Adventure with a capital A this week as I chat to my guest this week, business entrepreneur and adventurer Kevin Gaskell. Kevin has led 15 companies; has been CEO for BMW, Porsche and Lamborghini (GB); written a book; was a member of the crew that set a world record for rowing across the Atlantic; has played international cricket; climbed Mount Everest; has walked both the North and South Pole; played in a rock band; is a keen skier, scuba diver and enjoys clay pigeon shooting. In 2024, he will be attempting the world record for crossing the Pacific ….. Hi Kevin & welcome….
Hello! I’m Kevin and I would say that I am a businessman who enjoys adventure! An engineer and accountant by qualification, I have led 15 companies of which 7 have been turnarounds or in need of significant re energising. I enjoy the challenge of building extraordinary companies and building world class teams. Outside the office, I maintain my enjoyment of adventure by my pursuit of extreme physical challenges.
Being an entrepreneur and adventurer, what was the inspiration behind your book “Catching Giants” ?
The book is written with 3 elements – firstly the adventure story of how 5 novice rowers took on the world’s toughest row, won the race and set a new world record for the fastest crossing despite being hammered by storms and capsizing the boat in the middle of the ocean. Secondly, how did we use planning and preparation to defeat stronger and more experienced rowers including Olympic oarsmen. Thirdly, the lessons that we learned from the experience and how those lessons of becoming world class can be applied by anyone to their lives or their business.
“Catching Giants” provides 80 step by step lessons/advice for business world leaders & having built 15 companies and have been CEO of BMW, Porsche & Lamborghini, what was the best business advice you received from someone that you’ve passed on?
The best advice that I was ever given was to focus on getting better at whatever you are setting out to do. If you do that, then bigger will follow. Do not chase numbers, rather build a great business.
It’s an understatement to say that you’re a serial adventurer – you are always on the go! From being part of the crew that set a new world record for rowing across the Atlantic (in 2020), climbing Everest ( I haven’t climbed Everest – yet) , playing International cricket, walking both Poles and in 2024 you will be attempting the world record for crossing the Pacific. Who or what first inspired your love of adventure?
I grew up in North Wales and have been climbing mountains since I was about 12 years old. My love of outdoor adventure has just grown from there… Each adventure gets a bit bigger and a bit more extreme but it feels like a natural progression.
So, as we are talking adventure, I guess you don’t do tame hobbies! What do you enjoy doing in your spare time or to relax?
I enjoy clay pigeon shooting, playing guitar in a rock band and reading business books.
Back to business, as you have had vast experience working with entrepreneurs, pioneers and global brands, what projects gave you a real buzz?
The biggest buzz ever was leading the turnaround of Porsche. The business was in a very difficult position and, to my complete surprise, I was appointed MD of the UK operation. We had lost 90% of our sales and were in last place on the UK customer satisfaction survey. We had a mountain to climb but with every single member of a fantastic team pulling together for 4 years we led the business to the top of the table for customer satisfaction and thereby, profitability. It really was an incredible result. I have also enjoyed building technology businesses where we have turned good ideas into successful and valuable companies.
In a similar vein, what type of adventures give you a real buzz?
The Atlantic row was very special. Physically it was extreme exertion at a whole new level. We were rowing 2 hours on, 2 hours off for 24 hours every day for 36 days. With very limited opportunity to sleep, by day 12 or so we were hallucinating and each rowing shift was a trial. But we were an amazing team – we started as friends and we finished as friends despite the enormous physical hardship.
As a child, what was your dream career?
I always wanted to be a civil engineer and build exciting structures. So that’s what I did. My first degree was in Civil and Structural Engineering and I enjoyed every minute of it. After 4 years on construction sites though I realised that my ambition to build inspiring structures was, in reality, more likely to be digging drainage alongside a new motorway construction. At that point I decided that I needed to broaden my skillset and I went back to university to study for an MBA before moving into accountancy for 5 years.
If you could visit any place in the world – either to pursue an adventure or to just holiday – where would you go and why?
I would love to trek through the Andes.
Is your book “Catching Giants” available to purchase worldwide?
Yes, via Amazon.
Personal now – what outfits and shoes would you normally be found wearing?
Jeans, open neck shirt, sneaker type shoes – unless I’m going to a formal meeting in which case it would likely be a jacket and trousers and Chelsea boots.
Do you have any favourite shops or online sites ?
I like SportPursuit for sports and semi-expedition gear, otherwise I tend to buy Gant shirts and Levi jeans.
What’s next on your clothes/shoes wishlist?
I have just been measured up for my first ever bespoke business suit. This was with Alexandra Wood and it was a thoroughly enjoyable experience. the accessories will follow in a few months when I have the suit.
Boots or Shoes?
Chelsea boots generally. I think they are more comfortable and interesting.
Links you would like to share e.g. website/facebook etc
Wishing you all the best Kevin with your 2024 Pacific crossing attempt!!
All photographs have been published with kind permission of Kevin Gaskell (apart from the Pinterest & header photo which are by Linda Hobden)