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Interview: James Carkulis CEO of Exergy Development Group
 
By Imelda March
Date: 1/12/2012
Interview: James Carkulis CEO of Exergy Development Group
 
Exergy Development Group is a renewable energy company entrenched in wind, solar, bioenergy, geothermal and hydro. The company is no stranger to the cycling world, this time they have extended sponsorship to the women’s peloton in the Exergy TWENTY 12 women’s professional bicycle racing team.

James Carkulis CEO of Exergy Development Group was generous to provide some time to answer questions for the Daily Peloton Cycling News and to comment about having a female bicycle team as part of their sponsorship portfolio.

DP: What considerations did Exergy Development Group take into account when deciding to come on board as a title sponsor in the women’s bicycle racing scene?

James Carkulis: When asked to become involved in the female side of the sport, it seemed like a logical progression for Exergy. We looked at what we had accomplished in the men’s side of the sport with our first year pro team in 2011. Team Exergy garnered a lot of attention due to their approach and performance both on and off the road. We also believe our company’s methodologies assisted in heightening awareness of professional cycling overall in the US. Unfortunately, in our due diligence as to whether we should also enter the ladies forum, we were rather astonished at the discrepancies that exist between the genders. We got to know some of the exemplary women that made up the world of women’s cycling, and we decided to take a stand for them. Besides, on a personal note, I am the father of three young women about to enter the world. Personally, what I do here is in part a symbolic way to honor them. It is my small way as a father to at least try to make some small fracture in the status quo in a world that still allows some very egregious gender biases.

DP: In the last few months professional women’s cycling has been plagued with bad news: reduction in the number teams, sponsors reducing/eliminating support to women’s cycling, lack of pay scale such as minimum wage, women’s cycling not being as exciting as the men’s racing and the list goes on and on -- What inspired your company/you to sponsor a female bicycle racing team?

JC: We were asked by the ladies if we would support them. As per the previous question, it seemed like a natural progression for Exergy. However, the catalyst which cemented us to support a female professional cycling team actually occurred during the US Pro Cycling Challenge. We traveled to Colorado that week to follow and support our men’s squad. During the men’s spectacular Stage 2 event in Aspen, the ladies were finishing up a 3-day event. All of the spectators who were on hand for the men's finish witnessed the ladies race that was put together by a well known Aspen resident, Jessica Phillips (now Van Garderen). Yet, in the newspaper the next day, not one word on the ladies’ race. We were astounded, and made a fundamental decision to change this dismissive backdrop.

As to a decline in the female side of the sport, we simply shall not cater to the notion. Granted, the parity issue, when it comes to sports, is often misconstrued. Men and women are different, thank goodness. However, competition is competition, and all competition is exciting. If women’s races are perceived as less exciting, it is simply due to less money for women’s events; hence, fewer women can afford to be involved in the sport than men, making for a smaller peloton in any race.

DP: In the media world, television exposure remains king -- are you concerned that women’s professional cycling teams do not receive television exposure?

JC: Absolutely. Media is expensive; women's cycling has been living on a shoestring budget. Exergy plans to be one of the catalysts to change this. I would also urge media to take the lead here and offer resources to challenge this shortcoming. It would be to their advantage.

DP: As a sponsor what is it that you want to see from a team and the other partnerships involved to keep returning as a future sponsor?

JC: Winning is a very appropriate outcome. However, so are ethics combined with enthusiastic discipline to the sport, plus team harmony, dignity, and sacrifice. Equally important are these same ethics and traits in the Team's off-road presence.

Exergy's involvement in women’s cycling is predicated on establishing an expanded awareness of cycling in general and elevating the female side of the sport. We trust our partners are similarly principled and motivated.

DP: If you could talk to others looking to invest in marketing their firm, what would you tell your peers who are afraid to put resources toward women’s bicycle racing?

JC: When we were approached to invest in women's cycling, we performed a non-algorithmic poll asking to give us five names in women's professional sports. Outside of soccer and tennis, the only other venue which rose to any level of consistent response was cycling. Women cyclists are remarkably unique to sports in general. Most have overlapping careers, primarily due to the modest monetary returns in cycling. Nearly all are college educated, are professionals in their vocations, are intelligent and driven; yet find the time to compete on an international scale. These are extraordinary athletes. They deserve to be supported.

DP: How important is social media in your marketing plans? Is it part of your marketing media mix?

JC: Yes, information is now broadcast globally in the blink of the eye. Social media is allowing audiences to rendezvous with an event instantaneously through streaming video and messaging from a infinite number of cycling venues. Our Teams have actually educated us as to the importance of this media.

DP: Social Media marketing has caught on like wild fire; has the Exergy Development Group placed directives to your support recipients to actively use this medium? Yes/No, if no why not?

JC: Our teams are a lot cleverer than us and already utilize social media expansively.

As a sponsor, social media is the most efficient conduit by the Teams to have interaction with supporters, sponsors, media, and the public in general. As a company, we encourage this interaction.

DP: Exergy Development group is very active in the philanthropy arena, so how does your company define giving back to the community?

JC: Giving back to the community is as simple as finding a need and filling it. The fabric of a corporation is only as solid as what those who have no affiliations with that corporation say about it. We work for a strong fabric.

DP: What expectations do you have of your new family member Team Exergy TWENTY 12 when it comes to giving back to communities? What things you want to see them participate in/plan and/or execute?

JC: Both of our teams are focused on youth development. We expect Exergy Twenty 12’s presence wherever they can build awareness of the sport. But of more import is to make a difference in communities where they are racing and living. While Exergy may make suggestions, it is incumbent on them to investigate and decide on the best approach to fit our philosophy, find a need and fill it.

DP: With wind and renewable energy (excluding hydro) experiencing growth in Europe, Asia, and the United States; how do you expect to build awareness to groups who do not understand your industry and what role does cycling play in the awareness building campaign?

JC: Our name is becoming more synonymous with renewable energy. That recognition is accelerated with our efforts in the cycling arena. Make no mistake, this is part of our brand building, advertising, and marketing campaign for our company, but what a great visceral and visual expression.

DP: Women cycling sponsorship seem to be short lived, could we expect to see your name affiliated with women’s cycling all the way through Rio 2016?

JC: Yes

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About the author: An experienced racer, Imelda March lives in Chicago and is a member of Team Kenda. She is a frequent contributor to The Daily Peloton Cycling News team, reporting on women’s cycling news and general peloton ramblings. She also holds an MBA, is a marketing strategy expert and a social media team member/contributor to the Chicago chapter of the American Marketing Association.

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