Sharing his passion for adventure, Omar Samra turns an expensive hobby into a successful global business.
Money & Me: Life-changing journeys are a priority
Omar Samra, the former investment banker and the first Egyptian to climb Mount Everest, gave up the corporate world to create the eco-friendly adventure travel company, Wild Guanabana. Having spent thousands of dirhams climbing mountains, he believes there is more to success than making money.
What is your philosophy towards money?
From all my experiences I've come to realise that as long as I have enough to live comfortably I am happy. I'm way less concerned about material things than I was in the past. If I had US$50,000 (Dh183,660), I'd rather use it to get to the North Pole than as a down payment on a house. I'm married now and my wife supports my lifestyle. She has an adventurous spirit, too.
What sparked your desire to see the world?
From an early age, I wanted to travel. I think I was about 16 when I decided I wanted to climb Mount Everest. I knew it was an expensive and risky thing to do and if I wanted to do it, I had to fund it myself. I went to university in Egypt, then left for the UK for my first job as an investment banker on a graduate programme with HSBC. At the time, my ambitions were normal ones - to earn money, rise in my career and return home in good financial standing. I looked at money from a traditional angle to buy a house and raise a family. But I had a friend, Dennis, who was perhaps the most adventurous person I'd ever met. One day, he told me about a cycling trip he'd taken from Nice to Naples. Suddenly, I got a feeling inside that I had to have this. I went straight to a book store, bought a map of Spain, booked a trip that afternoon and the next day bought a bike and started cycling five times a week. Three months later, I was on my own in Spain. The trip was difficult but it completely transformed my life. It was the happiest I'd ever been so I started planning a trip around the world. Suddenly my moneymaking objectives had changed and I found new motivation. It took me 18 months to save the money. The trip was for 12 months, mostly to Asia and Latin America, and I lived on an average $30 a day.
What has been your most valuable financial lesson?
During my world trip I spent 10 weeks in Costa Rica and Nicaragua doing volunteer work. In Nicaragua, I worked in a remote village helping to build a community centre. I lived with a family. The homes were simple, there was no sanitary system or bathroom, just a stream a short distance away to bath in. It took three days to get used to living this way, but I soon realised while luxuries are nice to have, I'm not dependent on them. The people were rich in so many ways and happy. That year taught me a lot about self-reliance and money management.
What was your most expensive trip?
Definitely the expedition to Mount Everest. When I returned from the year off, I went back to the bank, but after a few months realised I had to do something else. I took out a loan and began an MBA full time at the London Business School. One month into the course, I got an email from someone looking to put together a team to scale Mount Everest. I couldn't ignore it. It cost us $100,000 each. After approaching over 100 businesses, I eventually received sponsorship from [Egyptian businessman and politician] Naguib Sawiris. It took two-and-a-half months, but we reached the peak of Mount Everest on May 7, 2007.
What motivated you to start your own travel company?
The decision to start Wild Guanabana was not a moneymaking decision. Financially, I would have been better off if I had stayed where I was working. It was the desire to wake every morning doing what I love to do, inspiring people. I had just returned from Mount Everest and was taking a break in Egypt when I was asked to give a talk about my experiences. It was then I realised I had an opportunity to affect people. If you build something up that has meaning you can be successful in many different ways, it doesn't have to be financial, there are other types of rewards. Wild Guanabana is not just a travel company; it offers life-changing experiences. The company is named after a fruit I ate while hiking through the jungle in Latin America. To me, it signifies everything exotic, green in a sustainable sense, unique and different.
What has been your best investment?
There are two. The first was getting an MBA from the London Business College. It taught me a huge amount about business and helps me to run my own company. And the second was the trip to Mount Everest. I learnt a lot from that experience, but it also gave me a platform from which I can communicate and share ideas with other people.