Top Conference 2016: Fear not, success is at your doorstep, says Lewis Pugh

Ocean advocate, adventurer, environmental activist and motivational speaker Lewis Pugh rocked the stage of the Top CEO Conference 2016 with his inspiring stories.

He narrated his three life experiences and connected them up with life planning in general and business strategies in particular during the conference on April 5 at the Westin Mina Seyahi Dubai. The conference, followed by the TOP CEO Awards ceremony in the evening, was organized by Mediaquest, the parent company of TRENDS business magazine, along with INSEAD Business School.

In 2007, Pugh undertook the first swim across the North Pole to highlight the melting of the Arctic sea ice. He followed this up with a swim across a glacial lake on Mt Everest to draw attention to the melting glaciers in the Himalayas. Over a period of 25 years, he has pioneered more swims around famous landmarks than any other swimmer in history.

He is one of the world’s leading inspirational speakers, with TED describing him as a “master story-teller”. In 2010, the World Economic Forum named him a Young Global Leader. And, in 2013, the United Nations appointed him “Patron of the Oceans”.

At the Top CEO Conference 2016, the mesmerized audience, which included a large number of CEOs of companies listed on GCC stock exchanges, heard Pugh’s breathtaking stories. He shared his insights on the preparation, teamwork and leadership skills necessary for any major undertaking.

The first story was about his one-kilometer swim in the North Pole; the second was about a swim in the Indian Ocean near the Maldives islands; and his third was about his visit to the Robben Island prison in South Africa, where prisoners of the apartheid regime, including Nelson Mandela, were imprisoned.

Pugh revealed that, when he was about to take the plunge into the freezing waters of the North Pole, he was attempting something that had never been done earlier. He said: “There are pioneers and followers. Followers have the advantage of knowing some of the risks beforehand, while pioneers always venture into uncharted territories, so the risk is high and there is a strong fear of the unknown and an eventual failure.” If you want to be a pioneer, you should be prepared for the risk and even for failure, he added, saying that fear should not stop you from trying something new and follow your dreams.

In his story about the swim around Maldives islands, he narrated how he and team were stuck in the sea due to the malfunction of his boat. One of his team members got help from a Russian billionaire whose superyacht was docked at a nearby island. The team member got in touch with Chelsea Football Club in the UK and then asked them to contact the owner of the yacht – and, of course, the football club itself – to help. As a result of a few international phone calls, the billionaire’s yacht showed up within 60 minutes to rescue Pugh and his team. The lesson he drew from this is that we should not limit ourselves: there is no limit to aspirations and people, especially when asked, generally help each other.

The third story about Robben Island dealt with perseverance and hope. Prisoners who were expecting a death sentence were handed a lifer insted. Nelson Mandela’s associate Ahmed Kathrada, who gave Pugh a tour of the prison island, was relieved in 1962 that he, his peers and Mandela were put to death as expected.

By the end of the talk, the plenary hall soon filled with sounds of appreciation from C-suite management gathered there. The session was inspiring and also raised awareness about climate change.