Thursday 12 December 2019

Movember founder: 'It was really just an excuse to see if we could grow moustaches and have a party'

Movember CEO and co-founder Adam Garone tells Joanna Kiernan about the man behind the rise of the tache.

Adam Garrone
Adam Garrone
Joanna and Adam

Joanna Kiernan

My brother and a mate were having beers on a Sunday afternoon in Melbourne, Australia, and they were talking about fashion and how eventually things come back into style," Adam Garone, who is in Ireland to launch this year's Movember Ireland campaign, tells me. "A couple of more beers later, they were on to why the moustache hadn't ever made a comeback."

What began as a bit of fun between Adam, his brother Travis and two friends Luke Slattery and Justin Coghlan in 2003 - a light-hearted quest to make moustaches trendy again - has grown over the last decade into a global fundraising extravaganza.

Thirty friends took part in the first Movember (the month formerly known as November) in 2003, with the dual aim of both inspiring a resurgence in their 1970s TV and sports heroes' penchants for upper lip accessorising and an excuse for a party at the end of their challenge.

They were, at first, rebels - quite literally - without a cause, but soon their blossoming facial hair began to attract such attention that the founders decided to use Movember for a much higher purpose; raising funds and awareness for men's cancers.

conversations

"It was really just an excuse to see if we could grow moustaches and so we could have a moustache-themed party at the end of the month," Adam laughs. "We were surprised by the conversations that it created. Everyone would ask you why you were doing it and just saying 'Oh we're having a party at the end of the month' fell a bit flat!"

Joanna and Adam
Joanna and Adam

"So the four us got together in 2004 and spoke about how we could use this amazing experience that creates so much conversation for good. We were inspired by the women around us and what they were doing for breast cancer and realised there was no real equivalent for men's health," Adam adds.

Since this life-changing conversation took place, more than three million moustaches have been grown for Movember, raising more than €409m. Movember now runs in 21 countries. These days Adam lives in Los Angeles where the North American headquarters for Movember is based.

"I was nearly 30 when this all started and it was certainly at a time in my life when I wanted to do something good and give back to the community," Adam explains. "I have always been passionate about health and wellness.

"My brother and I were two of the four co-founders, so people often think my dad was sick from prostate cancer but, no, thankfully my dad is cancer free - but he had a sick moustache back in the day!" Adam smiles.

After school Adam spent over a decade in the Australian Defence Forces, first as an officer and then as a commando in the special forces. He then moved out of the army, studied for an MBA and got a job with Vodafone.

"I think on reflection now, having done Movember for 10 years, there is obviously something in me about serving people, I guess. Initially it was serving my country and now serving this cause," Adam says.

"The conversations are the best thing that comes out of Movember. No other campaign has ever been able to do that on the same level. Those conversations are changing and saving lives," Adam adds. "It creates this environment where guys feel safe having a chat about how they are feeling, physically and mentally.

"Women generally are very good at having a physically face-to-face conversation like this, but men much prefer having a shoulder to shoulder conversation, particularly when there is something else going on," Adam explains.

"The state of men and boys' health is far worse than for women and girls, on average we die four or five years younger than women and there is no biological reason for that. Four to five years is a long time, so for me it was about doing something about that - and it is so much fun."

Movember is now the largest, non-governmental fundraiser for testicular and prostate cancer in the world.

"Before, there were hardly any people in those research fields because there were no funds," Adam tells me. "So when we started putting that much funding into the area, all of these talented people came from other cancer categories or graduated and went into these areas, because there was funding there. To see the progress they are making now, it's just unbelievable.

"The other unique thing for us then is because we are in 21 countries we are connecting the researchers in Ireland to the researchers in America and Canada and Australia and we are actually getting them to work together for the first time ever and that is dramatically accelerating what they able to do," Adam explains.

Movember has been widely embraced by Irish men since the campaign launched here in 2008.

However, with the Irish charitable sector suffering from some devastating controversies in recent years, Irish people have become increasingly discerning with regard to the campaigns they choose to support. Adam is aware of this heightened sensitivity, which he says is affecting the entire charity sector, worldwide.

"There has been a fundamental shift in the last three years around the level of transparency that the community expect and I think in part that's driven by things like Wiki Leaks, Edward Snowden, the financial institutions falling down and just a sort of a distrust in government," he explains. "People have become a lot more sceptical because of all of that stuff. So they look to organisations like ours where we are raising and dealing with public money and they expect absolute transparency."

Not only does Movember provide transparency in relation to its financial affairs, it also allows the public to view the various programmes and exactly where the money is going through bi-annual accountability reports.

"From the very get-go we said we wanted to set a new benchmark with our transparency," Adam says. "In Ireland, 10 cents out of every euro goes to our fundraising and administration costs, best practice is between 15 and 25 cent and a lot of charities are even higher than that."

As Movember's global CEO Adam travels the world throughout the year promoting the campaign, constantly endeavouring to introduce it to an even wider audience.

When he is at home, he cycles to and from work and surfs as often as he can. In August, Adam also found the time to marry his LA love, producer Jessica Matthews.

So does he ever think about what could have been, had he and his co-founders put their stellar talents to work in the corporate world and made themselves millions instead?

"My brother and I often talk about that," Adam smiles. "This is a charitable organisation. I do get paid a salary, but for me the true currency in life is serving other people. It's the most fulfilling thing I have ever done.

"For sure, if we had gone down that route and created a for-profit business doing whatever and it became a global brand and was generating so much revenue from such a little cost base we would be billionaires," Adam admits. "But I feel as if we are billionaires in a way because we get to do what we do. We are changing the world, we are making it a happier and healthier place."

And you can't put a price on that.

Register for Movember at www.movember.com

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