At first sight Colin Wright seems like a thoroughly easy-going person, just out for a good day at the club. He's casually dressed in shirt sleeves, no jacket, and sports a 5 o'clock shadow at noon when I meet him at the Capital Club, Dubai's premier private business club, of which he is a founding member. But behind the casual exterior is a tough as nails person who's just climbed one of the world's highest peaks - the 26,759-feet Manaslu mountain in Nepal. For the co-founder of Intouch Capital, a Swiss regulated firm based in Dubai, and a long-term property professional and investor in the Gulf region, climbing mountains is as much a passion as business.
Wright was born in Rashid Hospital, Dubai, in 1976 and from the age of three lived in Iran until the revolution when his family moved to Sri Lanka. He subsequently returned to the UK and finished his education in England. Wright started his career with a property company on various developments across Europe. He later established his own property development business, sold it and moved to the UAE in 2003 to be part of the development team on the Ski Dubai slope. He has continued in the property business, and has worked on developments in Qatar, Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Riyadh.
He has previously climbed Mount Kilimanjaro (19,340 feet) on two occasions by different routes, Island Peak in the Himalayas and Aconcagua (22,841 feet), the highest mountain in South America, as well as Mount Denali in Alaska, among others. He hopes to climb Mount Everest in the future to complete the World's Seven Summits Challenge.
"My work and other responsibilities won't allow me to climb Everest this year," he says, his voice tinged with regret. "I would like to do it early in 2012." The look on his face tells you he will do it.
I, ME, MYSELF
I started climbing mountains around 13 years ago. It came about because a couple of friends and I decided we didn't really want to go on a normal holiday. We decided to do something different. We had two options, one was canoeing down the Zambezi basin and the other was climbing Kilimanjaro. We thought, well, the Zambezi has the risk of hippo attacks so we went to Kilimanjaro!
The following year I was asked to take some friends up as a guide so I did it a second time. I found it quite easy and I didn't really have much trouble scaling it. So, I decided to push the limits and climb Aconcagua in Argentina. It's the highest peak in the American continent, and then things really started developing from there.
It started to get harder, higher and colder. Eventually I started doing some ice climbing in Norway to get myself acclimatised, and perfect my mountaineering techniques.
I am always trying to climb the highest peak. It gets to be very addictive. Every year I try and go one step higher, one step further. It has given me a fantastic focus on achieving my goals. Many business analogies come out of climbing. Understanding where the top is and never stopping until you reach it is one of them.
In climbing what a lot of people forget is when you reach the top you're only half way there because you need to come down. They put everything - physical and mental effort - in getting to that summit because that's all they are focused on and the moment they get there they take a picture, and they turn around. And then they realise that they actually need to get down and if they don't get home alive the summit doesn't count.
Mountaineering gives you a great understanding of building your strengths. It's like building the base at the foot of the mountain. You can build your future, if you like, on the mountain. The stronger you are, the better you build your infrastructure, and use your route as a design, the better your climb.
I think mountaineering relates to anybody who is in a career environment. We are all aiming for the top. We have different goals, and a vision on how to get there. It's like you are at the bottom of the mountain; you go up step by step, not jump straight to the top. In life, you need to do the same, you need to work out where you're going.
When you are climbing you go through the same thoughts. If the expedition is scaling an 8,000-metre peak, it can be intimidating when you stand at the bottom. The mountain is so huge, frighteningly so. If you think, ‘it's too big, I can't climb it, this is out of my reach', that's it. You'll probably not start the climb.
However, if you don't take the entire mountain into your vision, you will be able to do it. You can say all I have got to do is get to Camp 1, and I am going to reach there tomorrow. So, that's it, forget about everything else, just get to Camp 1. Likewise in a career you're at the bottom and if you think tomorrow I am going to become the CEO it's not going to happen. You just got to go one step up, one promotion at a time. In climbing, you just focus on the next camp and sometimes when it's really tough you say, well I need to only get to this point, which is half way to your present goal, by around lunch. You'll get further that way.
I, ME, MYSELF
Me and luxury
When you climb mountains, you understand the value of life and the luxuries around us. I don't really think I climb mountains because I want to break out of a regulated, regimented lifestyle. I think it's something more fundamental, where you go away and do something completely different (that makes you realise the true value of life). Where simply making a cup of tea is an effort.
Everything is a luxury. Even simple things like boiling water, having a shower, or watching television. You don't see these as luxuries, but when you have to go out and dig up the snow, carry around the gas that you have to boil the water with, fight to breathe, you realise what life is all about. It takes you an hour and a half to make a cup of tea up there. Then suddenly you begin to appreciate everything. The sheer extremes you experience while climbing at high altitudes is a great leveller. Everything is an effort.
It also goes back to our primordial instincts where we want to go back to nature. I think it makes you realise that the basics of life are really food, water and oxygen. Most people would normally say food and water, but when you go up to a hypoxic environment and there is so little oxygen then you suddenly realise what's really fundamental to life. Everything else in life is a luxury.
Also, shelter. When the wind is blowing at 80 to 90km/h and the temperature is -50°C, shelter is quite important. Trying to pitch a tent up in that condition is pretty hard. It makes you value the basic things in life. When you are surrounded by some of the largest mountains in the world, it's an awesome feeling. You start to appreciate the value of this world and what we have.
Me and my childhood
Though I was born here, I grew up mostly in the Far East. My father, who was also a real estate developer, was here when I was a baby so I was in Dubai for a couple of years. Then off we went with him to Iran. When the revolution happened in Iran, we moved to Saudi Arabia for a while. It was mostly nomadic at this point, for a while in the UK and then to Asia where I spent most of my childhood. Then it was back to London. Later when I started working, I had an opportunity to come back to the UAE, and have never looked back since. A lot of my climbing was done after I moved here. I have done some of the toughest mountains, including Mt Denali in Alaska in 2005.
Me and my influences
I have a few people who mean different things to me. I have role models for every interest of mine. In entrepreneurship/business it clearly is Richard Branson. I also look up to Sergio Marchionne, the CEO of Fiat and Chrysler. I think he is brilliant.
In mountaineering I would say the famed American mountaineer Ed Viesturs, one of the first people to climb all 14, 8,000-metre peaks without the aid of an oxygen tank. Yes, I look up to all sorts of various people for various things. They may not be world-beaters but they are people who are specialised in some industry or sport. You shouldn't look at one person for everything. Just zero in on what he is really good at and learn from him how he got so good at it. I have often done that in life. I have been doing this since I was a kid. When my father was in Sri Lanka, he would invite the chairman of his company home. I would look at him to figure out how he got there. Even if a person has ten things that are bad about him, he's probably got two things that are somehow special. Just try and learn the best things from everybody you meet, and you'll end up learning a lot of things.
Me and fatherhood
It certainly changes you. From being a single person to having a dependent, it is indeed a sea change. When you are married your world changes, you are now a couple. You become a team, you love each other. But when you have a child there is suddenly this new person in your world that has no way to make a choice. It's all down to you to take this new baby and turn him into a respectable, healthy and educated adult. Naturally, your child then becomes your focus, and you concentrate on giving him the best education and upbringing. I had a fantastic upbringing, living all over the world, and I hope I can do the same for my child. You know, living in all those countries was an education in itself without going to school.
I, ME, MYSELF
What kind of a perspective does having grown up in many countries give you? Do you feel you have an edge over others?
I grew up all over the world as a child and it does give me a slightly different outlook on life from someone who hasn't lived in foreign land. It gives me an appreciation of different cultures. I often enjoy being the odd person out in a crowd of people.
Whether it is the sport I play or even the clothes I wear, I have often preferred to be different. If I am in a room full of people who are all like me, then it's no fun. So, I'd much rather live in a foreign country where it is much more exciting.
How has staying in different places changed you?
I think it changes your attitude to life. It just makes you more open to doing things. Where others would see it as a risk and become scared and anxious, I think nothing of making quick decisions and air-dashing to a foreign country for a business deal.
You land in Kathmandu, for example, and you pick up some words and you learn how to flag a taxi and check into a hotel. For me it's all in a day's work, whereas for some people, because they don't have that openness to the world, it is a lot of hard work.
You have moved around, travelled a lot. Which place do you consider your home?
Dubai. I was born here. I have more property here in Dubai than I do anywhere else in the world, even the UK. But it's more than just owning stuff, it's more a feeling. For instance, I was in London once and I was getting on the plane to return to Dubai, and I caught myself saying ‘Oh! I am going home'. So, it's a feeling that I get when the plane lands in Dubai, I feel comfortable. It's interesting. It's an emotion. I go back to London where my home used to be, where all my friends are and I don't know the place. I like going there, but I don't really want to stay there.
What do you value the most in life?
Love. It has to be love. What can be more pure than a child's love? That's why whenever I have raised money for charity in the past it's been for children's charities. Children are often born with problems and they don't really have a choice in life.
As you grow older you also start valuing your body, your health. Also, with my mountaineering I have to keep fit, by eating well, by exercising. Even if for no other reason, I have to stay fit for the mountains.