HR & Management

Meet the UK leaders who lead double lives as adrenaline junkies

13 min read

22 April 2016

Former deputy editor

It’s not just Ranulph Fiennes who enjoys thrill-seeking, and often life-endangering, activities – Real Business discovered as much by rounding up the UK leaders who love nothing more than getting their adrenaline pumping when they leave the boardroom.

In fact, Fiennes has even been inspired by some of our batch of risk-taking bosses.

The running men

Tim Rogers is the CEO of Realbuzz, the official online registration partner for major global running events such as the London Marathon.

The company launched after Rogers struggled to discover and enter such contests – a launch that took place in the midst of him setting a Guinness World Record for being the fastest man to complete a marathon on all seven continents, including Antarctica.

Fiennes caught wind of Rogers’ achievement and went on to break the record. Meanwhile, the businessman has continued competing and has written books on the topic, while the business has scaled from London and into Chester, the US, Australia and New Zealand.

Another leader, Angus McCaffery, who co-founded IT service firm Maintel in 1991, has also rubbed shoulders with Fiennes. In fact, he teamed with the renowned globetrotter in the Sahara Desert to run 156 miles in five days as part of the Marathon Des Sables – “the toughest footrace on Earth”.

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Lurking in the shadows

Rune Sovndahl, CEO of domestic services platform Fantastic Services, loves nothing more than travelling to Mexico for a spot of cave diving.

“Cave dives are much longer than ordinary dives and much more technical. You need your brain to be engaged and to be able to mix the mental exercise with a physical experience. Doing a four-hour dive with limited oxygen is where I get my kicks,” he said of the experience.

Sovndahl added that when work is busy, he finds himself daydreaming about a dive into the darkness where he can escape from the internet and enjoy the silence.

As if that weren’t enough, he has also been swimming with sharks, sky diving and loves a fast car.

Continue reading on the next page to hear from the surfing champion that mixed pleasure with business and the mountaineers, who all had different motivations.


Surf’s up

Eight-time surf champion Johnny Wallbridge is the owner of outdoor clothing and equipment store Yakwax.

Explaining his success to Real Business, Wallbridge revealed he started surfing at 15, making the transition from skateboarding after being inspired by his best friend.

“As soon I started surfing I always wanted to run a surf shop — it’s what I told my careers advisor at school when I was 16! My main focus was not only to run a local shop that could aid local surfers, but to also have an online store that could benefit surfers anywhere in the world,” he said.

His wish came true and Yakwax was born. The perseverance and passion for surfing can be carried over into the business world, Wallbridge believes. The surfing entrepreneur noted that his love of the sport is hard to describe to non-surfers, but detailed that the sensation pulls you back.

“It’s a major challenge and something that can never be mastered; you are constantly finding things to improve on,” he said.

“There are lots of things in surfing that can crossover to running a business. Surfing requires a lot of self-drive and, like business, the more you put into it the more you tend to get from it. Surfing is also a very individual sport that offers amazing freedom, but provides the chance to build amazing relationships along the way.”

Wallbridge is the current British Senior Surf Champion and has travelled around the world, leaving his native Guernsey for the Canary Islands and Indonesia to compete.

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It’s lonely at the top – or is it?

Aged 40, motivational speaker Jules Lewis climbed her first mountain. Since then, she had led teams of women and men on 55 expeditions to over 20 countries through Mountain High, reaching regions including Antarctica.

Lewis’ personal best saw her peak at 7,000m in Tibet, while she has climbed 19 high-altitude mountains. Her background in sports science, stress management and Zen has seen her found Women’s Peak Performance Summit.

She also co-wrote The Strength and Spirit of Women, detailing the first team of breast cancer survivors on an expedition to Antarctica. Lewis can be found in sunnier climes of Abu Dhabi today.

Elsewhere, the COO of recruitment firm Rethink, Andy Lord, does more than take part in Crossfit on a daily basis.

Having passed his motorbike test so he can ride to visit friends in Biarritz – presumably to avoid the traffic faced in a car – he’s hired an ex-SAS solder to take him swimming in rivers and running up mountains.

In fact, that mountaineering mentality is encouraged among his team members – two employees visited the Himalayas at the end of 2015 to run a marathon a day, raising £5,000 for charity.

58-year-old Graham Morgan from SME consultancy Business Doctors went climbing in Patagonia to raise money for a meningitis charity, having lost his teenage daughter to the illness.

“The trek was very tough and a mental as much as a physical challenge. On day two, we walked for 13 hours and didn’t see another soul,” he said.

“As if five days with no mobile signal wasn’t hair raising enough, a high/low point was crossing an enormous glacier, roped to a mountain guide. I’ve never been so scared.
Myself and my wife Karen have now raised almost £18,000 for the charity Meningitis Now”.

Commenting on his achievement of climbing Mont Blanc in 2014, Daryl Willcox, founder of media network ResponseSource said it was something he’d wanted to do for years.

“On the summit attempt the weather was lovely, then had a virtual white-out half an hour from the top. I spent ten seconds on the summit then my guide urged us to get off as soon as possible before our tracks got covered in snow,” he recalled.

“I learnt how physical exhaustion can be overcome through mental attitude. There was a point on the way up where I thought I wouldn’t make it. But after a flask of sweet tea and a bit of a pep-talk from my guide I pushed on the final hour and a half to the summit without any problems.

“On the way down I said I wouldn’t do it again – my goal had been achieved. But now I’d happily go back, and hope for a view from the top next time.”

Seemingly inspired by Twister and other disaster movies around the elements, we hear from a leader who doubles as a storm chaser and someone hoping to get cast in Fast and Furious.


The calm before the storm

Ron Moody is the client services direct at business consultancy Connect Assist, but when he’s not suited and booted, he loves nothing more than heading to tropical destinations.

Sounds lovely, right? Except he’s not there for the buffet and pina coladas – Moody goes out during hurricane season to chase storms.

“I’ve always been interested in the environment and extreme weather, which led me into the world of storm chasing. Every year I fly over to America during the height of the hurricane season to see how close I can get,” he told us.

“I was in Florida when Hurricane Charlie, the first Category Five hurricane, hit Florida – we were right in the middle of it!”

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The need for speed

For Ian Butcher, the founder of estate agency Butcher Residential, selling houses isn’t what gets his heart racing.

No, for the Yorkshire-based businessman, it’s tearing up the track in his Renault 5 GT Turbo race car, perhaps with an exit strategy to join Vin Diesel on the set of the Fast and Furious franchise.

“I race competitively at weekends at off-road tracks across the UK. It helps me keep my mind off the estate agency – there’s only room to think about one thing when taking bends in third at 100mph; and it isn’t three-bed semis in Barnsley,” said Butcher.

Solid as a rock

We hear from another Ian now, Ian O’Rourke, the founder of search intelligence business Adthena, which works with the likes of Asda, Barclays and Sky.

Rock climbing is how he likes to spend his time away from delivering tech services to big brands.

“I’m extremely passionate about rock climbing. Difficult, outdoor lead climbing is very cathartic for the stress of entrepreneurship,” he said.

“When you are climbing hundred of metres above the ground on a sheer rockface it is impossible to be focused on anything other than your next hold. All other stresses melt away and I’m reinvigorated and renewed ready to deal with the next challenge.”

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The leap of faith

Lastly, we’ve got Alastair Campbell, founder of Carsnip and Company Check. The former has raised $1m in angel investment this year, and claims to have more cars than Autotrader, while the latter has over three million visitors a month.

Given the way his firms are soaring, it seems only right that Campbell enjoys diving out of planes.

“Skydiving is a great way for me to recharge my batteries after a long week at work. As business owners, we often fall into that trap of spending all of our free time thinking about our company and what we need to do,” he told us.

“Skydiving allows me to forget about work for five minutes. No one’s ever considered their P&L while falling at 120 miles an hour towards the earth! I think it’s healthy as an entrepreneur to have outside hobbies and this is mine.”

In keeping with business and fitness, Real Business spoke with The Body Coach founder Joe Wicks about his journey from personal trainer to leader of a multi-million pound enterprise – which all started with Instagram.