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‘I’ve Never Started Anything Thinking I Will Fail

Published 7 years ago
By Forbes Africa

South Africa’s favorite adventurous son, Mike Horn, regarded by many as the world’s greatest modern day explorer, was seduced by Switzerland while hitchhiking his way to Israel. It was the snow that won him over, before he’d even reached the sand of the Middle Eastern country.

While my first memory of hitchhiking in Switzerland is sharing a flagon of cheap wine at a small table in a very clean youth hostel with a young Tunisian and no dictionary, Horn immediately saw opportunity. Granted, he was considerably older than my then student self, but it speaks to his strategic contemporary self that he identified what he needed.

“It’s a safe and sure country to leave my family when I go out exploring; it has four seasons that allows me to practice all outdoor activities. It has some of the most diversified natural elements; it’s neutral and easy to travel to and from,” says Horn.

Lausanne is the Olympic capital of Switzerland, a treat for any serious sport and outdoors enthusiast. But Horn has a particularly African take on what works for him in this historical and wealthy city.

“What I love the most living in an expensive country is that everything works, it’s clean and everyone is always on time. You pay for what you get.”

Horn is an established brand in the extreme adventure environment. His website details journeys to places like the Arctic Circle, the Amazon River and various Himalayan peaks. All will challenge your body and mind. From the outside, it’s a bit like a 12-year-old’s adventure book.

“To be able to play the lead role in your dream and live it in reality makes me a privileged man. I have never started anything in life thinking I will fail. And that is how little boys dream. As we grow older we lose our dreams, but as I have grown older I kept my dreams young.”

Follow the road of Mike Horn’s history and you will arrive at his career destination, to which he must feel he was born – teaching others how to respect their environment.

Through his four-year conservation-education platform Pangaea, started in 2008, Mike and his team found enthusiastic youngsters, between the ages of 15 and 20, who he then groomed as environmental ambassadors in their respective countries. He did this through expeditions to places most only dream of; Antarctica, New Zealand, Malaysia and India among them.

On the various expeditions, the selected youngsters were given the opportunity to experience, explore and interpret different climates and surfaces.

“We must begin to take real steps towards ensuring that our planet can be respected and appreciated by all future generations…” says Horn.

These words are increasingly relevant, as the promises and targets emerging from endless conferences do more for the conference industry than the health of the planet.

This gives Horn a reason to try educate as many as he can.

His website speaks of over 200,000 miles and multiple circumnavigations being covered in pursuit of Pangaea’s goals, with more voyages in the pipeline. All of which will cost a lot of money. He says he’s in the right place to access these funds, with some of the world’s best-known brands close at hand.

“With Geneva next door, France on the other side of the lake and Italy a short drive away, we have access to the watch industry, banking, nutrition and technology and amazing universities,” he says.

But Horn stresses that such sponsors don’t give their money away easily. Even as a  Laureus World Sports Academy member, he had to do a little convincing.

“I have been very fortunate because when I proposed my projects to my sponsors they liked the idea. Credibility and authenticity is very important. Do not promise what you cannot do!”

And so they rolled in. Mercedes Benz, Panerai, Nespresso, Geberit, Mumm champagne, Scott Sports and Petzl, according to Horn all see value in his experience and knowledge.

“They are definitely your biggest investment.”

The link between the man and his sponsors is more obvious with some than others.

“For a watch company I’m a living test lab. Making timepieces that I use as navigational instruments and that I test for long periods of time in the field at extreme temperatures and altitudes makes it a unique and authentic test lab. Once the watch has survived the expedition, Panerai makes a limited special edition timepiece with my signature. Mercedes Benz use me for internal and external communication.”

Mike says while it’s difficult to measure the return on their respective investments, he has adopted a personal solution to determining the value clients get from his association with them.

“If you always do what you promise to do for them, and are willing to give more than they ask, reinventing yourself with new projects, I think it is worth it for them.”

This Johannesburg-born adventurer’s next expedition is Pole to Pole, another first in the adventure world. Horn will make solo journeys to both the North and South Poles, crossing the Arctic and Antarctica on foot and by skis.

When crossing the Pacific and Atlantic Ocean, he will be on board his sailing vessel Pangea.

As with most of his missions, Horn won’t have support; although for much of the time there will be people in the vicinity, as a camera-crew will be shooting for international film producer Goldcrest, which is producing a series on the adventure.

He aims to complete Pole to Pole within a year.

Beyond the physical endurance required for this latest venture – which he is preparing for by cycling, climbing and dragging car tyres around Swiss mountains – it requires significant effort to put these expeditions together.

“There are a lot of sacrifices you have to be prepared to make… sacrifices with family because (I am) often away from home, friends you don’t often see, and very little free time.”

Indeed, Horn suffered a tragedy when his wife, New Zealander Cathy, passed away shortly before we conducted this interview.

“I find myself with a massive gap to fill in my private and business life… Cathy was the rock and pillar of everything I ever achieved”.

Almost as if she had planned it, Cathy prepared their teenage daughters to help with the business while they were studying; a seamless transition doubling up as a comforting distraction for this hard-travelling man.

“They know the brand best,” he says, hardly surprising considering that he took them to the North Pole when they were barely in their teens.

And so the business of Mike Horn continues where it makes sense, in Switzerland. It couldn’t have happened anywhere else.

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Related Topics: #Activities, #Adventure, #Environment, #July 2015, #Mike Horn, #Outdoor, #Switzerland, #Travel.