EC Members Liz and Chris Baranov share their reflections on an amazing day with Sir Ranulph Fiennes at our Celebrity Masterclass event last month. First up is Liz…
Years ago, I’d read Dr Mike Stroud’s account of the unsupported expedition to cross the Antarctic with Sir Ranulph Fiennes.
It was brutally honest, but also fascinating, gruesome and inspirational. This was my opportunity to hear from one half of that team, so I’d been looking forward to today since the Masterclass programme came out.
Ran started at the beginning, with his early life story, which immediately had us all laughing. He explained that his eventual career choice wasn’t planned, but a result of circumstances and opportunities.
Within a few minutes, I think we all realised this was going to be a witty story almost from another era. Stories of leftover explosives stored in the boot of a car, using a Black and Decker to remove the ends of his fingers in the woodshed, and lighting a stove with one hand in a partially erect tent at minus 30 degrees were comedic but also enthralling.
Ran told of exploits that we can only just start to imagine. Like racing the Norwegians (obviously not his favourite people!) to achieve records; spending 26 years searching for a lost city in Arabia; eight months spent in a cardboard hut in the dark; raising over £19million for charity and running seven marathons, in seven days, on seven continents within three months of a double heart bypass
The list was long, but the message is clear; the life story of this man is quite unlike anything any of us will ever experience.
Ran also told of his wife, Ginny, who reputedly came up with their expedition ideas ‘over breakfast’. She sent him back to the library when he hadn’t come up with the ‘right’ answers the first time; spoke Arabic; and accompanied him on most of his expeditions, manning the base camp for months at a time. She obviously wasn’t a woman to be trifled with!
Though none of us will experience anything like these adventures, there were so many lessons to be learned for business owners!
Ginny spent six years training to handle the communications on their expeditions. Ran himself is the best in the world at crossing crevasses and reading the Polar ice conditions.
While their decisions to mount expeditions may have been questionable (‘stupid’ was Ran’s description of his decision to make a solo trip to the Pole), there was meticulous planning behind them.
Seven years of daily planning went into the circumnavigation, with 1,900 sponsorship deals. Ran said on several occasions they planned to reduce the risks, learning from their predecessors’ failures.
Though physically Ran repeatedly put his body through the mill, he and Mike Stroud knew on their trip across Antarctica that to achieve their goal, they had to cover 16 nautical miles every day. That was what they did, regardless of extreme fatigue, near starvation, blizzards and sickness. In business, we could all take a lesson from that as I’m sure we’ve changed plans for far, far less!
Ran recruited based only on an applicant’s motivation. He wanted to know his colleagues would stay the course. And if anything made him doubt that, he wouldn’t hesitate to sack them.
Mountaineers often explain their desire to climb to the heights of the world as being ‘because it’s there’. But Ran’s response to being asked ‘why?’ was simple – ‘life happens’ he said. What an amazing life he’s had!
This is Chris’s take on the day…
Growing up in the 1970’s I quickly became aware of a select breed of British adventurers. Chris Bonnington, Doug Scott and Ranulph Fiennes, and others, always inspired me into thinking that the world was full of adventure and there was still plenty of excitement to be had.
So I approached the day hoping to hear a little of what (now ‘Sir’) Ranulph had experienced over the years, and what drove him to do what he does.
What came through the presentation and the subsequent Q&A session was the fact that while Sir Ranulph is known as the Greatest Living Explorer, he works with quite a large back-up team. He quickly came to realise that he couldn’t get through the expeditions just on his own, they were too dangerous to consider as solo efforts.
This parallels well with my experience of business. If you go it completely alone, with no help, the risk can be too great. You need to make sure you have someone close to you that you truly trust, and be surrounded by a team to help you achieve your goals.
Sir Ranulph pointed out quite early into the presentation that his failure rate on the expeditions is 45%, but that doesn’t deter him from carrying on.
The level of determination and persistence in the face of huge adversity is quite awe-inspiring to me; I hope that I can manage a tenth of his!
Other points that struck a chord with me were:
- He recruits solely on the level of motivation, as skills can be taught.
- All the roles in his team are clearly defined.
- If someone turns out to be the wrong fit, get rid of them quickly.
- Be a democratic Dictator – ask for input but make your own decisions.
- And above all, follow the dream.
In the Q&A session, Sir Ranulph was asked what kept him going when on an expedition. He replied that he thought about his father and grandfather; his idols, but neither of whom he ever knew. He imagined them looking down on him, and didn’t want to let them down.
As Nigel often says “a burning desire goes a long way to help you achieve your dreams.”