Like many people, Mark goes on a hike when he needs to quiet his mind.
But what makes him different is that he takes hundreds of people with him. Even if that hike is in the Grand Canyon. Or Iceland.
It’s all part of the wellness program he launched at Truist, inspiring teammates to improve not just their physical health, but their mental and spiritual well-being as well. They meet in person and in a chat room, exchanging messages and photos of their progress—and their stumbling blocks. They’ve become friends. They’ve tried new things. They’ve inspired one another.
It’s improved their health. And their lives.
Once a cheerleader …
Mark has been in banking for all his career and with Truist for nine years. He learned how to inspire by watching his father, who was a minister and an Army chaplain. “When I saw my father preaching, he taught me a lot: be passionate about what your mission is, be authentic. I could see how he impacted people’s personal lives by his servant-leader mission,” Mark says.
In college, a friend suggested Mark join her on the cheerleading squad. He hesitated at first, but ultimately accepted the invitation. He took to it, surprised and delighted by how physical a sport cheerleading can be. By Mark’s senior year, he was the captain, his team top-two in the nation. “My dad used to say I majored in cheerleading,” laughs Mark.
In a way, he did. He learned things about teamwork that he took with him to the corporate world, like “how to get in front of a crowd, how to energize people. The best class I ever took in college was cheerleading.”
Energy and inspiration for more life
Mark describes these past nine years with Truist as an incredible journey, in part because he’s gotten the support to further his personal purpose: Energy and inspiration for more life. Truist encouraged him in his work with veterans; he’s been the co-chair of the Carolina Veterans Resource Center , and he was one of the Truist teammates who worked on giving a mortgage-free home to a Marine in 2022.
“If I’m going to get involved with something, I want to really make an impact. It’s not for my resume or social media profile. I want to do something big,” he says.
His work with another nonprofit, Veterans Bridge Home, led to something big—an opportunity to skydive with the Golden Knights. “They’re like the Navy SEALS of parachuting,” he says. The day before he was scheduled to do it, he got a call from the nonprofit. “Your CEO’s going to jump with you tomorrow,” they told him.
Mark says, “When I first learned that [Truist CEO] Bill Rogers was coming along, I didn’t believe it at first. I got a little nervous. But then I said, ‘This is going to be a great opportunity because Bill and I are joining forces for a great cause, and that’s our veterans.’”
When the jump was over, Bill handed Mark a Truist challenge coin. “In the veteran world, any time you accomplish something great, they hand you a challenge coin. It was very meaningful to get that coin from Bill Rogers.”
Mark’s dad is the inspiration for another cause he’s passionate about: heart health. After he lost his father to a stroke, Mark became a campaign executive with the American Heart Association. You can find him front and center at local heart walks. Promoting heart health aligns with his purpose. “I think of myself as a kind of ambassador of wellness,” he says. “There are so many things that I want to accomplish, with veterans and with wellness, and Truist gives me the support to do them.”
And that’s why he began a wellness initiative with his teammates.
Inspiring one another
Each year, Truist surveys teammates, asking what the company could do better. A few years ago, the annual survey revealed that teammates wanted to further their well-being. Truist knew it needed to take steps to energize teammates. Mark’s manager, Pat, knew the man who would take not just steps, but leaps and bounds.
“He has a ton of energy,” Pat says. “He’s just a very positive, caring human being.” Pat knew Mark’s personality made him the right person to begin a wellness initiative in their department—so much so that he joined it himself.
“I joined Mark’s wellness group to support him,” says Pat. “But as I got into it, I really started to embrace the vision that he had to grow people’s physical well-being, and it really helped me along that journey.”
In the beginning, the group took hikes. “Each one was a little longer, a little more impressive,” says Mark. His enthusiasm caught on, and the program reached a wider audience at Truist. Senior leaders began participating in events and challenges, which became not just about physical wellness but also mental well-being.
“You didn’t have to be this athlete. You could read, you could plant flowers, you could do anything that interested you and took your mind away,” says Truist teammate Marta. “I actually took up gardening. It’s something that I thought I would never do, but I did. I showed off my perennial flowers in one challenge.”
Bringing it home
The group took off. Just as Mark was getting prepared to expand it, COVID-19 came along, and teammates were sent home.
Undaunted, Mark kept the wellness program going by starting a group on social media for teammates.
“I just started sharing things like, ‘I had a great hike today,’ and other people would chime in with their accomplishments,” he says.
And again, the challenges weren’t just physical. To calm nerves, the group challenged each other to read a book, meditate, or spend an hour with a pet. By year’s end, they had conquered more than 50 mental and physical challenges.
“The group made me feel connected,” says Truist teammate Laurie. “I always work out and keep fit, but I really needed that connection with other people.” She was inspired by trying new challenges, like cooking a new healthy dish.
Pat got lots of positive feedback about the wellness group. “There was a lady who came up to me and said, ‘Hey, you don’t know me, but I’ve lost like 30, 40 pounds. I walked my first mile. I’d never walked a mile.’”
For Marta, the group made her feel more open about expressing who she is. “Mark encouraged me to be my true self,” she says. “I was able to be an out lesbian person for the first time in 20 years.”
The initiative impacted more than their personal lives—it changed their outlook at work, too. They feel more familiar with their teammates. When an email arrives from outside their department, it’s sometimes from a person in the wellness group. That email is no longer from someone with a problem to be solved. It’s from the man who likes to ride bikes or the woman who’s read 25 books this year.
“Participating in these challenges has really brought us together,” says Pat. “It’s allowed me to have different conversations with our teammates, to be able to talk about their physical well-being as opposed to work stuff. It’s been really good to build a better bond between us.”
From the mountains to the canyons
As for Mark, he continues to take the challenges to a new level. He’s summited Mount Kilimanjaro and hiked the Grand Canyon and the Half Dome of Yosemite, sharing it all with the group. His most recent endeavor was what he calls the Fire and Ice challenge in Iceland, walking more than 50 miles of the Laugavegur Trail. He was there for 30 days; group members did their own challenges at home for those 30 days.
And he wants to continue to expand the well-being group. He feels it’s his calling. “I’m taking teammates out of the office to clear our minds and deepen our relationships with each other. I feel like the ambassador for well-being, for teammates and for veterans in my community.
“I want to make a difference in people’s lives in an area that really matters: health and well-being.”