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Just Running with It

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As co-founder and CEO of Newton Running, Jerry Lee ’73 strives to provide his employees with a pleasant work environment. “I’m a dog lover and knew I wanted to create a culture people were comfortable with. I thought, ‘Why not bring my dog to the office?’” What started with his Saint Bernard, Isaac, became an officewide policy, with as many as eight dogs in the office on a given day. “Dogs make people smile and feel good, but we did have to establish ‘doggie rules’ to ensure everyone’s safety.” The “Dogs of Newton” are now a popular feature on the company’s social media pages. 

When Jerry Lee ’73 started running a block at a time to improve his health, he had no idea the exercise regimen would one day change his life — and the lives of many others.

A former tax accountant, Lee has worked in real estate development for 30 years, including as president of W.W. Reynolds and founder of his own company, Lee Real Estate, in Boulder, Colorado. However, that industry is only part of his story.

In 1993, one of Lee’s tenants — a locally renowned custom orthotics provider — invited him to invest in the development of a new running shoe designed to encourage a more natural mid-foot strike. Already an avid runner and marathoner, Lee was intrigued by the concept and provided $100,000 for start-up costs.

Fourteen years later, Newton Running sold its first shoe. Lee admits it was a challenge for some guys in a garage with an idea to break into the market against established names like Nike and Reebok. Fortunately, the age of the Internet helped the fledgling company build a customer base outside its hometown of Boulder. Today, Newtons — famous for their neon-color combinations and light weight — are the shoe of choice for many runners around the world, and the company serves as the official footwear and run course sponsor of IRONMAN® in the United States. 

Since its inception, Lee insisted Newton stand for something more than just an innovative running shoe. As one of 15 children in a low-income household, he emphasized the importance of giving back to organizations like those that helped his family. That dedication to philanthropy remains a pillar of the company, with Lee’s daughter, Wendy, currently serving as Newton’s director of social responsibility. 

Over the years, Newton has supported research of prostate cancer, which Lee survived in 2006, as well as the IRONMAN Foundation. It has donated thousands of pairs of shoes for distribution to needy children, wounded veterans and other similar programs. In 2012, Lee accepted the Glen and Mildred Robbins Leet Humanitarian Award from Trickle Up, a nonprofit committed to alleviating poverty, on Newton’s behalf.

“I tasked my daughter with finding a company we could help,” Lee explained of their work with Trickle Up. “I asked her to focus on people below the poverty line and outside our country. She came back with Trickle Up.”

This February, Lee returned to the Hilltop for the first time in more than 20 years. He was the guest speaker for the 2014 Bradley Fit Fair, a health and wellness event he described as “unbelievably fantastic.”

Inducted into the Boulder County Business Hall of Fame in 2009, Lee has a reputation for philanthropic work in that area, including serving more than a decade on the Boulder Urban Renewal Board. 

When asked about the most gratifying aspect of his involvement with Newton, his answer came easily and with a smile: “I experienced it just five minutes before my speech at the Fit Fair when two professors walked up and said I changed their lives. Our shoes made it possible for them to run again … to follow their passion again. That, and working with 65 people with as much passion for the product as I have.”

— Clara Miles, MA ’05
Photography by Duane Zehr