Leaked Tough Mudder Document Sheds Light On Tough Mudder Case

Giles Chater - Managing Director UK Tough Mudder

At 12:50pm EST today a confidential source sent us the resignation letter from Giles Chater, the former head of UK Tough Mudder. One week ago, Giles sent the letter to Will Dean and several staff members listing his reasons for stepping down as Managing Director. The letter alleges Mr. Dean may be the reason the current Spartan acquisition is at an impasse, and paints Will Dean in a negative light.

Giles states in his letter  “Despite management’s best efforts you have refused to pursue one of these paths in good faith and have actively blocked our attempts to act in what we believed to be the best interest of creditors, customers, employees and wider stakeholders” He went on to say that Mr. Dean recently engaged in  “unacceptable behavior including harassment, threats, name-calling and vulgar language.”

According to additional sources we have been working with in the US and UK Offices, Will Dean may be the sole reason Tough Mudder is currently not open for business. They allege Mr. Dean’s behavior has been selfish and erratic, including the recent firing of  board member, Brad Dietz. Mr. Dietz was hired in March of 2019 as a “turnaround specialist” and from everything we’ve been hearing, had Tough Mudder trending in a healthy direction. Firing Mr. Dietz, and other recent alleged behavior caused the remaining board members to step down. This, in addition to several other factors, eventually led Kyle McLaughlin, American Tough Mudder CEO, to resign.

There is still unfinished business on many levels within this ordeal. There are three unpaid vendors who are attempting to put Tough Mudder into involuntary bankruptcy. Their goal was to have the Delaware Bankruptcy Court take the company out of Will Dean’s hands and put it into the hands of a Trustee who will take over the finances. The recent filing by the vendors and an additional filing by Spartan are requesting the courts have the Trustee put Joe in charge. Joe Desena told us his acquisition deal will “Put Kyle McLaughlin and his team back to work as soon as possible on Tough Mudder events”. Joe went on to tell us he hopes the court rule in his favor and said “my deal gets everyone paid, and allows the company to move forward”

Read the complete resignation letter below:

3rd January 2020

TO: CC:

William Dean, Director, TM Ltd Guy Livingstone

Tough Mudder Management Team Tough Mudder London Office Matthew Martin, Pennington Manches Frank Young

Dear Mr Dean

It is with deep regret that I write to inform you that I have no choice but to resign from my position as Managing Director, Europe, effective 12pm GMT today. Please accept this as my formal letter of resignation. In light of my recent experiences with yourself, as Director of TM Ltd, and shareholder(s), I consider my position untenable and feel obligated to resign under the conditions.

You have clearly, and repeatedly, been presented with viable options for preserving Tough Mudder as a going concern. Despite management’s best efforts you have refused to pursue one of these paths in good faith and have actively blocked our attempts to act in what we believed to be the best interest of creditors, customers, employees and wider stakeholders. Both by action and in writing you have refused to engage with multiple requests for governance and direction.

This refusal to engage with me, fulfil your duties as a Director and effectively provide governance to our organisation left me with no choice. Your callous contemptuous attitude towards our creditors, customers and employees is reprehensible. We have a clear duty to prioritise the interests of our creditors and in failing to do so you have placed me in a morally and professionally compromising position – continued occupancy of which may expose me to personal liability I’m unwilling to risk.

On numerous occasions I have witnessed, or been subject to, unacceptable behaviour including harassment, threats, name-calling and vulgar language. Requests to provide a safe working environment free from this behaviour were belittled or ignored.

Watching this business unnecessarily run into the ground has been excruciating. I have remained unwavering in my commitment to our creditors, customers and amazing team this year and resign as an absolute last resort.

I care deeply for this brand and the incredible community which has built up around it. I am truly heartbroken at the suffering this will cause for so many, not least our loyal talented employees and suppliers.

Please be advised I have set an external out-of-office directing people to you.

I reserve all rights and remedies available to me at any time under my employment agreement and applicable law in each case against and with respect to the Company and Director(s).

Giles Chater Managing Director Tough Mudder Ltd.

Read the most recent articles, and how we got to this point here.

Will Dean Forced Out Of Tough Mudder (And What Else Co-Founder Lawsuit Alleges)

**Update January 2020 – Click here to read the most up to date Tough Mudder news.

Stories have been circulating for months that Tough Mudder is in tough financial straits: vendors and race winners had not been paid, and TMHQ recently announced that there would be no prize money for any races in 2019.  Last week reports emerged about a lawsuit against Tough Mudder by one of its co-founders, and the complaint pulls back the curtain on the company’s strained balance sheets.

Guy Livingstone co-founded Tough Mudder with his friend Will Dean, who became the face of the company. Anyone who read Dean’s book “It Takes a Tribe” will recognize the name, but the book doesn’t discuss much of Livingstone’s role in the company. While I had assumed this omission had to do with the vanity-project nature of Dean’s book, it now appears that it was a sign of the crumbling relationship between the company’s founders.

The complaint outlines the company’s financial history, from its heyday in 2012 when it made a profit of $10 million, to its current state, where it relied on $18 million in outside financing to keep the operation going. A caveat: this complaint is clearly Livingstone’s side of the story. We have not seen Tough Mudder’s response, nor have the underlying financial documents been revealed. Still, the details are juicy.

According to Livingstone, he pulled back his involvement in the company in 2013, at which point the company started to falter. Tough Mudder was eventually bailed out by Active Network LLC. You will recognize the name from your credit card statement if you have signed up for a local 5K, an Ironman, or any number of other athletic events.

Over the next few years, Tough Mudder went deeper and deeper into debt to Active. At the end of last year, Active tried to find a buyer for Tough Mudder, and when it failed, it moved on to a more aggressive plan: in exchange for its debt, it took control of the company and forced Dean to resign. The litigation stems in part from the terms of Dean’s severance package. Tough Mudder was owned by Dean and Livingstone, 60/40. According to the lawsuit, Dean negotiated his exit without Livingstone’s knowledge or consent, handing over his control to Active.

What does this mean for the average weekend racer? Ironically, all this bad news for two wealthy Englishmen could be good news for the rest of us. Unlike the original Tough Mudder, a scrappy startup with a stubborn leader, Active is a big company. Most of it was recently sold for $1.2 billion to Global Payments Inc., a multi-billion dollar payments conglomerate. This means that Tough Mudder is now controlled by a company with deep pockets owned by a bigger company with even deeper pockets. They have already made changes: a new president took over at TMHQ, Kyle McLaughlin.

Mr. McLaughlin appears to have a strong background in events management and doesn’t seem as interested in promoting himself the way Dean did. If he can right the ship, Tough Mudder could have a future. The flip side is that the company is now controlled by people at a greater distance from the product and who have no history in the sport of OCR. Should Tough Mudder fail to break even this year, even without handing out prize money, the new overlords might find it easier to pull the plug. They will also need to find a way to resolve what could be a very expensive judgment against the company in the form of Livingstone’s lawsuit.

We have scheduled an upcoming podcast breaking down this even further in the coming days.


Tough Mudder Unveils New 2018 Obstacles

TOUGH MUDDER UNVEILS 2018 NEW OBSTACLES

 

3+ Million Participants to Receive a ‘Happy Ending’ on Biggest Challenge in Obstacle Course Racing History

 

BROOKLYN, NY (January 11, 2018) – Famous for the company’s epic Innovation Lab, Tough Mudder Inc., the leading sports, active lifestyle and media brand, announced today its revolutionary twist on obstacles for the 2018 event season by unveiling the biggest structure to ever hit the obstacle course racing industry, Happy Ending, presented by Merrell, and Kong Infinity, the first obstacle in company history to be designed by members of the global tribe of more than 3 million Mudders. The company also revealed the iconic “Vault” obstacles (previously retired) coming back to course in 2018.

 

A physical embodiment of the organization’s 2018 yearlong “Tougher Together” campaign, Happy Ending is the new Tough Mudder Finisher Obstacle requiring teamwork by participants of all levels. Sitting at nearly 25 feet tall and over 80 feet wide and 100 feet long, it marks the biggest structure ever featured on course. To complete Happy Ending, participants must climb and push their way up an angled structure (40 degrees) creating human pyramids as they ladder over one another up multiple slippery inclines. At the summit, participants then dive feet-first down a 30 foot slide into a water pit.

Dedicated to the development of new products and entry points that enable millions of people to be part of Mudder Nation, Happy Ending brings participants together no matter the person’s athletic ability, the number of events run or event (Tough Mudder Full 10 miles; or Tough Mudder Half 5 miles). Teamwork and camaraderie – the Tough Mudder spirit – will be felt as participants cross the Finish line together.

 

Tough Mudder is an inclusive brand committed to connecting people. As a global tribe, we break down social barriers such as race, religion and politics. By using our sport as a vehicle for change, our events highlight the everyday heroes and elite athletes who together bring positive transformation worldwide,” said Will Dean, Tough Mudder, Inc. CEO and Co-Founder. “We look forward to welcoming thousands of new and returning participants to Mudder Nation in 2018 to face these challenges together – from completing the best-in-class obstacles on course to overcoming issues off. We remain dedicated to engineering ways to challenge our participants, both physically and mentally, all while giving millions of people a ‘Happy Ending’ and creating an exciting environment that showcases how we are stronger when we are united.

 

Happy Ending replaces the infamous Electroshock Therapy (EST) obstacle in which participants ran through dangling electrified wires. Although EST is “retiring” as a finisher challenge, it will transition to the Tough Mudder Full (10-mile) course and will be optional for all participants via bypass lanes – as not all are ready to get shocked with 10,000 volts.

 

Participants who are looking for a new shocking challenge may choose to exit Happy Ending by sliding down Third Rail – the bonus electricity challenge featuring more than 10,000 volts hanging from wires on a 30-foot slide into a pit of water. This optional challenge is for the bravest of all participants. Those not wishing to give it a shock – shot – may slide down the regular Happy Ending exit.

 

Tough Mudder is making a concerted effort to invest in Tough Mudder Half to provide accessible, yet rewarding experiences, to so many runners and outdoor enthusiasts who are not being challenged or excited by ordinary runs or half marathons,” said Dean. “From people who have never tried a mud run to seasoned Legionnaires who would like to bring friends, the Tough Mudder Half events serve as unique entry points to the world of obstacle course races and exclude the more extreme elements like fire and ice, in addition to making electricity completely optional. Tough Mudder’s commitment to innovation and dedication to enhance short distance challenges further positions the company as a global leader in the active lifestyle and sports categories.

Kong-Infinity – Obstacle Design Challenge Winning Obstacle

2018 marks the first year a Tough Mudder Obstacle Design Challenge winning innovation will be featured on course globally. A literal “spin” off of the iconic Kong obstacle, Kong Infinity is engineered to test even the most experienced Tough Mudders by being one of the most technically challenging obstacles on course. Requiring upper body strength and agility, participants start by climbing a 15-foot structure to reach a barrel which has handles fixed around its circumference on a set of tracks suspended more than 20 feet off the ground. By using momentum, participants rotate the barrel along the tracks to the other side. Kong-Infinity was designed by Ross Munro and Jonny McDonald of Glasgow, U.K.

For the first time since its inception in 2016, Kong, the giant, 30-foot obstacle in which participants swing like Tarzan, traversing from one floating ring to another, will be featured on the Tough Mudder Full course where everyone will have the opportunity to conquer this massive challenge.

 

Tough Mudder Vault

To celebrate Tough Mudder’s long and epic history of obstacle innovation, the company wants Mudder Nation to select which obstacles will return to course in 2018. The company unveiled the 25 historic obstacles Mudder Nation may vote on today through Friday, Jan. 26 at ToughMudder.com/obstacles. The winning “Vault” obstacles will be unveiled Feb. 5 with two-to-three historic challenges featured on every course in 2018 giving participants the chance to relive their favorite classics or for new Mudders, the chance to experience the best obstacles Tough Mudder has had to offer. A full list of the 25 obstacles is available online at ToughMudder.com/obstacles.

As an upgrade to the Vault obstacles for Legionnaires, participants who have completed multiple events, every course will have mystery vault features designed specifically for the Mudder Legion that include unique, never-before-seen modifications and design elements. Another Legionnaire-only obstacle coming to course is T-Boned – an added challenge to the classic Skidmarked, a slanted 10-foot wall. Participant’s upper body strength will be put to the test with an added twist of a 90-degree horizontal ledge to overcome 9 feet off the ground.

 

3 Million Mudders

With more than 3 million participants to date across five continents, Tough Mudder has offerings ranging from accessible yet rewarding challenges, such as Tough Mudder Half (five-mile event excluding fire, ice, and electricity), to competitive events, such as Tough Mudder X (the toughest mile on the planet), and World’s Toughest Mudder (24-hour endurance event).

This year, Tough Mudder, Inc. and its licensees will host an unprecedented 150+ events across nearly a dozen countries, such as the United States, The United Kingdom, Germany, Australia, United Arab Emirates, Canada and two new countries, South Africa, Philippines, welcoming participants worldwide into a global community that lives courage, personal accomplishment, teamwork and fun.

For more information on the 2018 Tough Mudder obstacles, or to purchase tickets to 2018 Tough Mudder events, visit ToughMudder.com.

 

 

About Tough Mudder, Inc.:

Founded in 2010 with the launch of the Tough Mudder obstacle course event series, Tough Mudder Inc. has become a leading global sports, active lifestyle and media brand. With more than 3 million participants, the company hosts more than 130 non-competitive (Mini Mudder; Tough Mudder 5K, Tough Mudder Half, and Tough Mudder Full) and competitive (Tougher, Toughest, Tough Mudder X and World’s Toughest Mudder) events annually in 11 countries including China, Dubai, Indonesia, and Australia through its partnerships with IMG, Seroja and Sports Media and Entertainment 360 (SME360). The company’s content arm provides the more than millions of engaged online brand enthusiasts with fitness, nutrition, and wellness content delivered daily across social and digital platforms. Tough Mudder broadcast, OTT and Live Stream programming can be seen worldwide through partnerships with CBS Sports, Facebook, Sky Sports, The CW Network and ESPN Media Distribution. Other sponsorship and distribution partners include Merrell, Amazon, KILL CLIFF, Jeep, Aflac, Guinness, Vega, Samsung, Olympus, Lucozade Sport, Nexcare, For Goodness Shakes, Bosch, TREK, Head & Shoulders, L’Oreal Men Expert, Käserei Loose, Snapchat and Live Stream.

 

Tough Mudder CEO Will Dean writes “It Takes a Tribe”

In the tradition of CEOs penning their memoirs while their companies are still growing, the founder of Tough Mudder has written “It Takes a Tribe: Building the Tough Mudder Movement”  which outlines where the company came from, explains why it is such a success and hints at where it might go in the future.

These books can be a branding exercise – I know that I got handed more than one free copy of Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh’s “Delivering Happiness”, which combined the up-from-nothing story of his company with a manifesto about how and why his company was so great. It has never been clear to me who exactly is the intended audience of this genre: MBA students? Potential investors? Prospective mid-level employees? They tend to be an easy read and provide a polished PR version of the company and its origins, but the format can be predictable.

There is one clear audience for these books: superfans. If you love Tough Mudder, you will love reading about how it came to be. “It Takes a Tribe” provides the inside scoop on how Will Dean turned his idea into a successful brand, how he helped create an industry that had not existed before, and how he has changed the lives of many who have joined Mudder Nation.

Happily, I may be something of a Tough Mudder fanboy, so I thoroughly enjoyed this behind-the-scenes look at TM’s origin story. And since I am a fanboy, I had heard many of the stories before, but it was entertaining to hear them again, and it was good to get Dean’s spin on many of the company legends.

In particular, it was fascinating to get Dean’s version what I think of as OCR’s Original Sin, the controversy over Dean’s using the concepts developed at the Tough Guy race by its creator “Mr. Mouse” and applying them to the Harvard Business School project that later became Tough Mudder. For those not familiar with the story, you may wish to watch Rise of the Sufferfests by Scott Keneally (which you should watch regardless, as it is a great documentary). The outline of the story is that Dean observed the Tough Guy event, consulted with Mr. Mouse and then built on those ideas to create Tough Mudder. Mr. Mouse sued and Harvard took Dean to task for violating the “Harvard Business School Community Values of ‘honesty and integrity’ and ‘accountability’”(and yes, if you find the concept of Harvard Business School trying to shame one of its graduates over ethics to be comical, you are not alone).

I had heard this narrative in Keneally’s film and in other sources, but for the first time in “It Takes a Tribe,” I got to see Dean’s side of the story. His version is convincing, but more than that the reader learns about the personal toll the litigation took on Dean and his colleagues. Dean also gets the opportunity to snipe about Harvard Business School days and his shabby treatment by the school after he graduated.

Dean is the tall Englishman on the right.

On the one hand, Dean does not hold back about his opinions about Harvard and his fellow HBS students. Similarly, he is not silent about his opinions of his former employers at the British Foreign Office, where he had a brief career before moving to the US. On the other hand, he frequently cites his experiences at both institutions in this book and uses them to demonstrate lesson after lesson about how he has used those experiences to make Tough Mudder the company it has become.

Like all MBAs who become CEOs, he compares himself with other entrepreneurs he admires, mostly ones he has worked with over the years. Of course, every entrepreneur wants to be compared to Steve Jobs, who gets name checked in the book more than once. In reality, Dean’s counterpart is, instead, Bill Gates: driven by numbers, looking years down the road, but not as obviously a genius. Dean has worked hard and kept focus, and his company has made steady, relentless growth by careful analysis and cautious progress. The bright orange obstacles with the cheeky names are thoroughly tested, tweaked, and re-launched to maximize the challenge they offer and to keep the customers returning. A very MBA approach to numbers guides everything the company does, and its success might be a tribute to that Harvard Business School education that keeps Dean so conflicted.

There is an obvious companion to “It Takes a Tribe,” namely Spartan founder and CEO Joe De Sena’s book “Spartan Up!” In fact, a recent search on Amazon has the two books listed under “Frequently Bought Together.” The two books are good representations of both CEOs and both brands. Dean’s book involves less derring-do, fewer personal exploits, and less lecturing. “Spartan Up!” also glosses over Spartan’s own Original Sin, its treatment of early Spartan superstar Hobie Call.  Both books include profiles of people whose lives have been changed by taking part in these events, and those who love transformation stories will get their fill in either book.

As the two dominant brands in OCR grow, they appear to be coming closer together. Tough Mudder was founded as a challenge-not-a-race, but the past few years have seen the introduction of competitive events from Tough Mudder ready for TV broadcast. Likewise, the fiercely individual Spartan Races have been emphasizing the role of teamwork in their summer reality series Spartan Ultimate Team Challenge. Both brands have launched exercise classes, Tough Mudder Bootcamp and Spartan Strong. Both have major clothing sponsors and both are expanding overseas. While their offerings start to converge, having a book like “It Takes a Tribe” will be a useful way to remember how the two companies and their founders are profoundly different.

Check out Will Dean on our Obstacle Racing Media podcast here

Will Dean


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Once upon a time, I only got an audience with Sir Will for about 15 minutes every year at World’s Toughest. Nowadays, we are, dare I say, mates. We caught up in person at TMX in Minnesota, and set up this skype call soon after. Will and I talk about:

  • How the first TMX went and future plans for it.
  • Sponsored athletes.
  • What celebrities he gets confused with.
  • New countries for Tough Mudder events.
  • Some of the ups and downs of being at the top.
  • Much more.

Todays Podcast is sponsored by:

Original Warrior Pak is the online, one stop shop for all your OCR needs. So get your Blood, Sweat and Gear at OriginalWarriorPak.com

Show Notes:

Order Will Dean’s New Book

Listen using the player below or the iTunes/Stitcher links at the top of this page.