Island classroom is world's best
HE became instantly famous when he won the highly sought-after Best Job in the World competition, and now Ben Southall has returned to the Whitsundays to kickstart his new Venturer Program focussing on resilience building for business people.
It was on Hamilton Island in 2009 when it was announced that the adventurous Englishman had beaten 35,000 other hopefuls and would be paid $150,000 to spend six months living on the island and promoting the Great Barrier Reef as part of a Tourism Queensland marketing plan.
Mr Southall - who has seemingly spent the past eight years going from Best Job in the World to even better jobs - this month took 19 ambitious entrepreneurs on a seven-day, four-island mission of endurance, fortitude, and sheer guts around the Whitsundays.
Participants kayaked more than 50km, camped on Whitsunday and Hook islands without running water or power, and took part in team building and reef conservation work in an effort to build the mental and physical stamina believed to be hallmarks of the most successful entrepreneurs.
On his return from "Mission Whitsundays" last week, Mr Southall said he had wanted to take striving business people out of their comfort zones, help them face their fears and ultimately teach them how to meet and beat the challenges of the outdoors in a bid to develop crucial skills that could be transferred back to the business world.
He said the Venturer Program, created for the Office of the Queensland Chief Entrepreneur, would allow people to challenge their perceptions about what they thought was possible.
"It will build their internal grit and resilience to embrace adventure and the outdoors, and those are the key skills that a lot of people want to have," he said.
"I think they're really important and any business these days that has resilience and adventure as part of its culture does very well and leapfrogs ahead of their competitors.
"If you can take on things that you thought were impossible - and that might include people telling you that the business will fail - and you overcome them, then you're a much stronger person, and stronger business person. You've then got a stronger business to go back to, so that was the core of what we were doing."
The outdoor epic, from July 10-16, also featured investors and speakers - including celebrity chef Matt Golinksi and Steve Baxter from Shark Tank - who told participants their stories and how they had managed to build thriving businesses and start-ups.
Mr Southall also runs his own company, Best Life Adventures, and has plenty more experiences and adventures planned for the future.
"I've always wanted a life of adventure. I love being in the outdoors, so for me this is a dream come true. And to be able to take other people out there is even better," he said.
Hayley and Neill Kennedy, owners of Salty Dog Sea Kayaking, were involved with the Venturer Program, and said the expedition was a great idea.
"The average age of people on our general six-day trips is late 30s to early 70s. We've had somebody in their mid-80s do this," Ms Kennedy said.
"We deal with a lot of professionals who want to explore the wilderness and push themselves."
Ms Kennedy said the weather had been windy and challenging, especially on the second and third legs, when Mr Southall and his team were kayaking "which was good because that was part of what they were aiming for with the program".
Mr Southall, who is also the author of The Best Job in the World book, said the outdoors provided the "best classroom we have" and he encouraged people to travel and be adventurous.
"I think going out there and travelling breaks down the barriers of perfection and allows people to be more open-minded, you become more culturally sensitive and you understand other people and can put yourself in their shoes," he said.
Mr Southall's own resume is extraordinary. Since winning the global competition, he has completed a quest titled 'Best Expedition in the World', a four-month kayaking trip the length of the Great Barrier Reef in conjunction with Tourism Queensland. The trip generated more than $5 million worth of publicity for the state internationally.
In 2013 he worked with Tourism Australia on a project named the 'Aussie 8', which was also filmed as documentary.
"I said, why don't I try and run up the tallest mountain in each state in Australia in eight days, so all eight mountains are done. It was the first time it had ever been done," he said.
Next, he worked with New Zealand's tourism board and completed nine of New Zealand's best walks, back-to-back in nine days. This bold feat was also filmed and called the 'New Zealand 9'.
In 2015, with his partner Sophee, Mr Southall drove his Land Rover from Singapore to London, a momentous trip "where we met some of the most friendly, beautiful people in the world".
"It was a 65,000km journey through 32 different countries, and we drove all the way back in time for Christmas with my mum and dad and sister in the UK," he said.
Queensland Chief Entrepreneur Mark Sowerby, Founder of Blue Sky Alternative Investments Limited, said this first Venturer mission - another three are in the planning stages - also aimed to strengthen connections between the Queensland startup ecosystem.
A number of local businesses and not-for-profit groups benefited from the Venturer Program, including Hamilton Island, Hamilton Island Air, Salty Dog Kayaking, Explore Whitsundays, Cruise Whitsundays, Eco-Barge and Reef Check.