From Swimming With Sharks To Cave Diving: The CEOs Who Take Risks Outside Work – Forbes
Antonio Horta-Osorio, chief executive of Lloyds Banking Group, lists swimming with sharks as one of his hobbies. London Stock Exchange chief executive Xavier Rolet has competed in the Paris-Dakar motor sport rally. And Mark Bristow, chief executive of gold mining group Randgold, revs up on mammoth 30-day, 5,000-mile motorbike rides across Africa.
What is it that makes these business tycoons want to take risks outside their corner offices as well as within them?
Rune Sovndahl, cofounder and chief executive of global domestic services provider Fantastic Services, believes that he knows – because he does it too.
An avid thrill-seeker, Sovndahl believes entrepreneurs’ brains are so absorbed with work that they often need to be in “seemingly stressful” situations to relax.
No Release Buttons
“Doing a four-hour dive with limited oxygen is where I get my kicks,” he told me in a recent interview. “You have to be calm; there are no release buttons and no exit. It’s you in charge of your body, your breathing and the oxygen remaining in the tank.”
A trained chef who was involved in the launch of the original British dotcom darling Lastminute.com, Sovndahl started Fantastic Services in 2009 after a chance meeting with cofounder Anton Skarlatov, who already had a cleaning business.
The company now rivals the likes of Bizzby, TaskRabbit and Hassle, offering handyman and cleaning services across the U.K., Europe, U.S. and Australia with 650 employees and 2,000 franchisees.
It’s a 24/7 business, however, and Sovndahl relaxes by jetting to Tulum, Mexico where he dives in a halocline cave where fresh water meets sea water, creating a blurry colored haze that divers nickname “the LSD.”
“You feel like you are having an out-of-body experience with the change in your vision and buoyancy,” he says. “It’s other-worldly and incredible.”
Has his life ever been at risk on a cave dive? “Absolutely,” Sovndahl replies. “Cavern and cave diving is incredibly dangerous if you’re not prepared or experienced.
“One time, my diving buddy realized halfway through a deep dive that his back-up torches weren’t working. This was a real wake-up moment because of the very serious consequences that could happen.
“Thankfully, I had light, but if mine had failed it would have been a perfect example of a situation moving from enjoyable, to seriously dangerous very quickly.
“You also have to be completely aware of your body, if you move too quickly and create a lack of visibility due to the dusty floor, you can lose the line or your buddy and again, things can turn very ugly very quickly.”
Sovndahl sees cave diving as his “ultimate form of relaxation” as it takes him away from the business technology that surrounds his everyday life and represents the only time he can “truly escape.” However, he also believes strongly that his cave diving hobby makes him a better business person.
“I’ve tried all the usual things, but nothing else works for me,” he says. “The consequences are incredibly real, which is how I see my responsibility as a business owner. My actions as a CEO of a business have the power to affect my staff and franchisees.
“As a business leader, it’s essential to train for a crisis and you need to be sure that it’s resilient. Cave diving is much the same, you must prepare thoroughly otherwise it is literally a life or death situation.
“Cavern diving also improves your communication skills and ability to navigate obstacles and monitor and observe your surroundings thoroughly.
“The physical side of it requires a great deal of control and the ability to be incredibly present. You and your diving buddy are reliant on each other. I think this is an incredible skill to learn and apply to the running of a business.”