“You don’t fear for your life in the middle of a storm, you can’t really afford to.”
– Ellen MacArthur
Ellen MacArthur became an icon within the sailing fraternity when she set the record as the youngest woman solo sailor to complete the non-stop circumnavigation of the globe in the 2000/2001 Vendee Globe race. She did not win the race, but her ambition, courage and determination to achieve her goals was the key. The key not only to succeed, but rather to make a difference!
Her success started at an early age (17) when she obtained her first record in single-handedly sailing the circumnavigation of Great Britain, and continued with many other achievements including, Mini Transat solo race (placed 17th), and the Route de Rhum (placed 1st, and in record time, in her second attempt in 2002). Ellen also captained a round-the-world record attempt for a crewed yacht (this attempt was cancelled when the yacht’s mast broke), and in June 2004 she set a new world record for a transatlantic crossing by a woman (Ambrose Light, lower New York Bay, USA to Lizard Point in Cornwall, UK), beating the previous crewed and single-handed records. Her crowning year though was in 2005 when she beat Francis Joyon’s single-handed, non-stop, round-the-world record.
Ellen also received a number of awards, including “British Young Sailor of the Year” (1995), “Yachtsman of the Year” (1998), “Sailing’s Young Hope” (1998), and she also won second place (runner up to David Beckham) in the “BBC Sports Personality of the Year” (2001), a great achievement considering this award is usually dominated by more mainstream sports. In 2005, Ellen was made a “Dame Commander” of the Order of the British Empire in recognition for her achievements, and honorary Lieutenant Commander of the Royal Naval Reserve. A more recent award was in 2008 when she was awarded the French Légion d’Honneu Knight by Nicolas Sarkozy.
In late 2009, Ellen announced her retirement from competitive sailing in order to become an eco-warrior focusing on environmental campaigning and stopping mankind from destroying the environment. She does not regard her greatest achievements amongst her race conquests, but rather what she discovered whilst visiting South Georgia in the South Atlantic. Whilst camping on the island for 2 months to highlight the plight of the Albatross which is under threat from the hooks used in long-line fishing, Ellen had an epiphany. Her view towards life altered and she realised that we, the human race, take our resources for granted. To some, our resources are so accessible that we simply take what we want, when we want it, and how much of it we want… even if we do not need it!
When preparing for a record attempt, Ellen may only take the bare essentials. She manages what she has, down to the very last drop of fuel or water, simply because if she were to run out of something, there is no way of obtaining more. The consequences of wastage are very serious! Money has no value at sea – it’s the resources that count.
This is an important message to entrepreneurs in a business context. As a start-up, you learn to work with the bare minimum, the resources you have are exactly that – all you have… if you don’t have the finances to purchase something, you don’t…. you learn to work with what is available to you!
But what happens when these entrepreneurs reach a level where money is no longer an issue? Have they learnt the necessary lessons from when they were a simple start-up? Now that the finances are available, are resources purchased freely? Are entrepreneurs setting the correct example for their employees in this regard?
I’m not necessarily talking about bio-degradable toilet paper here. I’m talking about the resources that are needed within the business / office environment – the resources that cost you money – the seemingly small things like cash flow, supplier costs and staff costs.
The lesson to be learnt from Ellen is to stop, and absorb your surroundings. Are you, and all those within your company managing your resources properly?