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At the helm: Boris Herrmann and Giorgio Pradelli discuss sailing, business and life

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At the helm: Boris Herrmann and Giorgio Pradelli discuss sailing, business and life

In the 3rd edition of ‘Caminada. Das Magazin’, Andreas Caminada’s lifestyle magazine, published last week, there was very special feature. When extreme sailor Boris Herrmann met Giorgio Pradelli, EFG International CEO at Monaco Ocean Week recently, they had much to discuss.

Both are at the helm of sport and business, worlds which have many parallels, and passionate about sailing. The conversation explored their shared values and the enduring allure of the sea, then touched on everything from sailing solo around the world, to the importance of preserving ocean health and protecting our climate.

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Marketing & Communications

Can you both please explain the fascination with sailing?

Boris Herrmann: The cry of the gulls, water lapping against the hull – these are wonderful childhood memories. My father had a passion for sailing. I was six weeks old when he took me sailing with him to the East Frisian Islands on his boat. For me, sailing is about freedom, discovery, adventure and being at one with nature.

Giorgio Pradelli: It is a similar story for me. My father was also an avid sailor. I can still remember my first sailing trip to the Mediterranean when I was six years old. Compared to Boris, I am an amateur and I don’t compete in races, but what I love about sailing is also the sense of freedom and adventure. Even if boats are now more advanced in terms of their technology, the fundamental experience of sailing is exactly the same as it has been for years.

Boris Herrmann, can you describe what it felt like to compete in the Vendée Globe?

Herrmann: I am absolutely fascinated by this race. Spending three months alone on a noisy yacht is not the nicest experience but even when I found it tough, I never considered giving up. This race is about much more than those three months on a boat. It involves more than four years of preparation and a huge amount of teamwork – from the construction of the yacht to planning the entire race.

Have you never felt lonely while at sea?

Herrmann: I had a lot of people supporting me during the race and I was in contact with them all the time. That said, you do spend 80 days on your own on the boat. That means that you experience a lot of emotions – from euphoria to despondency – and those feelings are much more intense and unfiltered than usual. I always tried to suppress any unpleasant feelings by distracting myself or communicating with others but at some point, you reach the stage where you say ‘okay, I am here alone on the high seas. These emotions simply won’t go away’. That is why I am now also studying literature written by Buddhist monks and I want to develop a technique so that it isn’t as hard dealing with this sense of isolation when times are tough.

Giorgio Pradelli, what is your take on what Boris says?

Pradelli: I would also like to cross the ocean in a yacht one day – but definitely not on my own and on an easier route (laughs). I am really impressed by what Boris has achieved. I closely followed the race and I thought that in the videos, Boris always appeared upbeat and in good humour. Other participants didn’t always seem to be feeling so positive. And I was surprised that so many people were interested in the Vendée Globe, including those who don’t go sailing.

Boris, 80 days alone on the high seas. How do you take care of our basic needs – in other words: sleeping, eating and drinking?

Herrmann: You never sleep for more than 90 minutes at a time. I work with sleep coaches to learn techniques to sleep for short periods. For example, I tried to get to sleep in the car the moment the traffic lights turn red – and I then wake up when the lights turn green and the other drivers start honking their horns (laughs). Eating is less of a problem. There are good meals that are partly freeze dried. I had a range of main courses on board and ate something different each day. I drank desalinated seawater and the occasional shot of whisky, in line with tradition – such as when passing Cape Horn.

At Christmas, you wore a Santa suit and you decorated the yacht at New Year. How important are those things?

Herrmann: I tried to clear my head on these special days. At Christmas, what gave me the biggest boost was when I received a video call from Pierre Casiraghi. I briefly became part of the group he was with and experienced the atmosphere and warmth of that gathering. I also spoke to my wife Birte each day and I saw our little daughter Malou on video. In fact, those videos had an astonishing effect. You see yourself and you think: I could appear more positive, let’s start that again. After a couple of attempts, your mood changes for the better – in line with the motto “I speak, therefore I am.”

Weren’t there times when you would have like to just switch off and rest?

Herrmann: You simply can’t allow that situation to happen when you are out at sea. You have to keep going constantly. This also means that your adrenalin level is always high. You may have a short period of calm but you know that the wind could change direction at any moment or you could be hit by a large wave. That is when you go with the flow and, as a seaman and sailor, you know what you have to do. It becomes more difficult when there isn’t much wind. That is when you face big decisions: Should you turn right or left to sail around the area of high pressure? This is the situation we faced when we were in the South Atlantic and reached the St. Helena High. You can experience the most beautiful weather there and you are sailing along at seven knots but that is when you are most on edge.

Why? You need to explain that to us in more detail.

Herrmann: It is like with any major strategic decision. The most important questions are often not the most urgent; they simmer away in the background. But you know that you have now reached a crossroads. You waver and you could sail on for six more hours and then decide – but sooner or later, you have to set your course and once you do, there is no going back.

Top managers say that it is better to decide rapidly – even if you sometimes take the wrong decision – than to not decide at all.

Herrmann: I think that when it comes to sailing, it is really important to also put decisions on hold now and again. Since a change of course only becomes noticeable after a few days, you have a lot of time to ponder: Have I taken the right decision? Or should I reconsider my move? A better approach is to take a decision and to then evaluate it after 12 hours – and to avoid dwelling on it in the meantime.

Giorgio, do you see any parallels between sailing and banking? Can EFG benefit from Boris Herrmann’s experiences?

Pradelli: Absolutely! This is why EFG has a longstanding commitment to sailing and has been partnering with Boris Herrmann and Team Malizia since 2016. Banking and sailing certainly have a lot in common – and they both have a rich tradition. For example, trade, which is dependent on both banks and sailing ships, was an early source of great prosperity. As an Italian, I am thinking in particular about prosperous port cities and merchant cities such as Genoa, London and Hamburg. Another common trait is that both banking and sailing are driven by innovation and technology. And we share the same values: Passion, dedication and teamwork.

Boris acts as am ambassador and speaker for EFG.

Pradelli: Boris is an outstanding communicator. In one meeting, he used a wonderful metaphor: He said that in sailing, like in banking, you always have to balance performance and risk control. Boris said it is like having two hearts beating inside you. That was very aptly put and our employees could easily visualise what he meant. This is how we want to deliver the best solutions for our clients and to generate more profit for our shareholders – but our success needs to be long term. We want to achieve sustainable growth. That is why we need to have the courage to sometimes take fewer risks. It is not always easy to convey that message within the bank. I now talk about Boris Herrmann’s two hearts – and then everyone understands what I mean.

You are strongly committed to ocean conservation and climate protection.

Herrmann: We need to make the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources. This is the biggest change to our civilisation that humankind has to master in a very short period of time. The oceans have a decisive role to play in terms of our climate. And I believe that sailing can also set an example in this respect – as a metaphor for the power of nature. We need to harness that power more effectively.

Pradelli: Sustainability is the key topic for current and future generations.
We believe that sustainability is therefore also about choosing the right path to balance economic, environmental and social interests. For us as a bank, this means that by offering good advice, we can direct client assets towards innovative businesses and technologies. And generally speaking, we as a company should be fully focused on reducing the wasteful use of resources.

You can read the full article of “Caminada. Das Magazin” here (Germany only)

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Boris Herrmann, Team Malizia and EFG International

Eighteen months ago, Boris Herrmann became the first German sailor to complete the Vendée Globe – the toughest solo race of all which saw him sail non-stop around the world in just 80 days! The dramatic finale saw Herrmann, aged 40, battle for victory. However, his vessel Seaexplorer – Yacht Club de Monaco collided with a fishing trawler at night, shortly before reaching the end of the race, and he ultimately crossed the finish line in fifth place. This was met with a wave of euphoria in Germany – similar to the jubilation in Switzerland when the Alinghi won the America’s Cup in 2003. The Ocean Race 2023, an around-the-world team race, as well as the Vendée Globe 2024 are the next big projects in store for Herrmann and Team Malizia, while ocean conservation and climate protection remain his most pressing concern.

EFG are long term ‘Official Partners’ of Team Malizia and Boris Herrmann and 2023 is a critical year in their 5-year strategy. The next significant milestone is on 19 July 2022, when the new Malizia-Sea Explorer boat is first unveiled to the world.
 

Text: Stefan Regez, Head of Consumer Magazines, Ringier
Photography / Copyright: Martin Messmer

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