In December 2008 Credit Default Swaps (CDS) were all the range. Everywhere you looked in finance there was talk about this company on the verge of collapse or that institution about to go under. Bankers and hedge funds were salivating at talk of double digit spreads and failure rates. People in the finance game were baying for blood and eyeing their next bonus.
While all this commotion was taking place I woke up in a hospital bed not knowing whether I could move.
Like most Australian's I spent that sunny December day at the beach. Unlike most Australian's I was with a small group of 10 crazy Alpha Male's freestyle climbing a rope hanging atop a 40 foot cliff face with nothing for support but brute strength and fear of failure. Known as The Bondi Rope there is zero margin for error when using only arms and upper body strength without legs or harness for support.
As I was pulling my entire body weight up the rope I suddenly heard this loud "pop" noise. The same sound of champagne corks popping when financiers were celebrating the incoming CDS payouts following the collapse of Lehman's only a month earlier.
In that moment my left humerus (bone between shoulder and elbow) literally snapped under the force of my body weight leaving me hanging with just one arm on the rope with nothing but jagged rocks and the 40 foot cliff free-fall below.
Given the horrific nature of my injury and little else but an iron determination to not fall from the rope by sheer miracle I got down safely. It was an out of body experience and I don't know how. Remarkably my climbing buddies were horrified, amazed and speechless all at the same time. Thankfully one of them called an ambulance where the x-ray showed my arm virtually in two pieces.
I soon woke up to find my arm bandaged and stabilized after surgeons had inserted an 8-inch titanium plate and 14 screws and apparently Humpty Dumpty was back together again. My surgeon introduced a colleague who was visiting Australia on a surgical rotation and training. He spoke with a delightful American accent and before I could garner the strength to introduce myself he said 'Dude, that injury is the craziest thing I've ever seen! I just emailed my guys in Iraq to tell them how freaking hard core you are." He then introduced himself as a Major in the US Army. "Respect," he said. Speechless was my reply.
The experience changed my life and I was given a second chance after the dress rehearsal came to an abrupt end. It was showtime as the lights were now on, camera's ready, action!
During rehabilitation I was simultaneously dealing with depression and financial market meltdown with my health and livelihood in peril. No longer would I value myself on the money I was making or allow my mood to be correlated with that day's market volatility. It was time to heal both body and soul. In so doing I was determined to find my reason for being.
Less than a month after surgery with an immobile upper body I walked into the gym and got on a treadmill. I was sick of being a victim and started walking. After about five minutes I nearly collapsed but I went back the next day and walked a little further. Day after I did the same and soon I began jogging and then running on this evil treadmill. Like the great Forrest Gump I just kept going.
Fast forward five years and I have successfully returned from the base camp of Mount Everest in Nepal and I'm about to run my fifth Marathon next month in New York. In the process I've raised millions of dollars for causes around the world including cancer, environment and diabetes after establishing Give While You Live as a philanthropic education platform that soon became a non-profit fundraising vehicle.
Give While You Live represents a set of values and how I live my life taking nothing for granted and living each moment trying to optimize my finite time on this planet. This journey has taught me some valuable lessons about life and people. All humans enter and exit this world exactly the same way as naked vulnerable beings regardless of gender, ethnicity, culture, geography or wealth. Our mission is to empower others to be the best person they can be. Therefore we should remember that wealth is merely an external object like everything else and like inner peace, real power comes from within.
Recently I had the privilege to meet Aang San Suu Kyi who repeated the Buddhist maxim that "nothing in life is permanent" and indeed wealth is no different. Use it or lose it. Wealth provides the opportunity to do what others can't, because you can see what others don't. No longer should the wealth management industry purely be focused on the "what" but rather the "how" and "why" is what matters.
In my speech at the United Nations in July when I addressed the Nexus Global Summit I said "profit and philanthropy are not mutually exclusive they are complementary" reminding those present that zero sum game is over because the way we make money matters and the reason is to have impact. Finance needs to change from within and these are the values we need to start talking about as bright eyed kids finish Business School and set sails for Wall Street.
Along this path I have therefore realized, defined and embraced my reason for being.
My mission is to positively influence the allocation of capital.
The time is now to change the world.