The challenges of leading, performing, and executing at the highest level, and often in complete isolation, are familiar terrain to Ben Saunders. Navigating and overcoming self-doubt, loneliness, uncertainty, and adversity in pursuit of a goal is what makes Saunders a record-breaking polar explorer, and a speaker whose story resonates with audiences around the world.
While the achievements of this world-leading adventurer are deeply inspiring, it is the hard-won life lessons etched within each voyage — totaling nearly 5,000 miles on skis and more than a year spent in complete isolation in the harshest environments on the planet — that prove most valuable and applicable to his audiences. Faced with some of the world’s most unforgiving and unpredictable conditions, Ben has learned the necessity of growing through failure, how to control the controllables in fast-changing environments, and that acting without certainty is the key to unlocking individual and collective self-belief.
His achievements are at the outer limits of human endeavor: he organized and led the longest human-powered polar journey in history; a 108-day return journey to the South Pole on foot that spanned 1,800 miles, the equivalent of 69 back-to-back marathons, dragging 440lbs (200kg) of food and supplies in his sled. Saunders describes this unprecedented journey as “a tough camping trip,” with the type of humorous and understated reflection that make him a perennially well-received and engaging speaker.
In addition, Saunders is the youngest person to ski solo to the North Pole (spending 72 days alone on the Arctic Ocean in conditions recognized as “the worst in 25 years”) and holds the record for the longest solo Arctic journey by a Briton. He has also climbed in the Nepalese Himalayas, worked as an instructor at the John Ridgway School of Adventure, and continues to compete as a cyclist and marathon runner into his forties. He is a worldwide ambassador for the Scouts and works closely with the UK youth development charity British Exploring Society.
From the main stage at TED to small screens around the world, Ben is a sought-after and acclaimed keynote speaker. Labeled a ‘master storyteller’ by TED, his three main-stage appearances at the conference have been viewed more than five million times. Through his real-time journal entries, stunning visual content, and earnest reflection, he takes audiences into the unknown. Whether he’s speaking to global corporations or pioneering start-ups, in-person or online, his honesty, humor, and humility enable people to find often surprising parallels between his experiences and their own. (As Ben points out, he “spent more time in spreadsheets than on skis for twenty years”.)
With an intimate knowledge of both the wonder and the fragility of the natural world, Saunders is a powerful advocate for its future. It is a thread which runs through the expeditions he leads, the stories he tells, the future pioneers he mentors, and through his next chapter as cofounding partner of Kintanna Ventures, named after a remote Antarctic peak, and a business that identifies, invests in and accelerates climate tech innovation.
In many ways Ben Saunders is the ultimate ‘remote worker.’ On his record-breaking solo expeditions, he has to perform at the highest level while several thousand miles away from his colleagues and team that he has to be willing to trust with his life. This physical fragmentation – rich in logistical and psychological challenges – is something businesses and their leaders the world over have been plunged into in recent times. This new normal is what makes Saunders such a valuable, timely, and relevant speaker. Drawing on his experiences – of more than a year spent cumulatively alone in the Arctic and Antarctica – he shares his hard-won lessons on sustaining resilience, personal motivation and emotional wellbeing when the chips are down.
The more remote you are, the more your ability to communicate openly, honestly and frankly becomes a lifeline.” Understanding how human truths can be hidden behind digital platforms – and knowing first-hand the harmful impact this can have on high-performance teams – Saunders offers business leaders and their people tangible examples of how to remove the barriers to open communication, and to streamline their collaborative effectiveness.
In an era when global headlines have painted a challenging, unpredictable, and seemingly insurmountable outlook, Saunders gives audiences a compelling insight into the value of optimizing physical, emotional, and psychological energy – both individually and collectively – through an immediately applicable masterclass on the vital importance of focus.
Saunders has had to adapt to operating environments that are constantly in flux. Fighting against these vast natural forces is hopeless; success and survival depend solely on his ability to flex with them. In the depths of his longest-ever expedition – nearly four months in Antarctica – Ben made the decision to call in an air drop of food as hypothermia and exhaustion threatened him and his teammate. He describes a sense of failure in the moment, but also a vital decision he now views as the proudest of his career – made in the face of adversity, and an object lesson in the importance of being willing to ask for help.
For the majority of his adult life, Saunders was driven by a singular ambition: to be the first to complete the Antarctic journey that had defeated Sir Ernest Shackleton and Captain Robert Scott – 1,800 miles on foot to the South Pole and back. The achievement of this goal after more than a decade of focus and sacrifice forced a rewriting of his own definition of success. “I used to see success as a finish line – achieving your goal. A literal threshold at some point in the future. To me now, success looks more like continuing to strive well. In business, of course, there is no finish line.”
On expeditions in profoundly hostile and uncertain climates – where the best-laid plans invariably and inevitably dissipate – Saunders has had to improvise with severely limited resources. This metaphorical scenario is being faced by businesses around the world, and there is no better qualified guide in this crucial test of leadership.
As a master storyteller, and supported by spectacular visuals, Saunders takes audiences on a journey from uncertainty, fear and self-doubt, to eventually raising the bar in one of the most demanding fields imaginable. It is a life journey that gives evidence to his belief that “impossible is just someone else’s opinion”, that unravels the mysterious roots of perseverance, and delivers insight on how to make the best use of the traits and potential we all possess, but all-too-rarely employ to their fullest.
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"WOW, WOW, WOW, he was fantastic! The feedback was great. He did a great job of connecting his travels to lessons learned and related it to business. We will have him again!"
"I just wanted to sincerely thank Ben for a brilliant closing keynote, everyone absolutely loved it! He was amazing and it was a perfect end to our day."
"Well done and thank you to all of those involved in the planning for the NEU Day. I understand it went very well and Ben Saunders’ talk about his adventures in a tough environment was inspirational. It might just get me through the rest of lockdown!"
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"I wanted to say thanks for your talk during the WEX annual meeting. Much of what you expressed hit home as a 43 year old guy myself. I appreciate you not going corporate buzzword crazy like most past speakers and for going deeper into your true experience."
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