MOVERS and SHAKERS interview with Kevin Vallely, architect, leadership mentor, and co-author of Wild Success: 7 Key Lessons Business Leaders Can Learn from Extreme Adventures.

Tell us your name and a little about yourself.

My name is Kevin Vallely. I’m an explorer, leadership mentor, author, and a registered architect. I’m a member of the esteemed Explorer’s Club and was honored as an Explorer’s Club Flag recipient for my expedition to the Northwest Passage in 2013. In 2009, two teammates and I broke the world record for the fastest unsupported trek to the Geographic South Pole.

Over the last two decades, I’ve discovered that the wild wisdom garnered in the adventure world directly relates to our everyday experience in the business world. I share this hard-won knowledge as a talent and leadership executive working for the AIP Group.


What exactly does your company do?

The AIP Group is an acronym that stands for Adventures Inspiring Performance. We use a combination of immersive learning simulations and talent development modules based upon the theme of adventure to engage, inspire, and develop talent at every level of an organization.


What were the biggest challenges you have faced and how did you overcome them?

I’ve faced a number of very difficult challenges as an adventurer over the years, but the one that stands out for me is when I attempted to row a small 25-foot rowboat across the infamous Northwest Passage in the high Arctic. Melting sea ice in the Arctic due to climate change has opened up the passage in the summer for the first time in history — it has formerly been perennially locked in ice — and has potentially allowed a journey that would have been unthinkable just a decade ago. We attempted something that had never been done before because it could have never been done before. The act of undertaking the expedition spoke to the changes happening there. It would be the most important expedition I’d ever done.

At the halfway point of the journey, we realized we weren’t going to reach our goal of traversing the entire Northwest Passage that season. I was going to fail at my objective for the first time ever in my adventuring career. I was struggling with this notion and was becoming despondent about it. The journey was proving incredibly dangerous — we nearly lost our lives on two occasions.

We were forced to think about why we were doing what we were doing. We had to seriously rationalize our purpose for the expedition — bringing awareness to the changing Arctic — versus our goal for the expedition of traversing the entire Northwest Passage. We realized we could still achieve our purpose even without achieving our goal. It was an important insight and a real lesson for me. Goals are moving targets; the purpose is your foundation.


What piece of advice do you wish someone had given you at the start of your career?

Believe in yourself. Give yourself that one leg up. If you don’t believe in yourself, why should anyone else believe in you?


Who are your biggest influences and people you admire and why?

It’s a little cliché for me as an adventurer, but my biggest influences have been other explorers: the great polar explorer Richard Weber (who was my teammate to the South Pole), Mike Horn (probably the most accomplished adventurer alive today) and Sir Ernest Shackleton, the heroic leader who faced unimaginable challenges yet always maintained his grace and cool under pressure. Each of these explorers demonstrates we can do so much more than we think is possible. There is romanticism in this notion that draws me, but there are real nuts-and-bolts lessons that can be distilled from their experiences as well.


None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?

My dad. He instilled in me a belief that you can do whatever you put your mind to, no matter how outlandish the idea. My mom and dad were new immigrants to Canada from Ireland and brought us up with little family help and no money. They saw their new life in Canada as an opportunity and conveyed that to us as well. Among the things I’ve managed to do over the years includes becoming a professional explorer of all things! If I didn’t believe I could go after anything, I certainly wouldn’t have entertained this career path!


What do you see as your greatest success in life?

My daughters Caitlin and Arianna. Truly, my greatest success in life is bringing two strong, intelligent, self-assured young women into this world.


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