By David Mullens
It would be understandable if the recently named CEO of Addison-based Nothing Bundt Cakes is more focused on creating cakes than competing for championships. But Dolf Berle has found that he can hurdle the obstacles in the retail snack category as well as on the track.
“The spark that makes me want to continue to compete in track and field is that it is a very healing experience for me,” Berle said. “Athletics reinforces the qualities needed to be successful in most types of jobs, and certainly in business.”
At 60, Berle is a champion decathlete. He won gold in August in the M60-85 division at the USA National Masters Combined Events National Championships at Mount San Antonio College in Walnut, Calif. Berle won three events outright, including the 110m hurdles with a time of 17.61 seconds, and his total score of 6,726 points was the highest among all competitors in all men’s age groups.
The decathlon is the ultimate test of speed, strength and stamina in track and field. The two-day event consists of 100m, long jump, shot put, high jump and 400m on day one and the 110m hurdles, discus, pole vault, javelin and 1500m on day two.
“I first became interested in the decathlon in my teens,” Berle said. “My gift as an athlete was versatility, and I loved the process of learning new things. It was also a way to be useful to a track team or club because I could serve the team in multiple events, even if I wasn’t the best at any one of them.”
Berle has been versatile in business as well. Prior to joining Nothing Bundt Cakes, Berle was CEO at Lindblad Expeditions, an adventure travel operator; CEO of Dallas-based Topgolf; president and COO of Dave & Buster’s; president of Lucky Strike Lanes, COO at House of Blues and EVP of hospitality and division head at ClubCorp.
Earning his undergraduate degree and MBA from Harvard University positioned him to become a senior executive at major corporations. But Berle’s other master’s degree is not stereotypical in the C-suite.
“In 1987, I earned a master’s degree in African History from the University of Zimbabwe,” Berle said. “It changed my life because I was able to see first-hand the impact that corporations and businesses could have on society. At that time, businesses were making a big difference in education, medical support and municipal infrastructure in Southern Africa. When I came back to the U.S., I decided I would try to be a businessperson who made a difference in the communities where I worked.”
Berle has served on the national boards of the Make-A-Wish Foundation of America, USA Track & Field and the Norman Rockwell Museum. His roots trace back to a rural upbringing in Stockbridge, Mass., where he built a love of nature, compassion for hard work and a desire to compete.
“I grew up doing farmwork, primarily dairy farming,” Berle said. “Most of my work was outside involving bailing hay, spreading manure and blowing sileage into silos. At school I was a singer, soccer player and competed in track and field. As the oldest of four, I was always grateful to have parents who worked hard and supported us in our passions and interests. Initially, in high school I thought I would be a minister or a teacher, and only turned towards being a businessperson in my early 20s.”
In 2010, Berle became a member of the Texas Express Track Club, which offers pole vault training for all ages. He takes to the streets for his running drills. “My training regime involves a combination of sprinting, resistance training such as weights, some fairly brisk runs of about 1.25 miles around my neighborhood and a couple of hours of technical training on the weekend with my Texas Express track teammates,” Berle said.
But physical ability, the cerebral benefits of exercise and the determination to compete is not all that drives Berle. “I restarted my track and field career at age 40 when our son was diagnosed with autism,” Berle said. “I felt I needed to be strong for the fight against autism, and I needed something joyful in my life. My wife was very supportive of my early morning training, and I always tried to be home for breakfast.”
Berle is the current world champion in the pole vault for men aged 55-59, has several World and USA National Championship medals in the pole vault, indoor heptathlon and decathlon. He has also competed as an “American Ninja Warrior.”
But when not training to defend his records and senior title as a decathlete, Berle is dedicated to building Nothing Bundt Cakes. Not surprisingly, based on his athletic prowess, Berle said he took the CEO position at Nothing Bundt Cakes because of the company’s “strong track record.”
With more than 500 locations in more than 40 states and Canada selling 8- and 10-inch cakes, cupcake sized Bundtinis and miniature Bundtlets, “Nothing Bundt Cakes has quietly become the leading specialty cake bakery brand in the nation,” Berle said. “Regardless of the different interests and roles I’ve had, from farmwork to now being the CEO of Nothing Bundt Cakes, there’s always been the common denominators of dedication, discipline and community. I admire these qualities in the bakery owners I get to work alongside.
“Community, finding joy in doing something difficult, discipline to do some things that are not comfortable, the opportunity to be brave and being around other people who inspire you are all things I love in track and field as well as at Nothing Bundt Cakes.” Berle has the track record to prove it.