Pen Hadow climbing out onto an ice floe after completing an open water crossing

Pen Hadow: man with a mission

Pen Hadow is the world's leading Polar explorer. He's worked at the very top of the international corporate sponsorship industry and is now combining these two skills to help fund environmental scientific research.

Before becoming the internationally renowned Polar explorer and environmental commentator that he is today, Pen Hadow's career was entirely different. He cut his teeth at the International Management Group (IMG), founded by Mark McCormack, the man who invented sports sponsorship.

Hadow's early engagement with the Arctic was running a small guiding company that led trips in the Polar Regions. In parallel with that specialist tour operation, he also became the first person to make a solo journey without resupply from Canada to the North Geographic Pole. After three attempts over 15 years he achieved this in 2003, and within nine months he'd also made an unsupported journey with a sledging partner to the South Geographic Pole. Today he is still the only Briton to have made unsupported journeys to both poles.

Having fulfilled his ambition to achieve the North Pole, Hadow realised he could use his reputation, authority and knowledge of the Arctic Ocean to help scientists understand better how the Arctic oceanographic system works, and to communicate that to a global audience. And so the Catlin Arctic Survey was born. In 2009, Hadow took to the ice both as overall survey director and leader of the Explorer Team that was conducting ice-penetrating radar experiments.

Now Hadow is combining his experience in both the world of business and exploration. The result is his new company Geo Mission, an environmental sponsorship and communications company, of which Hadow is the founding director and CEO. Geo Mission's first client was Catlin, a business-to-business insurance and reinsurance company, who are the title sponsor of Geo Mission's Arctic Survey.

E&T: In 2009 you were one of the Catlin Arctic Survey 'explorer team' out there on the ice. But this year you were in a more conventional management role, stuck in an office in London. Why was that?

Pen Hadow: It was a deliberate decision taken to understand better the operational delivery aspects of a project like this from the other end of the telescope. It's one thing to be an explorer fulfilling a vision of what you want to achieve, but it's quite another to understand the business needs of clients and ensure that those are delivered as contracted. A major transition has taken place over the course of 2009 to 2010.

E&T: That sounds far less exciting than being out on the ice! Is this transformation a measure of how serious the work is? As senior manager, is it that you simply can't get out of the office?

PH: This year's Explorer Team didn't need me organising and leading them. They are professional sea-ice operators in their own right and they were contracted to provide a survey service. And that's what they did. Also, I feel that I was in a unique position having both a business and exploration background to enable this transition, which is critical for Geo Mission to become a sustainable business. And while that may not sound as exciting, that's the least of my worries. I have to prioritise how I can best use my experience and time. And it was very clear to me that in setting up the business I needed to be in the UK.

E&T: But the world knows you as an explorer, not a senior manager.

PH:The perception among general readers might be that of 'once an explorer always an explorer' and that an explorer is someone with a certain take on life. But, I think it's important for people to understand that I'm not like that. I used to work with the world's largest and most successful sports rights management agency, Mark McCormack's IMG. I am now engaged in marrying the needs of brands to enhance their environmental credentials with the scientific need to understand how the natural world works. I'm not all about charging around with a sledge.

E&T: How much of your role at Geo Mission is to do with the marketing of your business and how much is to do with project managing the Arctic Survey?

PH: My role is not to manage the project itself ' we have a project manager and a team that deliver the operational, management and communications aspects. My role is to give it shape and direction, and to monitor and advise in the course of the delivery. This year was different, for example. Last year was long-range survey looking at ice thickness with a view to helping to predict sea-ice loss. This year we had a long-range survey team, but we also had a scientific base conducting its own fieldwork. And so it was a two-pronged field campaign out on the sea-ice. The tented encampment science base was located on the ice in the northern Canadian Arctic and there was the explorer team gunning for the Pole. I had a large part to play in deciding where the optimal location was for the ice base, because it's a function of what were the scientists' needs and the operational limitations and budgetary constraints. Also there was an element of deciding what was going to work in communications terms.

E&T: We all understand why people sponsor the World Cup, but why are sponsors attracted to your type of expeditions?

PH: The natural world is showing signs of stress in response to our activities - whether on a micro level, such as local river levels, or a macro scale such as loss of ice cover at the top of our planet. And if one agrees that we need to manage our relationship with the natural world better, then never has it been more important that we understand how the natural processes and systems work. The better we understand how the natural world works, the better position we will be in to manage our relationship with it.

Now look at this from the corporate end of the telescope. Almost every organisation needs to enhance its environmental credentials, and at a time when it has never been more important that scientists are finding out how the world works. A happy coincidence of timing.

Just as brands for several decades have grown into the idea of sponsoring sport to deliver brand values, awareness and opportunities, more recently business has sponsored the arts. People were horrified and said 'how grubby, those two cultures won't work together'. Now, Geo Mission is at the forefront of bringing about the idea that business should be sponsoring the advancement of science and public understanding of the environment.

E&T: How does sponsoring scientific research increase an organisation's environmental credentials?

PH: You can sponsor any number of tennis tournaments. Any number of arts events. You're not going to get an iota of environmental credibility in any shape or form. And, in fact, any attempt to do so is likely to be worthy of being mocked.

Geo Mission provides the opportunity to sponsor scientific research addressing major questions of our time. The benefit is that we can identify and package the communications and other marketing opportunities that can be extracted from the sponsorship.

E&T: Specifically what does Catlin get out of their sponsorship of the survey?

PH: They got a 20-fold return on their investment, and that investment was north of a seven-figure sum. This is measured by an array of performance indicators, including AVE [advertising value equivalent] figures, opportunities to see and so on. Independently audited figures show that we created 3.3 billion opportunities to be watched on TV, heard on the radio or read in newspapers and magazines in 2009. We got Catlin's name into 45 countries and we have reason to believe that the project's reach was more like 90.

E&T: But isn't there an ethical conflict in independent science research projects drawing sponsorship out of the private sector industry community?

PH: There's a widespread and entirely erroneous notion among the broader public that somehow science should be funded by government agencies. When did all this start, for heaven's sake? Why is it that business shouldn't be engaged with helping us to understand how the world works? The quality of the science is exactly the same whoever funds it. As a company, Geo Mission would look very carefully at what issues could be involved if, say, a mineral extraction company wished to sponsor a scientific research programme within its own sector, but we're here to serve the business and scientific communities.

E&T: Would you get involved with BP sponsoring, say, a marine survey?

PH: If BP sees the benefits of funding a major scientific initiative I'd be looking for reasons to go ahead, not having a knee-jerk reaction to prevent it. There would have to be a good reason for not going ahead and the only thing I can think of is if there was a public perception that we could not overcome, that in some way the science might be skewed. Otherwise, why on earth would one not increase funding for science?

I think that this idea that governments should fund scientists because 'that's what they do' is unhealthy. It's time to wake up. Do you really want taxpayers' money to be the only source of funding of our understanding of the natural world? Why would you want to impose that limitation? Why couldn't we have matched funding where business contributes a pound for every pound the taxpayer pays. Then we have double the money. Let's get the brains and the authoritative findings of the scientists and link that to the communications potential and promotional opportunities of large commercial organisations.

E&T: What are your feelings about the future of the relationship between the science and business communities?

PH: There is an extraordinary opportunity staring us in the face. And that opportunity is to harness the immense potential of business to advance science through its funding. The global community needs business to do this and there's every reason we will see a rapidly emerging market for business sponsorship of natural sciences.

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