Nicholas Barton
over 5 years ago by Nicholas Barton

O​n 18th October 2018, The Barton Partnership hosted its 3rd annual Strategy Conference and Networking Event at Freemason's Hall in Covent Garden. The evening was a huge success, with over 300 senior strategy stakeholders attend from over 250 different companies representing Commerce & Industry, Private Equity, Financial Services and Professional Services amongst others.

Over the last two years, we have invited two inspirational speakers, Sir Clive Woodward and Dame Kelly Holmes, to talk to our audience about how they have overcome adversity in various situations to achieve success and ultimately how this can be linked back to the business world. This year, we invited Sir Ranulph Fiennes, the World's Greatest Living Explorer to share the incredible story of his life, his adventures and the challenges he has faced along the route to success. 

Sir Ranulph began his speech by talking about how he selected the team that had been with him over the last 48 years throughout all of his expeditions. He has had a team of 52 people from 9 different countries, which he says he did not select through complex character assessments but rather on their motivational factor. He says that how a person is motivated is how they will behave not only for themselves, but for their company, team or expedition group, so at interview stage he will always look for a ‘motivation factor’. Sir Ranulph describes motivation as "the sum total of everything that has happened to you since you were little, as well as possible genetic factors", and says the system of choosing people based on their motivations has worked well for him over the years throughout his various adventures. 

Choosing the wrong person with the wrong motivations can be detrimental not only for a business, but could have been highly dangerous in the hostile environments on some of Sir Ranulph's expeditions. He says that when you find you have the wrong person in a dangerous situation, there is no time for 'British pussyfooting' which will only keep a rotten apple in the barrel, the only option is to sack them immediately. 

Sir Ranulph's initial motivation as a youngster came from his ambition to follow in his father's footsteps. He had wanted to be the Commanding Officer of the Royal Scots Greys Regiment which is the position his father had held when he had died. That said, unfortunately, he found himself unable to enter Sandhurst due to a lack of A-levels so went to Mons Officer Cadet School instead. After being sent to Germany during the Cold War, he applied to join the SAS where he was chosen from over 190 applicants. 

Sir Ranulph was eventually removed from the SAS after, on being offended by the construction of an ugly concrete dam built for the production of Dr. Dolittle in the Wiltshire village of Castle Combe, he planned to demolish the dam with explosives which he later claimed to have accumulated from leftovers on training exercises. After a court case, he had to pay a large fine and was sent back to his previous regiment. 

Upon joining his regiment again, he applied for the Sultan of Oman's Forces and spent the next 3 years patrolling the Omani/Yemeni borders. He led several raids deep into rebel-held territory and was decorated for bravery by the Sultanate. It was here that Sir Ranulph found his true motivation - to travel to the most remote places in the world and after 8 years in the Army, he relinquished his commission and moved back to the UK.

Sir Ranulph started his foray into the expedition field by searching for the lost frankincense city in the Arab Desert that Marco Polo had written about, and that had also been cited in the Quran. Twenty five years and eight BP-sponsored expeditions into the Arab desert later, they found it. They used traditional archaeological methods and discovered the lost city in 1992 which is now the largest excavation works in Arabia. 

In the 70s, Sir Ranulph and his wife Ginny faced a problem gaining sponsorship for any future expedition and found that there was little interest by the media in anything other than polar expeditions. Therefore, after setting up an office in the SAS headquarters in London, they spent the next 7 years meticulously planning to complete the greatest polar expedition that had not yet been done - to travel vertically around the world by surface travel. 

Sir Ranulph and his team of two others were dropped off by the ship in Antarctica. As there were no polar satellites, they were navigating by setting their watches to Greenwich meantime and local time and using only Morse code to communicate with base camp. They were using the same navigation methods that Scott and Shackleton had used 50 years previously. 

When they reached their base camp 400 miles inland, they then spent 8 months living in a small hut waiting for the sun to come out again. They had insulated the hut to withstand temperatures of -30C and wind speeds of 40mph however while they were there, they recorded temperatures of -122C and wind speeds of 166mph!

After 8 months, Sir Ranulph began his trek across the remaining 900 miles to the South Pole. This was a terrain that no one had ever crossed and no plane had ever flown over so Sir Ranulph was tasked with mapping it as he went. After they had crossed the continent, they were picked up by the ship and taken to the next part of the expedition. 

Over the next two months, they travelled 1900 miles up the Yukon river, 700 miles down the Mackenzie river and then a further 900 miles to the last uninhabited islands in the world, where they would wait another 8 months before doing what Sir Ranulph described as 'the difficult bit' - the remaining 2500 miles over the top of the North Pole. 

After hitting Nilas ice (sea ice which will freeze solid if there is no wind) the boat that they were travelling in got stuck and they had to cross the remaining 400 miles on foot. This was completely unplanned. They both suffered from frostbite, 'sog foot' and extreme skin burns from the sun but knew that they could not rest as it would throw off the whole of the expedition which everyone had worked so hard to plan.  

When they did finally reach the North Pole, they were the first human beings ever to reach both poles by surface travel. As the entirety of their expedition was to be surface travel only, they had to complete the rest of the journey across the ice on foot. However, as it was now the summer, the ice was breaking up making it too dangerous to cross. He spent the next 3 months floating on a large piece of ice down towards Greenland hoping to be rescued early by the ship. 

The ship did indeed try to come early to rescue the team, but unfortunately the ice was too hard at that time of year, tearing a hole in the hull of the ship, meaning it had to go back to Pittsburgh to be repaired. After another 8 months, Sir Ranulph reached the ship and he and his team were then named the first human beings in history to have travelled the earth’s surface vertically. 

In the 80s and 90s, Sir Ranulph went on to break all of the remaining world records for unsupported travel, and in 1992, he wrote to Gorbachev asking if he could lead the first western expedition to the North Pole from Siberia instead of from North America. Over the following 9 years, he broke all the world records on polar expeditions coming from Siberia. 

Sir Ranulph described always having competition as his single biggest motivator. Throughout his exploration career, he had consistently been competing with Norwegian explorers in order to break world records, and in 1992, he was told that they were about to embark on crossing the Antarctic completely unsupported. 

Naturally, Sir Ranulph and his team began their expedition as soon as they could. His team consisted of himself and Europe's number one physiologist, Dr Mike Stroud, who was conducting research on the effects of extreme starvation on the body. During the trek, Dr Stroud was recording a calorific output of 11,500 per day, against an intake of only 5,000 calories. At the half way point, Sir Ranulph had gone from 16 stone to under 8 stone. This, along with multiple injuries, gangrene, severe sun burn and starvation, made the expedition one of his hardest yet. When they reached the South Pole, the Norwegian team dropped out, and despite being in a 'very bad way, both mentally and physically' they carried on to the other side of the continent to finish. In the second half of the trip, they completed the first ever 9000ft descent of the Beardmore Glacier. Sir Ranulph also suffered 'raw finger' resulting in him amputating the top half of four of his fingers on his return to the UK. 

Throughout his career, Sir Ranulph has raised over £19 million for UK charities. 

He gave a truly inspirational speech, and his brilliant sense of humour throughout made the talk thoroughly entertaining. He then signed copies of his books for our guests. 

We hope that if you attended, you enjoyed it as much as we did, and we look forward to seeing you at our next conference in 2019!

In the meantime, if there is anything we can do to assist you with your London or New York strategy hiring needs or even add value to your own career planning thought process, then please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us at