that bought and sold middle were actually mostly sold, middle market sized companies. So did that for a couple of years, or for a few years. And then eventually, after I left the second bank, found my way into my current work, which is as a kind of executive strategy consultant for for growth stage companies.


Will Bachman  04:02

All right. So I want to ask you about this nonprofit that you started that I think is amazing. So tell us about that.


Tim Whitmire  04:11

Yeah, so that. That was a that’s a group called called f3 nation. And it stands out of a workout group that a friend of mine and I started going to in in a public park in Charlotte on Saturday mornings back in 2008 I think it was and sort of saw this model in action. And it was basically the idea was that you had a group of guys who would get together at seven o’clock in the morning on a Saturday and we do an hour long workout kind of outdoors and not you’re not in a gym setting so you’re just using kind of whatever there is in the park you know if there’s a hill you might go run repeats on the hill. You got a jungle gym there do some pull ups on the jungle gym. Just kind of kind of using your the weight of your body and and what you’re provided with. And the guy who ran it had sort of started doing this a couple years earlier and had kind of built up a group of, you know, kind of, I think by the time I got there, there were a dozen guys who were kind of regulars on Saturday morning. And I thought I thought this was really cool. I was not I was all I was doing at that point was running. And, and I had been running since college. My roommates and I ran the Boston Marathon when we were seniors as bandits. And I had been that I kind of got bit by the marathon bug, but I was actually poor runner, I was pretty out of shape, despite all the mileage I was doing. And despite running, trying to run all these different marathons, because I basically ate whatever I wanted to and felt like that was justified by the fact that I ran as much as I did. So I was probably about 40 pounds overweight at that point, and couldn’t do a single pull up. The first time I went to one of these workouts, you know, couldn’t do almost no push ups didn’t have any core strength. And so the workout kind of kicked my butt. But I the one thing that was actually okay, about the first time I went was that we ran about two miles at the end of the workout. And that was, I was faster than most of those guys. So I finished sort of a respectable place in the running segment of it. And that was what kind of let me look myself in the mirror the next morning and be like, Oh, maybe I’ll maybe I’ll go back. If I can get better at this well, over the course of you know, kind of the next six weeks, I went back probably four or six times. And there was one morning, and this was a time when I had young children. So getting up on Saturday morning was actually kind of a sacrifice getting up in time for a 7am workout because my wife and I had this kind of unspoken deal where one of us would get to sleep in one day of the weekend, and the other one would get up with the kids. And then we would you know, vice versa on the other day. And so if I got up on Saturday morning, she would have to get up with the kids. And that meant, you know, I would sacrifice my day to quote unquote, sleep in. And it was about about six weeks into this. And I’m sitting there one morning at the end of the workout, and I’m driving away, and I just had this realization of like, you know what I never regret when I dragged myself out of bed, and I don’t feel like going to work out but I forced myself to go. I never regret doing it. At the end of it. I’m always glad I did it at the end. And that was sort of the switch that went off. And I was like, Okay, well, I’m just gonna get up and do it. And I’m gonna, this is gonna be my thing. And, and then the other thing that happened in this first couple of months was the guy who ran the workout and was kind of the leader of it turned to me one week. And he said, Hey, do you want to lead next week? And I was like, Yeah, sure, Ali. And, and, and I knew that, as I told you earlier, most of the guys weren’t, weren’t very much on the running thing. So I took them out of the park and to a nearby hill that or street that’s, that’s kind of called hillside. So it’ll give you an idea of what the elevation profile was. And I basically ran them up and down hillside for the entire hour. And they all cursed me the whole time. I’m really angry about it. But that was kind of the second thing was that I had had a chance to lead. And I’d had a chance to kind of put my imprint on the workout. And once I had been able to do that I kind of had like an equity stake in the workout. And, and that was really important to me. So I you know, that sort of sucks you in and you feel like you’re part of the group. So go on a couple years and the guy who had started this guy named Chuck elbow. It this, the workout has become very popular and there are more and more people coming because one of the things that happened was, you want to get better for the workout on the weekend. So you start working out during the week and practicing stuff so you’re stronger on the push ups and pull ups and all that other stuff on the weekend. So I lost a bunch of weight I lost probably 40 pounds, I was down 40 pounds at my maximum and and I’m going around town and I was in business development at that point for the investment bank and and so I would see a lot of people and they’d be like oh my god, you know you would you doing p90x Or you know, what are you doing? I’d be like, now I gotta go to this workout and in the park on the weekends. You should come it’s free. And and so more and more people started coming and I you know, think about I’m doing that but like 10 other guys are doing that and eventually, you know, the group starts to get to like 2025 people and that was not something Jeff was interested in. He did not he did not want to These new people showing up, he wanted to have a small kind of tight knit group. And so at some point in this in the summer of 2010, he said, That’s it, no new people allowed my workout. I’m shutting it down. Nobody can, you can’t invite anybody anymore. And I’m not gonna let them work out with us. If they do show up. At that point, this guy, Dave and I, who we’ve become friends through the workout, and that started having lunch together. We both worked downtown and Charlotte, we would we’d have lunch and kind of talk about the impact it was having on our lives, we kind of looked at each other. And we’re like, Well, this is crazy. Like this needs to get in front of more gods, this has had a really positive impact on us, not just physically, but mentally, socially, etc. That would, this needs to be in front of more guys. And so that was what the inspiration for us to launch what became f3 on January 1 2011. So we just we said we were launching a spin off of that freedom Park workout, and sent out a bunch of emails in December. And we’re like, we’ll be at this middle school on January first at 7am, which happened to be a Saturday that year, and will run a one hour workout and show up. And we sort of thought that we would get, you know, I think Jeff’s workout it started out with him, him and one other guy. And I think we figured we’d be lucky if we got three guys out there on New Year’s morning, and instead, pull into the parking lot that morning. And there’s 35 guys there. And we ran them around the track one time and some some. Once guys started sweating a little bit, it smelled a little bit like a distillery. But ran through like an hour long workout with Dave and me leading. And then that was the start of it. And it has accelerated from there. I think f3 has currently more than 4000 different workout locations. You know, it’s estimated that, you know, roughly 40 or 50,000 regular participants. The New York Times had an article in I guess, last September or a front page article about f3. And the group in in Katy, Texas last September was one that ran. So there really spent much of the subsequent decade kind of figuring out how to grow this thing and how to scale it. Which was was a challenge at times because we weren’t charging any money for it. And we it was very sort of intentionally loosely affiliated. So I often joke to people that America’s most successful, least successful business entrepreneur.


Will Bachman  12:49

Okay, so, gotta hear more about this. So tell us a bit about how this scaled, maybe start with what was the very first number two, you know, the first follower and how did it go from there, just walk us through that story of how this has expanded? How have you funded it? How do you I want to hear about


Tim Whitmire  13:09

I would since you asked us, since you refer to the first follower, there’s a famous video on YouTube that I think is maybe titled The first follower or whatever. And it’s a guy, a guy dancing at a jam band concert on a hillside in Colorado, what is this lesson and how, and when we use that video all the time, because that was that was the biggest challenge we faced was that Dave and I were sort of the the guys who were sort of leading but we knew very quickly based on the example that we we’d been offered by Jeff that it was really important to get other guys in a leadership position. And so the biggest challenge we faced early on was to basically get ourselves out of leading the workouts, teach the other guys how to lead the workouts, and then empower even the ones who didn’t necessarily want to lead workouts themselves, empower those guys to take leadership in another role in you know, in another role or something like that. So like we needed, we needed a website, okay, so you know, some guy who’s got some experience in the internet, he, he built us a website, you know, and, and another guy who is experienced on social media, he sets up, you know, kind of the three social accounts so we can kind of spread the word and, and you just saw it take what you can get. And what we found early on was that when you’re you’re not charging money for something, but it that it makes a difference in people’s lives, it becomes very easy to ask them for stuff. So So you know, people were very willing to offer help. And by that same token, when the time comes, that a guy says, oh, you know, I’ve got some buddies in Raleigh, North Carolina, you know, it would be really great. I’ve been telling them about what I’m doing there. We’re really interested in starting it up, I want to go do that, then it becomes very interesting, very easy to say, Well, why don’t you get my car and go over there and lead a workout for them and show them how it’s done. And we, we had fits and starts and how we were going to plant new locations that were a few times where people kind of put their hands up and or heard about what we were doing, or even read about, or stumbled on the website. And they were like, Oh, we want to do it. And we’re like, yeah, you can do it. But we quickly saw that, in most of those cases, they kind of were more or less out of business, in the first six months that guys couldn’t understand the concept of like, if you’re gonna found it, you have to hand off leadership as quickly as you can, it can’t, it can’t be, if John’s gonna found the workout in Newnan, Georgia, it can’t be John’s workout, you can’t have the guys doing the things that John wants to do every week, or else it’s going to stagnate. So you got to you got to share leadership. And there were a bunch of other principles that we kind of learned along the way. I mean, the other one was just that, it’s, it’s more than just a workout. And that’s, that’s reflected in the three apps that are referenced in the name, which stands for fitness fellowship and say, and so what we saw, you know, sort of the sequencing of this with it was that guys will come out for the workout. Because it was it was free, and you know, maybe a friend invited them and oh, yeah, this is better than than working out by yourself at the why. But the reason they would keep coming back on a regular basis was because of the fellowship that they experienced with other guys. And then once you did that, you had this kind of dynamite dynamic of once they’re fit and friended, and have this group of guys that they’re working out with, they start, you know, looking up out of what we call their sad clown existences. And being like, hey, I can I can do some stuff in the world I can, I’m a leader to the things that I want to do to make society better, that sort of thing. And we, the only word we could really figure out that, that describe that was with faith, which we’ve traditionally just defined as a belief in something outside yourself. So that that was really kind of the amazing thing, that’s first few years was to see that explosion of guys who are, you know, just completely energized, and confident and ready to go out and change the world. So it was just a matter of the growth really ended up being a matter of kind of harnessing that and, and putting it to work.


Will Bachman  17:36

I want to ask you about this point around Men’s Fellowship. Now, you know, historically, there was a lot of men’s spaces, right. And I think, you know, a lot of us would probably agree that it’s a good thing that those have opened up, you know, private men’s clubs, golf clubs, etc. These things.


Tim Whitmire  17:57

I understand, it’s still a problem at our alma mater, were the Final Clubs. Yeah, well, that’s another conversation.


Will Bachman  18:05

So a lot of those, you know, have, I think, rightfully, you know, opened up, right. Yeah. But there are, you know, I think there is probably a need that a lot of men feel, to be able to, you know, get together with other men and be able to bond and talk to me about that a little bit. Talk to me about what men have experienced, like, you know, from your perspective, having, you know, seeing this grow and talking to, I’m sure, many, many leaders and so forth. What is it that you think men are lacking in terms of that sort of space for bonding? And, and what what are they getting out of the fellowship from f3?


Tim Whitmire  18:49

Yeah, so I spent a lot of time thinking about it. I, you know, my, my, my Coincidentally, the, the political framework that I use for my senior thesis in government 35 years ago, or however long it was ago now was by was something that had been designed by Robert Putnam, who, of course, were bowling alone and published that in the mid 90s, and I read the book A short time after it came out, and I was really struck by it and the conversation that went on on around it, and that, you know, that was for those who don’t know, that was about the fraying of civil society in the United States and the, you know, sort of atomization and Putnam had a bunch of theories at that point about what was causing it, you know, was it was it the suburbs was the television etc. And, of course, we’ve only seen an acceleration of that kind of disconnectedness in society since then, and it’s not purely a gender problem. Obviously, it’s not just about men, but it appears to manifest itself, maybe more severely in men and so we have a generation of Have a you know what, what Dave, and I sort of labeled sad Clowns with, you know, guys who were, you know, otherwise successful professional man, you know, married with children and so forth, but didn’t have any friends, you know, we had, we had guys that, you know, we certainly had the guys that we’ve gone to school with, I’ve remained close with my Harvard roommates for, you know, all these years in between we see each other almost every year. But, you know, sometime between the end of college or grad school, or, you know, we have a lot of Dave Dave himself, my co founder was, was an Army Ranger, so he served in the military, but you have a lot of guys who are walking around out there who basically don’t know how to how to form friendships in adulthood. And you sort of fall back on your old friends. And that’s good, but they’re not necessarily proximate, you know, we work we move around a lot in the society, and we change jobs, and we move cities and so forth, and f3 very quickly, like, we realized, like, the single greatest power of what we had done, and we didn’t necessarily set out to do it, we certainly saw it working in our own lives, and that made us want to replicate it. But with this thing is a friendship machine, you know, and that’s a hugely powerful thing. And that, getting up early in the morning and doing something hard with other guys just as a natural sort of bonding activity, and that men need to go through it when I met, it was funny, because I went, I tried to run an f3 workout, I think it was at our 20th reunion. So it would have been in 2012. And I thought, okay, email Gabrielle about it. And she was like, she was like, well, we can include it on the, on the, on the formal list of events, because it’s not open to women. And I thought about arguing it, but I’m not really going to argue it. And certainly, you know, we all experienced the efforts to, you know, have the, the Final Clubs, be co Ed when we were undergraduates. So I didn’t really particularly want to fight that battle. And, but but I just I’ve never, it’s just, it’s always been clear to me from this experience, that there is a specific problem with men, and we see it replicated in society. In some of the larger issues of depression. Now, I was listening to a podcast with Derek Thompson recently. And he’s like, you know, why can’t? Why can’t liberal men find a language for talking about friendship and the importance of friendship with other men? And I was like, well, actually, we’ve kind of, we’ve kind of figured that out. We’ve sort of salted here on f3, if you want to, if you want to glom on to that, but But it’s no, there’s just there’s something about the way we’ve structured society, and what we’ve told men about sort of how they talk to one another and how they relate to one another, that makes it extremely difficult for men to to function, and to form friendships and later life.


Will Bachman  23:09

Yeah. Well, in terms of opportunities, men you have opportunities, perhaps to meet to hang out with the parents of the friends of your kids, you can meet the you know, you can make friends at work, you know, work colleagues, etc, people you interact with professionally. But with, you know, work and, you know, family life, there just may not be a lot of other times to do that, you know, some people perhaps go to the golf club or something, but there’s not as many opportunities, maybe for some people, their religious institution. How did the friendships like tell me a little bit about you know, do is it the kind of culture do the guys go out to breakfast afterwards? Or did they just exchanged numbers and then, you know, meet for, you know, during the lunch week, like you started meeting a friend for lunch or something, or tell me how these friendships kind of Yeah, so


Tim Whitmire  24:01

I mean, this is there’s a very structured format for the workout, which is, and the one there are five core principles to an F three workout. It’s free. It’s open to all men, where possible, it takes place outdoors, regardless of what the weather is. And it’s led by a member of a workout with no training or certification required. So that’s just basically saying, nobody’s gonna stand there with a clipboard and count your reps. You know, while they, while they lean on the bench, right? You got to participate in the workout if you if you can’t, if you can’t do it, we say if you can’t do it, don’t do it. Because q is the nickname for the guy who leads the workout. There’s a lot of nicknames and tribal type lingo and have three and then the last core principle is every workout ends with what we call a circle of trust. And basically you set the guys down and circle of trust was a little bit of a sarcastic name. And when we first started doing it, but you sit, sit or stand in a circle, and you go around the circle and you say your name, your f3, nickname and your age, and you go around the circle that hallway, and you get a count of how many people are there, say your name, your s3 name and your age. And then you have announcements. And then it ends with some sort of prayer or words of wisdom or whatever somebody wants to kind of offer from their heart. So you have that structure to it of, okay, guys are kind of learning each other’s names, they’re seeing each other on a regular basis, they’re learning, you know, kind of what age they are that sort of thing. And then most Saturday workouts, at least, where you don’t have the pressure of a work week, you are strongly encouraged or to have what we call a conference area afterwards, which means, you know, just go to the nearest Starbucks or caribou, everybody got some coffee and kind of hangs out and BSS for a while. So there’s that. And then that sort of seemed to solve this problem of that we saw very early on, of like, guys didn’t really know what to do at the end of the workout there. Oh, hey, see an extra week or whatever, wander off to their cars. And somehow that didn’t feel right. So we that circle of trust really kind of solved that problem and provided that structure to it. And then that, of course, spins out into guys doing events together. So hey, let’s go do a distance running relay up in the mountains, there’s one called the Blue Ridge relay, the cheer in North Carolina that we basically, we flooded the zone of that, that race very early on, we started doing a mud run down in Columbia, South Carolina, which is about 70 miles south of Charlotte, very early on, put a bunch of f3 teams into there. And guys got really enthusiastic about that. So when we saw that we discovered, okay, doing stuff together, that’s really, that’s, that’s, we call those kind of events, everything has to have a name or an acronym, we call those completely stupid and utterly pointless. Because, you know, it’s the kind of thing like you’re, you know, you tell your wife, I’m going to the mountains to ride around in a 15 passenger van with my friends for 36 hours and run, you know, run six legs in the middle of the night. And she’s like, that’s completely stupid, and utterly pointless. But of course, the point is, you’re doing it with each other, and you’re experiencing stuff. So that we kind of saw, saw that, that piece of it as well, that kind of that’s, that’s obviously sort of, you know, kerosene on the fire of friendships and bonding, and that sort of thing. So, and I, you know, the last couple of years as I’ve gotten older, and don’t do as many of those events anymore, and have had some other stuff happened in my life. You know, there. I went with a group of f3 guys, a couple of summers ago, friends of mine from here in Charlotte. And we hiked rim to rim to rim at the Grand Canyon. And, and, you know, that was really cool. And I took my, my youngest son on that. And last summer, we took a trip to Glacier National Park backpacking, and I took my oldest son on that. So it’s been really cool. Yeah, there’s a guy there, a bunch of three guys out of Altia in Utah right now and one of two f3 ski way down so that somebody sponsors or organizers.


Will Bachman  28:35

So talk to me a bit about how you, not the franchise is not the word TEDx is kind of the idea. But how did you start? You mentioned a little bit about Raleigh, and but kind of how did that go from one to 4000 groups? And how did you start kind of setting up the process to not necessarily certify, but to kind of approve someone to start a group and make it there’s an official, you know, on your map kind of thing. Talk to me about Yeah, expansion process.


Tim Whitmire  29:07

Yeah. So that that was something that we called the leap. And it was, what what, what one of the things and I guess I can kind of take credit for this I was, we designed a logo very early on, and it’s just kind of a military stencil font font with a capital F and then superscripted three, and we put it in a circle and I had a friend of mine who I paid $50 to designer to do it and we put it on some stickers and I put it on some T shirts, some race T shirts that we distributed for guys who were doing a Spartan Race, and that the logo gear proved really popular. And so the thing I said was, you know, we copyrighted the logo. And we basically said, we’re going to sell gear because there was There was huge demand for the gear as we grew. And every piece of gear that we sell, there’s basically going to be a 10% tax on it that will go back to the f3 nation entity for the growth of of f3. And so that was the thing that we had that where we could start drawing on some money. And so starting in 2014, we intentionally we’ve been able to get to Raleigh, because that was driving distance, we were able to get to Columbia, South Carolina, to Greenville, South Carolina, to Charleston, down to Wilmington, North Carolina, so we kind of had covered the Carolinas. But when you started going further than that, it was like it was playing rides that you had to do so. So in 2014, let’s see that fall, I went to Richmond, Virginia, and I went to New Orleans, and then some other guys went to Nashville. And I think there were there were maybe two other cities that we planted that fall. And basically, I was sort of crazy, because we, we would have some people who had reached out to us in the city who had expressed the interest. And, like, I just have this vivid memory of being in city park and in New Orleans, on a Tuesday morning at 5:30am. Pitch black dark, you know, it’s it’s October, and having no idea whether anybody is going to show up for this workout or not, because you sort of you do phone calls, and you kind of tell guys what it’s about. But until, you know comes time for them to set the alarm and then show up or not, you just never know if they’re gonna show up. So. So I so that was like, I went down to New Orleans for like a Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, I ran three straight workouts for those guys. And luckily, somebody did show up. And then I would teach at night. And and the teaching was just about what something that we call gross school. And it was basically kind of about the core principles of f3. Here’s why the model works the way it does. Here’s why. We don’t include women. Because it’s just for guys. Here’s why. Here’s here’s how we think about faith, regardless of what your faith is. We hear here’s the other stuff that we think is really crucial. And, you know, we want to we want to make that work for you. And, you know, here are the things that you need to remember going forward. So do I still have you?


Will Bachman  32:37

Yeah, no, no, I’m still here. So then, Tim, what? And then so what happens now? So


Tim Whitmire  32:43

I will I’m sorry? Just kind of my


Will Bachman  32:47

you’re good. I heard you the whole time. So you were just on the phone? Yeah, so we’re good. Okay, sorry about that. No, no worries. So


Tim Whitmire  32:54

let’s say that, can you you can you fix that in post?


Will Bachman  32:57

We’re good. We’re good. Well, we’ll just keep we’ll just roll with it. It’s part a podcast very today. So we’re all right. Cuz I heard you the whole time. What I’m telling me about today. So today, someone wants to start an f3 group, and they live in some place where there hasn’t reached it yet. What what what do they do? Do they just go and register? Is there some kind of validation process? Like you have to?


Tim Whitmire  33:20

I think it’s, yeah, I think it’s become a little more more formalized through the website at this point, because we’ve mostly filled in the map. And so I don’t think there’s the leap as such doesn’t exist anymore, I actually transitioned out of leadership in 2018. So I’m no longer even a member of the executive board or anything like that. I I figured I had served my time. And, and if we were going to talk about shared leadership, as much as we did that, you know, it was important that I, you know, not only talk the talk, but walk the walk, so my understanding and because a lot of interests these days, is, is international, as well. So they found a way to support guys who are starting up in Kenya, in Germany, in in Great Britain. And in fact, I think they’re, they’re gonna go do what we call a grow rock event, which, which is another thing that we sort of developed to support this kind of growth school idea in England this fall. So I guess that’s, that’s when it’ll, it’ll officially be crossing international borders, and so forth.


Will Bachman  34:31

Tell me a little bit more about this idea of shared leadership. So I think I understand that each workout a different attendee would would lead it. And it sounds like the leadership of the organization also, it’s like, the idea is to rotate it. Talk to me about kind of where that came from and what you’ve learned as a result. And, you know, it seems, you know, maybe what you think some of the lessons are for institutions that that you’re familiar with.


Tim Whitmire  35:00

Yeah, well, and I sort of live this on a on a daily basis in my professional work. Because I work with a lot of different management teams, at growth stage companies on, you know, basically, team alignment and, and issues of, you know, kind of goal setting and execution. So it ends up being very relevant to a work I do. But you basically, you’ve got to, not everybody, not everybody has the same skill set, and not everybody is going to lead in the same way. And you’ve got to, you just have to make room for people to express themselves and to have a chance to lead and and that doesn’t look the same way. Every time. I, you know, I think people can often be very prescriptive about this is what real leadership looks like, you know, and there’s sort of a lot of stereotypes about that. And one thing I’ve seen in my life is that almost everybody wants a script for what they’re supposed to do when they’re not certain on what they want to do. But I, you know, that for me, the big lesson of f3, and kind of share leadership was just sort of leave space. For a leader to emerge, I just saw so many cases where we planted a workout or a location. And there was one guy there for a long time, who really believed in the idea, but was not necessarily the guy to lead it. And so really kind of carry the torch and get a bunch of people involved. The example I’m thinking of right now is in Greenville, North Carolina, which is a university town in eastern North Carolina, we’re the home of East Carolina University. And we were sort of stumbling along out there for a couple of years, there was one guy who was the brother of an f3 guy from Charlotte, and he had kind of started it. And they were just bumping along, they were getting, you know, maybe two or three guys to a workout on the weekend. And they weren’t planting new workout locations, they weren’t expanding. And, but that one guy kind of kept the flame alive long enough for another guy who happened to be really connected in the community and happened to be a professor of recreation at the university there. A guy named Nelson Cooper, Nelson stumbled onto it. And he proved to be the guy who was the catalyst, right. But this other guy, that first guy had to keep the flame alive for long enough for Nelson to come along and realize what it was, and that this was something that could be really transformational for him and the community and all these different people he, he knew. So it’s just, you know, different people playing different roles, and allowing space for people to grow into what they possibly can being is kind of my experience of it. And that’s a lot of the stuff that I try to I try to, you know, teach in the work that I do with management teams.


Will Bachman  38:05

Oh, and one thing I didn’t ask is, tell me a little bit about what the workouts themselves are like, you know, maybe it sounds like maybe they were quite varied. But what would


Tim Whitmire  38:15

that is the other thing is, so at some point, I think that today’s show did a, did a piece on f3. This was probably in 2017. And Dave, and I had self published a book about f3, that was called free to lead. And we sort of self published it. And it was available on Amazon. And we got some interest from some literary agents after the today’s show thing ran. And they were like, Oh, we want you to do a book proposal. And, and I think they were envisioning it as as a, like a New Year New you type book and in the book publishing parlance, and so they were like, Okay, well, you gotta give us a bunch of scripts for the workouts. And we’re like, there are no scrubs. It’s whatever, the guy who’s leading that day decides he wants to do. And then we’re like, well, can’t you just dumb a sternum up? And we’re like, No, not really, because that’s sort of antithetical to the whole idea, it really is, if you’re going to lead a workout, it’s your workout, and you get to do whatever you want that day. And people will do, you know, often, you know, kind of set pieces or, or different things, but the basic kind of, we, we call the pearls on a string, the idea is you kind of get the group together and you always start on time. So if it’s a 530 workout start, you’re not waiting for anybody who might still be struggling and you go immediately at 530. And you might run, you know, an eighth of a mile a 10th of a mile or whatever. Then you set the group up and into some sort of kind of you know, set piece so we call that you know, a circle of pain. So, you know, I might lead and I call you know, jumping jacks for the first exercise and then I’m, I’m counting in cadence and all the guys are in a circle around me, kind of following my lead with that and then I’m I have us do some push ups and some other stuff. And then I might go run a quarter of a mile. And now we’re at the base of a hill and you know, it’s, you know, run up to the top of the hill and do one burpee and run back down and do one burpee, you know, then to the top and two burpees, and then to the top, and, you know, in sequence to do, you know, seven burpees, something like that. So you’re just constantly, you know, kind of the running is the string, and then the pearls are kind of a set pieces. And the one of the things that worked well about that that format was, you could incorporate a wide range of fitness levels in that so that a guy who was showing up for the first time with a bunch of guys who have been doing this for years, and he might be out of shape and have trouble keeping up on the running part of it, you’re never going to lose him, you can keep him a part of the group, and the whole group will stay together the whole time. And it’s just, you know, sort of another core after the principle of, of leave no man behind. So that was that was kind of critical in, in, in making it appealing and, and, you know, accessible to guys who are showing up for the first time was you could sort of promise we won’t leave you behind, we won’t drop you that sort of thing.


Will Bachman  41:18

Talk to me about the fellowship, maybe across class lines, because it seems to me this being you know, free, and your emphasis on accessibility, I imagine that, you know, it could, unlike a lot of other places, study, even the gym, often, you know, it’s expensive, whatever you might have, you know, people have a certain socio economic status at a certain type of gym. Talk to me about just kind of people, men across class lines, getting to know one another.


Tim Whitmire  41:49

Yeah, I mean, that that’s been I’ve had a little bit of a privilege seat for that, because I travel, the workouts are usually neighborhood based. So you, you’re, you’re probably meeting guys who are not necessarily neighbors of yours, but they kind of live in the same neighborhood as you do. And of course, as you know, you know, where we are very kind of neighborhood segregated, and how we live now, certainly, by class, and, you know, partly a function of public education in this country. But I sort of had the privilege of, you know, f3 started, the middle school that we started out is in a relatively wealthy part of Charlotte, and so a neighborhood called Myers Park. So it was kind of a lot of Myers Park guys, and, you know, well to do white guys like me, but I’ve seen it transplanted into, you know, much, you know, different socio economic locations, and much less urban urban locations than, you know, in kind of the center of Charlotte. So, you know, Gaston County, which is immediately to the west of Charlotte, you know, we planted out there relatively early on we we planted in Hickory, North Carolina, and some smaller towns and cities and that’s, that’s, that’s a different world out there. That’s, you know, we had guys working in furniture, plants. You know, the workout in, in Granite Falls that we started, you go down to South Carolina, and so it’s a whole nother world down there as well. So that part, that was one of the things I used to tell people was like, man, get out and, and if you’re in town, or you’re out of town, like make sure you go to you know, and there’s an upcoming workout, make sure you go because you’re, you’re gonna meet, you know, all these new guys who are, you know, amazing in their own way, and you’re gonna, you’re gonna have a completely different experience that transcends, you know, whatever your Bible is, that you’re in on a, on a regular basis. That part that part has been really cool. And, you know, the circle of trust looks a lot different, you know, particularly the, the part that we sort of set aside for, for a shout out or words of wisdom or whatever, you know, that can be deeply kind of evangelical and heartfelt in some parts of the south and, and, you know, the guys out in Seattle that I know, they like to do it, you know, more kind of little Zen Buddhist flavor to it. So it’s you, you get all you get all the all the different, different stuff going on. So that part has been really cool. And then there are other guys who, you know, looked around and at f3, and sort of what we were in the first three years or four years and, and we’re like, you know, this is this is a very white group of guys. And this is a very white well to do group of guys generally in the early days. And so there has been a constant sort of drumbeat of like, we need to get this out to other to other communities. Um, to other, you know, minority communities, make sure that they’re welcome. Figure out how to plant workouts in lower income neighborhoods. And that, you know, we wrestled with that a lot at the beginning, because quite honestly, like, you know, if you want to talk about privilege, the ability to set your alarm and know that you’ll be able to get up at at 545 in the morning to attend a 530 workout, that presumes a certain amount of stability in people’s lives. And you know that somebody else is watching the kids when they’re asleep, and that you’re not getting home from work on the second job, or whatever. So you know that that part is sort of a constant, a constant effort of like thinking about how do we, how do we do new things do we work out at other times of the day, then then the early morning, which happens to work well, for those of us who are professional class and have kids, but it’s also I mean, I’ve, we, you know, one of my good friends, Jordan ABSHER, planted a workout at the men’s homeless shelter here in Charlotte. And we have, we have other guys who really kind of have recovery and rehab on their heart who have planted workouts at various rehab facilities as well. And that’s, and those have done tremendous been of tremendous benefit to the people who are going through through that struggle in life.


Will Bachman  46:23

Now, you told me that you had a health issue, and you had take a break from working out and, and sent me a video of your first workout back after after that. Do you want to talk about that a little bit?


Tim Whitmire  46:38

Yeah, I mean, that was, I had a, I have a heart surgery. Last year, I had a, I had an mitral valve and my heart repaired. And this was last November. And at some point, when I was on the table, or immediately afterward, I had a stroke. And one of the first things that I did when I when I woke up afterwards was my brother, my brother, flew out from Denver, to be with me in the hospital and kind of supplement and give my wife a hand. And one of the first things I said to my brother, when he showed up, the five days after I had the stroke was like, I need you to help me reach out to some of my guys in s3. And, and it just so and maybe you can drop it in the show notes, I’ll link to the video that my son shot at the speech that I gave him the circle of trust afterwards, but it was really, those guys rallied. And the thing that was striking for me was like, I had seen a lot of different examples over the years about three guys rallying to their brothers in a in a time a need. And you never really, you know, you’re like, Oh, I’m the founder of this, I’ll never need that, you know. And, but to have it happen on my behalf, and I was I was in a rehab hospital for two and a half weeks doing kind of intensive physical therapy and occupational therapy for five hours a day. And the three guys basically treated my PT workouts like they were up three workouts. So I literally had an f3 guy, and usually a different guy at every single PT workout in the hospital gym there with me and kind of keeping me company and, and so forth. And the therapists all it became a joke to them, sort of by the end, they were like, How many friends do you have? But it really I and I know you, you interviewed Bob Wald anger, I think for one of the early editions of this podcast, and you know, I was familiar with the work from the Harvard study and I recently read read his book, The Good Life, and it just what I went through and and the way these guys rallied to me just sort of reinforced everything he talks about in the book about relationships, and particularly, you know, friendship relationships, because it’s all been been sort of borne out in my experience. And so I’m, you know, I’m back, I’m making a great recovery. I’m making progress every day. And I just, you know, I had I had a bit of a setback, but there’s no doubt in my mind that, you know, I’ve overperformed what expectations would have been if I if I had not had this this thing in my life that you know, and I say to the guys in that in that video, like I had no idea I was building the I was building the ark that was going to carry me to safety when the when the flood came, so that was that was it was pretty crazy. And the thing that was really bizarre about it, that talk about this in the video was that just a couple of weeks before I had surgery, my dad had called me out In my office and and was telling me he lived in Jacksonville, Florida for a long time. And he he was telling me a story about a guy that he had gone to church with who was an s3 guy down in Jacksonville, who had recently died of after, after a long illness. I think it was a cancer. And he knew Jeff and he knew how the how the f3 guys had had rallied around Jeff and his family after Jeff passed away, and my dad was was calling me up. And he was like, that’s like, 80 now, and he was kind of in tears while he was talking about this. And he was like, you know, I just want you to know how proud I am of what you’ve done here. And this is something that, that you’re gonna that’s gonna outlive you. And that’s, you know, that’s a really great achievement. And I joked to a friend a few days later, I was like, you know, that’s what, that’s what every guy wants to hear from his dad, right? And more poignant in my case, because my dad and mom got divorced when I was very young. So sort of layer that on there. So yeah, it was the, to see it to see it made real was was with something else.


Will Bachman  51:17

Tim, it’s such a touching story about your own experience, and the idea of building building your own Ark. For listeners that want to go check out of three, maybe sign up and find a workout, where would you point them online?


Tim Whitmire  51:35

www dot s3


Will Bachman  51:41

And for listeners that want to follow up and find out more about you or check out and connect, connect with you on LinkedIn or wherever else, where would you point them? How should people?


Tim Whitmire  51:51

Well, yeah, so I’m on I’m on LinkedIn, under under my own name. So and my my form is called CX down advisory. And we haven’t even talked about the part of the Harvard experience that informs that name. But I, I wrote crew from my first two years at Harvard, and so that, that experience, the CX N stands for Coxon because I sort of style myself as a Causton. For the management teams that I work with. And my experience growing was was really influential in that three thing as well. So n, and I’m on I’m on LinkedIn, under Tim wittmeyer. And I’m on Twitter under, I think it’s tr wittmeyer underscore OB T which is my s3 nickname.


Will Bachman  52:44

And I gotta ask because I don’t wanna leave this part out. Were there any courses or professors at Harvard that continue to resonate with you?


Tim Whitmire  52:55

Oh, boy, well, I know you. I knew you. And Gabrielle talked about Verlyn Klinkenborg. And I was I was in one of his creative writing classes. So that that certainly resonated and rollin was was kind of it was amazing. I, I can’t say that I’ve ever been as, as beautiful writer as Berlin is, but so that was cool. And then that my, my roommates, the guys that I’m still friends with all these years, three of us met in a class that George Dominguez taught on, on the Cuban Revolution. And it was sort of different counterfactual perspectives on the Cuban Revolution. And obviously, this was in the late 80s. So you’re talking about more than a quarter of a century afterwards. But it was sort of the first time I encountered sort of rigorous counterfactual thinking. And, and it was where I met my roommate, Alex’s Delos, who remains a close friend to this day. And Alex is Cuban American himself. So that was really cool. And so I think about that one, and then the other one that there was a visiting writer, who came over from Germany after the wall fell, and a guy named Panther Schneider, who was a novelist. And the thing I remember about this course, was that I guess word must have gotten out. And I was interested in Germany, I was a government major, and I was I was doing I was sort of did a lot of German government classes. And so I was interested because I was fascinated by post war Germany and the wall had just fallen. And I guess word got out among the football team that there was no final for this course. And that it was just a there was just like a final paper that you had to write. And so it was just it was me and a bunch of football players. And Schneider talking about about Berlin before For the wall fell and it was just testament to, to the ability of guys to seek out got got courses when they needed it all


Will Bachman  55:11

right. Tim, this has been a really powerful discussion. What you’ve done with building that organization of three is amazing. Thank you so much for joining today.


Tim Whitmire  55:22

Absolutely. My pleasure. I’ve enjoyed it. Well, thanks for doing this