Self Confident men, Shy and Flamboyant

Self Confident men, Shy and Flamboyant

January 12th, 2008 · Add Comments

Life’s a bit like mountaineering – never look down.” So said Sir Edmund Hillary, who reached the summit of Mount Everest in 1953. He was the first to reach the highest point on earth, an achievement for which he was forever linked. He died yesterday aged 88.

Whilst around 2000 have since reached the summit, when Hillary and Tenzing Norgay did so it had been seen as beyond man’s capability, previous expeditions having ground to a halt. As Hilary admitted:-

We didn’t know if it was humanly possible to reach the top.

Whatever image you have of Edmund Hillary, remember two facts about him. At school, he was in a gym group for those lacking co-ordination and admitted to feeling a “deep sense of inferiority”. A few years later he was apparently so shy that he proposed to his wife with a message via her mother. Yet at a still relatively young age he achieved something he is still being celebrated for 55 years later.

Sir John Harvey-Jones also died yesterday, aged 83. Not as internationally known like Edmund Hillary, he retired from a successful career in 1987. He was then chairman of chemical giant ICI, and took it to become the first British company to make a 1 billion pound profit. But it was in retirement that he became famous.

Harvey-Jones fronted a television show called “Troubleshooter”. The show followed him as he was brought in to advise various ailing businesses – a format quite novel in the 1980’s (and much copied since!) . Unlike the reserved Edmund Hillary, John Harvey-Jones was a flamboyant character with loud ties and long hair (for someone in his sixties). He oozed self confidence.

Troubleshooter ended with Harvey-Jones gathering the managers of the company to give his analysis – and usually putting the boot in! He didn’t hold back in his criticism and advice. Bearing in mind the companies were usually family concerns that had stagnated rather than were heading for bankruptcy, it was taken with typical British stoicism (in other words, no one hit him).

The two men had very different backgrounds. John Harvey Jones was sent to a boarding school at the age of 6, whilst his family remained in India. Edmund Hillary had a two hour each way journey to school from his rural home. He started work as a beekeeper, whilst at 16 Harvey-Jones joined the Royal Navy as a midshipman.

Last September I also compared the lives of two people whose deaths I had then just discovered – Goodbye to Jane and Andrew. Sadly they both died in their 40’s – both ordinary people whose lives took took quite different courses.

What we achieve in life doesn’t depend on our circumstances at birth, nor the personality traits we inherit genetically. Our upbringing does leave an imprint on us, but it doesn’t have to totally shape the course of our lives. I leave with another quote from Edmund Hillary:-

You don’t have to be a fantastic hero to do certain things – to compete. You can be just an ordinary chap, sufficiently motivated.

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