Running a business can test the mettle of the most seasoned of entrepreneurs, but many will test it further by seeking adventure away from their business.
Whether it’s travelling the world by bike, leaping from airplanes, or surviving for a while on a desert island, pushing yourself to your limits can unlock capabilities you didn’t know you had. Overcoming your fears, thinking on your feet and discovering there’s always capacity to do more can reap major benefits when you return to your business.
Having spent six years building his student events company, and launching a second business offering staffing services for venues, events and brands, entrepreneur James Rix walked - or rather rode – away from it all, putting his companies into hibernation to spend 11 months riding his motorbike to Australia through 30 countries.
In 2012 he returned, brought his companies back to life, and today is co-founder and CEO of Harrix Group, which includes an events division, comprising Wicked Student Nights and Itchy Feet, staffing division, StreetPR design agency 1788, and social media agency, Blue Social.
"The first three months away from business I felt I’d made the biggest mistake of my life," he said. "But looking back I realise that the experience developed me massively, both personally and as an entrepreneur, giving me a much more worldly outlook on life and business."
It also made him a more confident leader. "Having found myself in a number of stressful situations in countries I didn’t have a magic contact book for, I now feel that everything we come across is totally manageable," he said.
Arguably the biggest impact of his wanderlust was on the business itself. Rix said: "When I returned I saw massive growth three years in a row, with turnover doubling each year to £1.7million by year three."
His taste for adventure also whetted his appetite for overseas business expansion. "I now have regular and ongoing relationships from India, Germany, Brazil and the US," says Rix. "Since my return I’ve grown the company, the team and my overall ambitions with less worry about failure, not because I feel it’s less likely to happen, but because I know that I would dust myself down and start again. In shutting a perfectly successful business and walking away, and then coming back to it, I accidentally did what every business owner fears might happen one day."
True entrepreneurs are known for their courage in facing risk and tough decisions and for their ability to lead people when times are tough. Joseph Valente, 2015 winner of The Apprentice and founder of ImpraGas left the relative comfort of his office to take part in a month of madness, skydiving, white water rafting, and staying alone on a desert island. Since then he has led his team of 27 employees through a fire walk and slept on the streets together, both were for charity.
He says: "To be a great leader, you must be willing to be the first one to take that leap. Others will follow, but you have to go first. Taking on adventures that required courage has helped me in moving forward in the face of fear, and that is invaluable as I lead my team into situations they haven’t yet experienced. By showing them what’s possible when you go out on that limb, they have more confidence in themselves."
There is evidence to show that business leaders who seek adventure and thrills are more likely to embrace innovation and increase company profits. When Jingjing Zhang, assistant professor of accounting at Desautels School of Management, McGill University, examined the performances of CEOs who fly small aircraft in their spare time against those who don’t, she found that this thrill-seeking hobby coincides with the ability to increase a company’s market performance.
She said: "An openness to new ideas, and a willingness to pursue new methods of working overrides their desire to maintain structured and repetitive situations. Having this personality type at the helm of a business in an industry requiring high levels of innovation is likely to be a stepping stone to success."
Being daring and adventurous can also be a key to strengthening teams. Laura Hampton’s day job is marketing manager at Impression. In her spare time, she jumps out of airplanes. A member of a British skydiving team, competing in the World Cup, no less, she says her daring hobby has taught her a great deal about teamwork.
She said: "There are 33 people in our company, and being part of a skydiving team has taught me a lot about the importance of taking on board everybody's suggestions and allowing everyone's voice to be heard. During training we have a 'rock session' at the end of each day, where each teammate has the chance to say how they felt the day went, and this is something I've incorporated into project management.
"Another thing I've learned from my skydiving team is that success is not made by one person, but by the combined work of many. Everyone has a specific job to do and those jobs come together to make the end result. In business, I try to encourage every person in my team to know their role and how it relates to those of others in the team."
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