Eric Gutknecht, CEO of Continental Sausage, makers of CharcutNuvo products, was working as a management consultant in Dallas in 1998 when he fell into his intense passion. “I was bored because there isn’t anything to do in Texas,” he explains. So Gutknecht taught himself to swim on a whim, and entered a sprint triathlon.
The entrepreneur came out of his first 500-meter swim with folks who’d started two waves behind him. His girlfriend at the time — now his wife and the company’s CFO, Jessica Gutknecht — was worried he’d drowned. “I was dead last in my age group, but caught up a little on the bike ride,” Gutknecht says. He was hardly deterred by his performance; in fact, he says, “I was hooked.”
Gutknecht graduated from minis to full triathlons, and has completed over 100, including four Ironman competitions, which are widely considered one of the most grueling one-day sporting events in the world, consisting of a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and a 26.2-mile marathon, in that order. Ironman training is time-consuming, and Eric awakes every morning at 3 a.m. to ensure his workouts won’t compromise valuable time with his family.
Gutknecht’s Ironman induction was in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho in 2008. “The water there was freezing cold, and I tore my calf muscle,” he recalls. Injury aside, that competition gave Gutknecht the confidence he needed to reach for the Ironman World Championship, held yearly in Hawaii.
In 2012, he made it to Kona, after qualifying with two triathlons in six weeks. “The thing about Kona is that everything about the race is hard,” Gutknecht says, explaining, “It’s the best of the best: Everyone’s fast, and the swimming is totally violent. The bike is the hardest bike on the circuit and the run is through lava fields.”
Racing Kona — or any triathlon, for that matter — isn’t so different from running a thriving food business. Since taking over the family biz in 2003, the Gutknechts have grown Continental Sausage by 500 percent.
The challenges of negotiating triathlon transitions and enduring a long race certainly made Gutknecht more apt for that success. “You look at processes, and every little second counts,” he says, offering, “If you’re packaging sausage, it really matters how many steps you make.”
A busy work schedule — including a massive company rebrand — hasn’t quelled Gutknecht’s competitive spirit. He recently raced the Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon, and is currently trying to qualify for the USA National Team.