Thursday 20 June 2019

Adventure firm aims for summit

Sean Gallagher meets owners of small and medium-sized businesses and shares the lessons they've learnt in building their companies

Sean Gallagher with James McManus from Earth’s Edge Picture: Gerry
Sean Gallagher with James McManus from Earth’s Edge Picture: Gerry Mooney
Sean Gallagher

Sean Gallagher

Earth's Edge is Ireland's only fully-licensed adventure travel company and specialises in taking clients on adventure holidays and expeditions across the globe. Set up in 2007 by experienced adventurer James McManus and his wife Rosie and located in Donnybrook, Dublin 4, the company employs six staff and has an annual turnover of €1.5m.

"Our philosophy of 'Explore, Experience and Evolve' epitomises our ultimate goal of providing a life-changing experience for our clients in a safe and fun environment. We pride ourselves on delivering a high-quality product with a strong emphasis on personal service and professionalism," says James. "Each trip we organise has a specific goal whether that is to reach Everest Base Camp, climb the summit of great mountains such as Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, Elbrus in Russia or Aconcagua in Argentina, or trek in amazing places such as the Himalayas, Kenya, Annapurna in Nepal or Stok Kangri in India."

Trips can last anywhere from 12 to 23 days and are targeted at a number of different market segments including individual travellers, school groups and corporates. "These trips are not only fun but are great for team-building, personal development and leadership training. We also tailor our programmes to suit the specific needs of private groups, clubs as well as organising events specifically for charities as a novel and enjoyable way of raising much-needed funds," adds James.

As he introduces me to his colleagues, it's clear that everyone on the team loves what they do. As the only fully-licensed and bonded adventure travel company in Ireland, they arrange all their clients' flights, food, accommodation and transport. Each trip is accompanied by a qualified Irish guide. They even provide pre-expedition training weekends in Glendalough in Wicklow where clients get the opportunity to prepare for their impending trip, get advice and tips from experienced expedition leaders on what equipment to bring, what vaccinations to get and what to expect once they arrive.

"We place a huge emphasis on our clients' safety and we are one of only a handful of adventure companies in the world who send a medical doctor on all our expeditions. Our objective is to treat our clients like royalty. To reinforce this, our internal company motto is 'Atithi Devo Bhavah', an expression from an ancient Hindu scripture which translates to 'The guest is the God'," he says.

James grew up in Roscrea, Co Tipperary. His parents had a great love for the outdoors and as a child, James spent much of his early years exploring the Irish countryside. He climbed his first mountain when he was only six years old. When he was 16, he got his first job as an outdoor instructor in Kinsale, Co Cork, and the following year represented Ireland at the Kayak Freestyle World Championships in Spain. Having graduated with a degree in Sports Science from Bangor University in Wales, he spent the next few years working as a guide, with summers spent in California and the winters in India. In-between, he travelled the world from Ecuador to New Zealand.

"Before starting Earth's Edge, I had been on personal expeditions and adventures in over 50 countries. I love travelling and wanted to share those experiences with other people. When I researched the market and found there were no licensed adventure travel companies in Ireland, I knew that was what I was meant to do," says James. "Today, as the company's MD, I get to divide my time between running the business, guiding clients on treks and going on personal climbing expeditions in some of the most remote places in the world."

While he knew how to organise and guide expeditions, he knew nothing about running a business when he started. Used to taking on big challenges, he got to work on learning the skills he needed and in 2011 he got his first big break when he organised a charity challenge for Concern worldwide. This proved such a success that the following year, he led 15 similar challenges for charities ranging from MS Ireland and the Heart Foundation, to the Irish Cancer Society and Crumlin and Temple Street Children's hospitals.

"We built the business steadily from there with 30pc year-on-year growth and with return customers and referrals representing over 50pc of all our bookings," says James. "Our focus now is to keep growing at a sustainable rate. As a business owner, I'm also very passionate about Corporate Social Responsibility. In 2014 we were one of the first SME members of 'Business in the Community Ireland'. We have also partnered with Kilimanjaro Porters Assistance Project an American-run, Tanzania-based NGO and each year we supply the porters who have to carry equipment up the mountains for clients with second-hand mountaineering clothing which we gather through our generous clients and our wider network in Ireland. Up to then many porters were poorly clothed for the testing mountain environment, where temperatures can dip to -30°C," says James.

Due to spend 80 days out of the office on different expeditions this year, he is also focused on developing the team to run the business while he's away. "The real driving force behind the company's success is our great people. Talented and passionate, they are all invested in doing great work and ensuring the best experiences for our clients," he says.

James enjoys nothing more than meeting novice first-time trekkers 12 months before a trip, watch them train, get fit, learn new skills and go on to climb one of the world's biggest mountains.

"It really is life-changing for people. There is such an outpouring of joy and happiness when people finally reach the top. It really is a privilege to share these special moments. Everyone who comes has their own story and their own reason for undertaking the trip but one thing is for sure, on trips such as these you get to know yourself better and realise what is really important in life.

"For my part, I'm genuinely not motivated by money," says James. "My idea of success and what I love to do is climb big mountains and enjoy a good lifestyle."

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