Q & A with Ben Southall
Eight years ago, Englishman Ben Southall won Tourism Queensland's 'The Best Job In The World' competition and has been undertaking outdoor adventures ever since. Find out more about his latest pursuit – building resilience into business people through his newly-launched Venturer Program.
Before we get into your latest program, tell me about how you got into adventure and exploring the outdoors?
My childhood days really set the tone for a life of adventure for me. Mum and Dad used to take my sister, Becky, and I on summer road trips from the south of England to the west coast of Scotland - one of the most dramatic, wild and beautiful parts of the world.
p on the edge of vast sealochs, climb the many munros (mountains) and fish in the pouring rain – things that really built an appreciation for the great outdoors.
What are the standout lessons you've learned from the wild over the years?
Without a shadow of doubt, travel in great outdoors is the best classroom I've ever studied in.
I've learnt more about myself and what I truly want out of life, it's given me a greater affinity and appreciation for the planet, made me more understanding and compassionate of other people, places, cultures and foods and has made me realise that country borders are merely lines on a map, not the physical barriers we're led to believe.
Undertaking tough physical expeditions gives me the chance to look deep inside myself and find out what I'm truly capable of, and the confidence (and amazing stories) that come from these resilience-building moments help shape me as a person and have positively steered my direction through life.
You recently returned to the Whitsundays to kickstart your new Venturer Program. What is the goal of this program?
The Venturer Program came about after many expeditions to different parts of the world, and a timely conversation with Mark Sowerby, Queensland's Chief Entrepreneur at Advance Queensland.
When I come back from of my adventures, someone always says to me "Oh I'd love to do something like that" or "if only I had the time/confidence/knowledge to do that" so it seemed like a great opportunity. Being able to facilitate incredible, life-changing adventures for people is a dream come true for me, and the Venturer Program is my first step towards making this happen.
The goal of the program is to build the resilience of individuals involved and build a stronger community by pushing people physically and mentally through tough challenges that test the mind and body. We stay out in the wild away from mobile reception and computers to ensure there's complete disconnection from the digital world. It's a great way to focus on the bigger business planning ideas you don't have time for in day-to-day life where notifications and emails are distracting you every few seconds.
How did you build resilience in the entrepreneurs who attended?
The Whitsundays program used a range of components to test the Venturers – from the physical aspect of tough sunrise summit treks and long days paddling on the water, to the mental side like hearing from industry experts who been through similar situations before, to building mental stamina and setting visionary goals for the future.
Can you give us an idea of how intense this program was?
Not as intense as it should have been! There was 25 knots of tailwind blowing us along for three of the four days on the open ocean, which meant it was a fair bit easier than expected. With the next program in Tasmania I'll be upping the intensity so people really have to look deep inside to find something special that'll get them over the finish line.
What are the main skills that can be applied from the outdoors to the business world?
Overcoming hurdles in the great outdoors has direct comparisons to those the business world. Being able to complete a major project by breaking it into manageable chunks, improving communication skills to work better as a team and having the vision to create and embark on new endeavours are applicable to both worlds.
Why is it so important for businesses to include adventure and the outdoors in their culture?
The skills learnt whilst taking on adventures in the great outdoors are directly relatable to challenges faced in the workplace. Being confident when facing risk, being resilient in tough times and quick thinking when problems have to be solved are all desirable assets wherever you play your game – in the world of adventure or business. The beauty of embarking on an adventure away from the office is it gives people a clear headspace to design and create innovative ideas.
What feedback did you receive from the entrepreneurs who completed the program?
It was overwhelmingly good and surprising in a number of ways I hadn't even thought about when planning it. There were the obvious rewards of throwing people into tough physical challenges that they might previously perceived as impossible, but also the mental growth people experienced from the conversations they had and heard, the long-term plans they created and the strength the Queensland entrepreneurial startup eco-system gained from the new cohort that's now formed.
The Venturer Program is heavily focused on overcoming challenges. What are some of the main challenges you've faced over the years and how did you overcome them?
Almost every expedition I've completed has had some sort of issue, that's the nature of them. It's also the best part of the story once you make it safely home. Driving around Africa in 2008 and from Singapore to London in 2015 were logistically and politically difficult expeditions that needed patience, experience and hours of careful thinking, planning and delicate conversation with government officials, border guards and politicians! They were great lessons in diplomacy and gave me some really valuable skills in public relations, interpersonal communication and building a dynamic expedition plan that can deal with unforseen changes.
Setting a world record by completing the nine Great Walks of New Zealand in nine days was another good example. During our 145km kayak along the Whanganui River one of my mission partners really struggled to stay upright on his paddle-ski and falling in the frigid water brought on the effects of hypothermia really quickly. In the interest of his own safety we abandoned the record attempt to get him properly fed, watered and warmed-up before we could get back onto the river, and on with the mission.
In 2009, you beat 35,000 other hopefuls to win the Best Job in the World competition. Eight years later, do you still feel like you have the best job in the world?
Absolutely. I've strived really hard to create the lifestyle and working environment I want to be part of long into the future. If you go out and push yourself in testing environments time and time again and successfully complete the challenges you lay down, the recognition and reward you receive as an individual builds your brand, cements you as an expert in your field and that integrity goes a long way towards building a successful business model.
What's next on the agenda?
The next year is looking both fun and really busy. The next Venturer Program heads to Tasmania in November, I've got a kayaking expedition here in Queensland in a few weeks time, a trip across the Tasman to New Zealand for a client in September, a month in Nepal next year and two potential world-first projects in the pipeline. It's going to be a ridiculously rewarding, challenging few months in the great outdoors.