Brian Leigh Maxwell (1953, London, England – March 19, 2004, San Anselmo, California) was a Canadian athlete, track coach, entrepreneur and philanthropist. He founded PowerBar, a maker of energy and nutritional products for athletes.
Maxwell never intended to become a marathon runner and lacked the speed necessary to be competitive at shorter distances. Despite being told as a teenager of his congenital heart condition, he persevered, and by 1977 he was ranked third among all marathoners in the world by Track and Field News. At 51 years of age he died of a heart attack.
Early life and education
Maxwell grew up in Toronto, Canada, where he attended Victoria Park Secondary School (now Victoria Park Collegiate Institute), and he was a member of the Victoria Park Track Club (not associated with the school). The club was coached by Commonwealth Games shot put gold medalist Dave Steen. While at Victoria Park, he was awarded the Arnold Trophy for excellence in academics and athletics, donated by George Arnold whose sons had been excellent track & field, football and basketball athletes.
In 1975 Maxwell graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in architecture from the University of California, Berkeley, where he was on the Golden Bears track team. As an outstanding student on the team, he won the Brutus Hamilton Award.
Elite athlete and Coach
After graduating from UC Berkeley, Maxwell frequently represented Canada as a long distance runner. He was part of the 1980 Olympic team that did not participate in the games in Moscow due to the U.S.-led boycott. His fastest marathon was 2:14:43 in 1977. Maxwell went on to serve as the cross country and distance running coach at UC Berkeley, helping four team members become NCAA Division I All-Americans in cross country and track and field.
Maxwell started the PowerBar company with his girlfriend, Jennifer Biddulph, a nutritionist who later became his wife. Maxwell came up with the idea of an energy bar after dropping out of a marathon at the 21-mile (34 km) mark, at about the segment of the 42.195-kilometre (26.219 mi) event known among runners as "The Wall", where experts say the body ceases burning carbohydrates and begins burning muscle tissue instead. In the kitchen of their Berkeley, California home, the couple began developing snack bar recipes with both simple and complex carbohydrates that would taste good and be easy to digest, especially during endurance competitions.
Maxwell ended up with a company with 300 employees and $150 million in annual sales by 2000, when the company was purchased by Nestlé for $375 million.
Among PowerBar's many contributions to the world of fitness, the company sponsored numerous events and athletes while benefiting from such indirect advertising. Maxwell also pioneered the 'photo contingency' sponsorship, which has become commonplace in sports today.
In late 2000, Maxwell invested in the Active Network Inc. (Active.com), helping establish the company as the leading provider of data management and online registration services for fitness events. By 2001, Maxwell joined Active's board of directors.
In addition to helping promote many fitness events and sponsoring numerous athletes, Maxwell and his wife have contributed generously to UC Berkeley, from which both graduated. The former Kleeberger Field was renamed Maxwell Family Field after the couple donated funds to replace the artificial surface. Located just north of UC Berkeley's Memorial Stadium, the field serves as home to the university's hockey, football and lacrosse programs.
Jennifer Maxwell also endowed a full-tuition scholarship, the Brian L. Maxwell Fellowship, at the Haas School of Business. Maxwell Fellowships are intended to memorialize the drive, creativity, and entrepreneurial spirit which led Maxwell to achieve success in business and his athletic pursuits. There has been an award named after Maxwell at the high school he attended, Victoria Park Collegiate Institute, which is given to a student who excels in athletics and academics while at Victoria Park.
Maxwell is survived by his wife and six children. His daughter, Julia Maxwell, at only age 13, was the top female finisher at the famous Dipsea course in 2009. She has also won the California CIF Cross Country Championships three times. She now runs cross country and track and field at Stanford University.
- Berkeley.edu - 'Cal mourns passing of Brian Maxwell, former coach, runner, PowerBar founder, and philanthropist: Memorial service scheduled for noon April 2 at Haas Pavilion', University of California, Berkeley (March 22, 2004)
- PowerBar.com - 'PowerBar Mourns the Passing of Founder, Brian Maxwell', PowerBar (March, 2004)
- PowerBar founder collapses from the San Francisco Chronicle, March 20, 2004