Neil Laughton, founder of Laughton & Co
“I love to surround myself with positive, go-getting, adventurous people. One of the traits I have is to never to give up, to be determined and resilient, and I think it's an important trait.”
The polished wooden panelled walls of Phileas J. Fogg’s London residence in Mayfair, is the perfect location to meet with polar explorer and entrepreneur Neil Laughton. The walls, shelves and ceiling, with a vast and rare collection of artefacts and antiques showcasing Fogg’s endless adventures, it’s clear Neil feels at home here.
A former Royal Marine Commando and Special Forces Officer, Neil has climbed Mount Everest eight times, and has trekked to the South pole. He also counts piloting the world's first road-legal flying car on a journey from London to Timbuktu crossing the Sahara Desert, among his endless list of adventures. It is clear that Neil, who founded the Penny Farthing Club in 2013, thrives off adrenaline.
Just listening to him talk in detail about his many expeditions, is enough to make you want to up your fitness regime. “I think what inspires me about being adventurous, not only in business but also just in one's daily life and expedition life, is the challenge. We humans love a challenge and I think that hasn't changed in many centuries. Look around this room; you see Phileas Fogg and his hot air balloon and wonderful Penny-Farthing bicycles which I have a connection with.”
On 15 June 2018, Neil joined his friend Marc Beaumont (the record breaker) and other club members to try and beat the existing British Record for one hour on a Penny Farthing (previously set by BW Attlee in 1891).
“As with most achievements, this came about due to curiosity, rising to a challenge and good strategy. Five years ago, I saw a picture of a Penny Farthing bicycle and asked myself two questions. Could I ride one and might it be possible to play polo on Penny Farthing bikes? I ordered eight replica Penny Farthings from the USA and founded the Penny Farthing Club.
"A few years later, I’ve taught hundreds of people to ride these iconic bikes. I am the captain the England Penny Farthing Polo team and I recently organised and participated in an attempt on the 132-year-old one hour open track world record of circa 22 miles set by an American professional cyclist in 1886. We had a crack at the record in June this year during the World Cycling Revival at Herne Hill Velodrome in south London. Sadly we missed the world record by 28 seconds but secured a new British record of 21.92 miles that had previously stood for 127 years.”
In 1996, Neil was caught on Everest in the worst storm in a century. Eight people died and others suffered from severe frostbite. The dangerous are clear to see, but does he ever get scared?
“I've been in plenty of situations; most recently survived a few disasters on Everest, including an earthquake. I had to be rescued from the Arctic on a nine-foot kayak heading towards the North Pole a couple of years ago. Yes, we all get scared but it's a question of thinking straight and looking to that survival instinct to not get the better of you at the worst moment. So over the years I've trained myself to think clearly, to try and think strategically and use my leadership skills to get myself out of trouble.”
Neil’s passion for adventure has helped him to become a successful businessman. He founded a group of companies in the design, construction and office furniture industries which grew to £40m turnover before selling up to an FTSE 100 company in 2011.
Now a full-time business consultant, leadership coach, and team trainer, Neil spends much of his time encouraging disaffected and disadvantaged inner city youth to realise their potential.
He says: “I think for me success is about having a fulfilling life: I've never wanted to, if I ever reach 70, wake up in bed thinking “what have I done with my life?” I've always wanted an exciting existence, I didn't want to have any regrets and so success for me is fulfilling that.
“It’s making sure that I try and be kind to as many people on my journey as I can, and inspire others, particularly in the work that I do now in Laughton & Co; we provide training and development to give people the tools, the confidence, and skills and knowledge to get out and achieve their objectives, be they personal or professional.”
His passion for inspiring, organising, fundraising and leading teams on adventurous expeditions while raising funds for charity recently led him to host the world's highest black-tie dinner party on Mount Everest at 23,000 feet.
Neil is preparing for his next expedition to Afghanistan. “I think it will be testing and challenging and obviously there is an element of risk, but it will be for a good cause: We're going to take as many young females out into the wilds of their own country to do some sport and to do some adventures: We're taking out some inflatable paddle boards as well as running a marathon.”
So what does his family think? “I do pass the plans by my wife and nowadays the children, and they're just getting old enough to really understand what it is that Dad does in his spare time.
“But ultimately, thankfully I'm lucky; they generally don't say no. They encourage and support me on most of my endeavours. They're not quite so keen on Afghanistan but, you know, rough with the smooth!”
Growing up in Sussex and Somerset, Neil struggled at school and admits that he was academically challenged. “I dug out an old school report; it was a geography school report by a Mr Roberson, class 2B. The school report said: “Neil is trying very hard but achieving very little.” I had to work really hard and that's where I think resilience, determination and hard work was born in me.”
“So overall school was a traumatic experience; I was a little bit naughty, got expelled. I got caught organising a rave which included, in those days, eight strikes with the cane, the maximum corporal punishment that you could get.
“But they brought me back a year later and actually put me into a leadership position; they gave me a school prefect role, head of the house and from there on I kind of blossomed. Passed a couple of exams and managed to get the right degree.”
Having spent 12 years in the military, Neil started life in business as a door-to-door office equipment salesman in London and then progressed from there to management roles in various industries.
“I worked for a few companies, but I didn't get on terribly well with statutory employment, and had a bit of bad luck. Ultimately my destiny was to set up my own business, become an entrepreneur and create a business from scratch. I started with £2,000 of my own savings to start the business and really just traded into profit.”
Neil has travelled to over a hundred different countries and names explorers Ernest Shackleton, Captain Robert Falcon Scott and Roald Amundsen, as his adventuring heroes.
“I love to travel, mostly whilst on expeditions and adventures. If I had to pick one country, I'd probably choose the place that I've been to most often expeditions and that’s Nepal. It's a fabulous country, the people are so welcoming. They have nothing compared with what we have in capital terms in the West, but they're wonderfully generous people and of course the scenery and the physical geography of the country are stunning.
“I have a fantastic quality of life, particularly work-life balance. I live in the South Downs National Park, I have a wonderful family with a nice house and a swimming pool, and things couldn't get much better when you compare it with some of the places and people that I go to see and try and help.
“Particularly from a charitable perspective I like to help as many people in business as I can, and also continue with fun challenging expeditions and adventures.”
In Good Company
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