Video: Company combat

By Mike Hegedus Special Features Correspondent
CNBC
updated 3/1/2005 1:53:19 PM ET 2005-03-01T18:53:19

If it looks like a tank, and drives like a tank — then it must be a tank. And that’s what one Texas businessman has decided is exactly what corporate America needs — the opportunity to drive tanks.

Texan David Estes made his money — and a lot of it — in the heavy equipment business. So when he got bored and decided he wanted to start something new his thoughts turned too: what else.

It's all about corporate team building — a near half-billion-dollar industry. Estes plans to get his share of the market. And he has the armor to back him up.

It could be a scene from along the road to Baghdad. Or the road to Hue, Vietnam. Or Bastogne, France. But's not.

“The concept is a little bizarre,” said Estes. “It's kind of hard to relay.”

A 264-acre facility outside Sherman, Texas owned by Estes, is home to the 13th Mechanized Armor Group — his own private tank battalion. Some 22 British (mostly Abbott) tanks are being driven around — not by folks looking to invade Louisiana — but by the likes of Sue Brion, director of sales at ASD Healthcare. Her assessment of the experience?

“It drives like a tank,” she said.

In fact, on a recent visit, every one of these tanks — 55 tons apiece — is being driven by someone from ASD — a division of the Forturne 25's AmerisourceBergen Corp., a major pharmaceutical distributor. It’s part of a corporate team-building outing.

That's Estes' real business — Tactical Tanks — one a scores of firms that get business types out of their offices — and out of their element — to test and teach real world skills.

“I can really see confidence growing in these folks,” said ASD Heathcare Executive Vice President Neil Herson. “Folks that have been driving these tanks, never driven one in their lives, walking off the tanks all excited. It's amazing.”

“It's about leveraging our leadership and working together as teams,” said Michael Clarke, ASD Healthcare’s national accounts director.

Teams are picked at random and given shared tasks over a full day’s outing, including seven hours of “seat” time. Mock exercises include attacking a mine field or finding a downed U.S. pilot or weapons of mass destruction. (They’ve never found those here either.) Each team member takes turns serving as driver, navigator, and communications officer — no matter what their business title is.

Open less than a year, Estes spent $1.5 million to get Tactical Tanks started. Each tank, which runs at about 12 miles an hour, goes for an average of $30,000 bucks. British armor is less expensive and more accessible than the American stuff. The cost to do take one for a spin? For a group of 12, the outing will run you $15,000.

“I was one pushing to do NASCAR at Texas Motor Speedway,” said Clarke. “But this is much better — much better as a team.”

'It was empowering to know that I was in charge,” said Brion. “And that it was my boss and that I was driving his tank. So I had to do a dad-gummed good job.”

Corporate team building in tanks may help these folks learn to communicate when it counts. But there is something comforting in knowing that even in a tank, you can get bogged down in corporate mud.

Estes plans to buy more tanks for his Texas operation. And he has expansion plans. He's looking to open up a similar team-building tank operation in California.

© 2012 CNBC, Inc. All Rights Reserved

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