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Competition Moves From Boardroom to Board Games


To hear the folks at Point Mugu Naval Air Station tell it, Amgen is going down.

The Navy employees are gearing up for this year's 11th annual Corporate Games, an Olympics-style series of athletic--and not-so-athletic--events designed to foster camaraderie among Ventura County's business community.

Amgen, the county's largest private employer, has won the event four years running. The naval air station, the county's second-largest employer, has yet to torpedo Amgen, but a team can hope.

"We plan to beat them this year," said Navy employee Bill Flothmeier. "We say that every year, but this year we'll do it."

Between April 15 and May 20, the city of Ventura will host the countywide competition, which includes surfing, darts, volleyball, basketball, running and board games.

The events attract all sorts, from graphics firms to insurance companies, mail room workers to CEOs. Past participants include Kinko's, St. John's Regional Medical Center and All State Insurance.

"It just touches every facet of business," said Eric Burton, the city's community services supervisor, who launched the games.

And participation is on the rise, he said. This year, about 60 companies are expected to field teams.

Burton said companies participate over and over, not just for fun but because the games help employees work as a team on or off the field.

"We have some blue-chip companies that participate

in this thing every year," he said. "I think that it shows why they're blue-chip companies. The CEO understands the value of the employee, and they go to these lengths to make sure their employees get involved."


On the field, CEOs become indistinguishable from their underlings. People who are usually in business suits are "out there sweatin' and gruntin' and groanin'," said John Candelaria, marketing manager for Jano Graphics, a commercial print company that sponsors and participates in the games.

The cost to participate ranges from $400 for a company with 10 to 60 employees to $1,000 for a company that employs more than 250.

Teams are divided into four divisions, depending on size. No fair sending the little insurance agency up against the mega-corporation, Burton said.

And competition can be brutal.

Amgen, the Thousand Oaks-based biotech giant, is known for having an arsenal of tough athletes who sometimes deliver near-professional times and scores.

"Everyone's out to beat us," said James Bircher, a quality assurance specialist at Amgen. "I think we're at an advantage because we have such a large pool of people to pull from. People at Amgen are pretty competitive in nature."


Although Bircher said that a smaller, Conejo version of the games began recently, he and his co-workers will again be making the trek to Ventura for this year's competition.

Up for grabs in each division is a host of awards, including what Burton calls the "bragging rights trophy," which the top team keeps for a year.

But Burton's favorite award is a trophy for team unity, which goes to the group that shows up for all the events, waves banners and cheers the most.

That's the real idea behind the games, he said.

Whether teams crush the competition or suffer brutal losses doesn't really matter to many companies. They still stand around at the water cooler the next morning and recount the previous day's adventure.

Or they talk about what went wrong.

Last year, Candelaria thought Jano Graphic's basketball team would stomp a team of five DJs from a local radio station.

"They wiped us out," he said. "I don't even want to remember the score. We'll never live that one down."



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