When Alan Lock unexpectedly lost his sight due to macular degeneration, he knew his military career was over. What he didn’t know was how many adventures were about to begin. In this episode of The Crossroad Series, Alan tells us about how he took control of his life by setting four extreme goals: to run the Marathon Des Sables, to row the Atlantic Ocean, to ski to the South Pole, and to swim the English Channel. He shares his wisdom on the power of goal setting, how to benefit others through your own accomplishments, and not limiting yourself in life.
On how people can get the most out of their lives:
“Get out there and hopefully create opportunities for yourself and align those to your goals. If you can, you can. Make that a positive experience for those around you as well. Be a good thing.”
Alan’s thoughts on having his sight back:
“I think, of course, obviously if I could have my sight, I’m going to have this completely different career. I’d love to be able to just do basic things, like ride a bike and read a book again. In some ways, I can honestly say probably if I was offered that choice now I’d probably say, “You know what, I’m going to stick with what I’ve done”. Because having had that experience quite early in my life, it was almost being slightly hyperbolic. I guess the worst thing that could have happened, happened. So at that point, a lot of the fear and apprehension fell away.”
On eating the elephant:
“And so day by day. I know that if I can just mentally, just take it a day at a time. Which again is an overused phrase, but it’s really true. Then eventually all these days are going to add up and I’ll get to the other end.”
- Alan Lock on LinkedIn
- Icarus Originals
- Guide Dogs for the Blind
- Sightsavers International
(Transcripts may contain a few typographical errors due to audio quality during the podcast recording.)
[00:00:00] Sophie Hoyt: Hello and welcome back to the OneHaas Podcast: The Crossroad Series, where we discuss the critical moments that shaped the lives and careers of Haas alumni. I’m your host, Sophie Hoyt and on today’s show, we’ll be talking to Alan Lock. He started his career as an officer in the Royal Navy. But after a sudden partial loss of his eyesight, he was discharged. In time he realized he needed to redirect his ambitions.
[00:00:29] Alan Lock: You know what, “I’m going to, I’m going to set myself a series of goals that can be so enormous that it’s going to really take my mind off the situation. I just won’t have time to sit at home and consider what could have been and feel sorry for myself and all these sorts of dangerous feelings”. I guess the sort of bitter bitterness and frustration. I said, “I’ll try and channel those towards something positive”.
[00:00:51] Sophie Hoyt: So he set out on four major challenges.
[00:00:54] Alan Lock: I wanted to row across the Atlantic Ocean, to ski across Antarctica at the South Pole, to swim across the English Channel. And, as a runner, I wanted to do this big race in the Sahara Desert, which is called the Marathon Des Sables. This is at 151 miles.
[00:01:09] Sophie Hoyt: He wanted to complete these challenges even before he lost his eyesight. But after going through such drastic changes, these challenges became so much more than ideas. They became goals full of momentum and newfound purpose.
[00:01:22] Alan Lock: I wrote this down one day and I thought, there is no chance I’m never going to be able to do this. I’ve got no idea how you even start. But I want to have a goal. That’s going to be something I can focus on. That’s when I realized something was missing.
[00:01:37] Sophie Hoyt: And that’s when I believe Alan became the Elephant Eater. He put that idea in my head when he told me the story of how he rowed across the Atlantic, he referenced the old Desmond Tutu phrase, “There is only one way to eat an elephant, a bite at a time”. When something feels insurmountable, like changing careers or adjusting your whole way of life, or even rowing across an ocean, take a bite. Take a step. Then do it again. So I’m sure you’re wondering, did he actually complete all four challenges? Well, if you want to know the answer, you’re going to have to stick around to find out. Alan always wanted to learn how to fly. While in college at the University of Birmingham, he got to fly.
[00:02:23] Alan Lock: I was being trained as an Air Crew for the Royal Air Force. Actually, I wasn’t tall enough to be a pilot. I missed out by about two millimeters. So I was a navigator. So if you, if you think I’m sort of Goose rather than Maverick. Actually, I flew a plane first before I drove a car. Which is more a statement of how many times it took me to pass my driving test. Rather than if I was especially skilled in it as a pilot.
[00:02:51] Sophie Hoyt: The first time he flew solo, he said he was scared, which makes complete sense. But then he bit into the elephant.
[00:02:59] Alan Lock: I thought, well, I’ve done this 20 times and someone next to me. Let’s just do exactly the same thing. And it was the sense I got when I did that and I landed. A.) I was very relieved that I got down in one piece and B.) It was such a great milestone. Having really wanted to do that since I was a kid. You know, doing it at such a relatively young age. That was one of those memories, I guess I’ll always, always treasure.
[00:03:25] Sophie Hoyt: And then in his final year of school, the air force suddenly cut recruitment on pilots and navigators.
[00:03:31] Alan Lock: They essentially said, “Look, we just, haven’t done all these medicals on you. You need to do another sort of round of tests on your eyesight. You know what? It doesn’t matter because actually we just don’t need as many aircrews now. So sorry. We won’t take you on”.
[00:03:45] Sophie Hoyt: Could you describe what it felt like when it was clear that that dream was not going to come to fruition?
[00:03:52] Alan Lock: It was very, very frustrating because I had to make a decision then. I said, well, do I want to go off to become a civilian airline pilot or do I want to go into the military? And I said, “Well, in the military, there’s a sort of saying that if you’re going to go in as an officer, then you were an officer first and your branch second”. You are first and foremost, you’re an officer, in the military second. It’s sort of secondary whether you were a pilot, an engineer or a doctor, or whatever. I went to the Royal Navy and said, “I got an engineering degree. Can I come and transfer across?” And they looked at my height, which is a shade of five foot seven. And they said, “Would you be interested in working on submarines?” and not knowing any better I said, “Well, yeah, that sounds interesting”. So I sort of spent those years at university. I guess I’m planning to fly around in the three-axis in the sky to do the same thing underwater.
[00:04:54] Sophie Hoyt: So Alan went off to the Britannia Royal Naval College in Dartmouth. This place looks like the architectural love child of the Downton Abbey mansion and Hogwarts. I highly recommend you Google it.
[00:05:04] Alan Lock: Sort of 19th century-like, polished oak floors. You know, not really purpose-built for the modern era. So, I mean, not that we had wifi when I was there, but I can imagine the wifi signal is awful. Because all the walls are about three feet thick of marble and granite.
[00:05:18] Sophie Hoyt: And basic training, some straight out of a movie.
[00:05:21]Alan Lock: Lots of ironing your uniform. Lots of running around. Not that much sleep and just, exactly how you’d imagine sort of military basic training to be.
[00:05:29] Sophie Hoyt: And then Alan began his training in nuclear engineering. It was complicated stuff like lots of math and lots of chemistry, but he loved it.
[00:05:37] Alan Lock: I had this great sense that, “Hey, I’m the star of this amazing journey. You know, I plan to be flying, but now I’m here, I’m doing this”. It was really exciting with a good bunch of friends all doing the same things that are really kind of close-knit spirit of going through something. A challenge we will face and we’re going through it together. There’s great camaraderie. Then my life took a huge and very unwelcomed turn. Basically one day it was my last day at sea. Actually. I was really struggling to see the chart and this was on the bridge during the night. I thought, “Well, I just need some glasses”. I came off. Went around for period leave. I had a couple of times almost crashed my car on the way back. I had a sense that something was wrong. I woke up one morning and I just couldn’t read anymore.
[00:06:33] Sophie Hoyt: He went to an optician, but they couldn’t explain it. For weeks he didn’t have any answers. His vision just got progressively worse each day. And it wasn’t the kind of thing he could just casually mention to one of his superiors to keep them in the loop.
[00:06:47] Alan Lock: The way the military works is that if there’s any doubt that, you know, there’s some issue they’ll put you to the side for six months and then try and figure it out.
[00:06:53] Sophie Hoyt: But it was getting harder and harder to keep his vision loss a secret.
[00:06:56] Alan Lock: I couldn’t read anything unless it was magnified. I couldn’t see people’s faces, which in the military was incredibly difficult because I also couldn’t see people’s rank. I’d be saluting to some people. Not saluting the station commands again. And it was very strange for it to happen as well. In this situation, it was very strange because obviously by definition in the military, everyone else is fully fit and healthy. If you want to say it that way.
[00:07:25] Sophie Hoyt: So he went from doctor to doctor until one had an answer.
[00:07:28]Alan Lock: One doctor said, “Yep, it looks like you’ve got what we call macular degeneration. And it’s basically where the retina, the rods, and cones on the back of the eye die off. So you end up in this big blind spot there”. I said, “So what’s the cure? He said, “You probably won’t lose all your sight, but you’re gonna end up registered blind”. And that’s exactly what happened. I guess, if there’s one big watershed moment in my life, clearly this was it. Because when I stepped out of the eye specialist, I’d gone in there thinking, “Well, something’s kind of wrong, but I’m going to hope they can fix it”. I came out and it took me a couple of minutes to realize but I suddenly thought actually everything that I’ve prepared for has now gone. I spent a whole lot preparing for something I can no longer do.
[00:08:11] Sophie Hoyt: Now that he knew what the problem was and that it wasn’t going away. It was time to tell his commanding officer.
[00:08:17] Alan Lock: I said, “Look, you probably figured out already, but there’s this issue”… And he’s obviously very sympathetic, but clearly I had to leave the military at that point. So it suddenly dawned on me. It’s gonna be really difficult to get a job, any job.
[00:08:29]Sophie Hoyt: It was a lot to lose so quickly because it wasn’t just the practical things like his job. But the fun things as well.
[00:08:36] Alan Lock: I really like going on my bike. I love playing football. It’s even really small things that just make day-to-day life really difficult. I couldn’t put my toothpaste on my toothbrush properly. Picking clothes out. I just can’t see if the colors match that or all these little things. Without stating the obvious again, it was, it was awful. It was like trying to climb up some stairs made of mist or something. You just couldn’t. It didn’t matter what you did, there was nothing there to grasp on to pull you out of this situation.
[00:09:09] Sophie Hoyt: The change was just so massive, so sudden. So out of his control. An elephant.
[00:09:15] Alan Lock: I guess the silver lining was like any big organization, the bureaucracy takes a while to churn you out the other end. As it turned out, it took me about a year to transfer out. But I thought, “Well, I’ve literally just started this deployment of nuclear reactor technology”. I was stubborn enough and asked, “How come I can’t use this?” I’ve started this now and I don’t wanna wake up and sit in my cabin all day. And I just feel really sorry for myself. So I said, “Look then, can I just try and finish this course?” And they said, “Well, how are you going to do that?” So well, “I’ve got to, I’ll find a way to do that”. I would sit there with large printouts and have this special magnifier. You know, luckily I’ve always had quite a good memory and it was just handy. By hook or by crook, I was able to bludgeon my way through various exams. On the day I left the Navy, that was the day I finished my course. So I at least have the satisfaction of leaving with this diploma in nuclear reactor technology. Which as it happens, actually be really useful. Not because I’ve ever used it, but because it sounds quite impressive.
[00:10:18] Sophie Hoyt: But even with that accomplishment under his belt, he still struggled to adjust to this new reality.
[00:10:23] Alan Lock: I would have to consider every job, not on the basis, really of whether I think I did want to do it. But it was really kind of like, at least I got some vague chance of doing this as some sort of blind person. I remember seeing a movie once where they referenced that blind people tend to be good at banks because they can. You know, the technology allows that given the state of the job it was something like a life rafter. Someone alone in the sea. I thought I’m going to jump on this because the alternative just looks really depressing.
[00:10:57] Sophie Hoyt: As of 2020, the UK unemployment rate for the general population was at 24%, while the unemployment rate for the blind and partially sighted community was at 73%. And I’m sure those numbers were comparable if not higher in the early 2000s when Alan was looking for a job. As of 2004, the department of work and pensions in the UK conducted a study that showed that 9 out of 10 employers viewed the blind community as quote, “difficult or impossible to employ”. Now, these views are of course biased and unfounded. But, they do contextualize Alan’s anxiety around finding a new job.
[00:11:33] Alan Lock: You know, I want to be able to support myself and try to be as positive about this as possible.Alongside sort of getting back into employment. The one thing I committed to doing was I said, “Well, what is it that makes me feel good about myself and take your mind off of this situation?”. And I said, “Well, you know, I love that endorphin rush of doing a physical challenge. You know what I’m going to do, I’m going to set myself a series of goals that are gonna be so enormous that I just won’t have time to, you know, sit at home and feel sorry for myself and all these sorts of dangerous feelings”. I guess there’s this feeling of bitterness and frustration. And that was the sort of the start of my recovery. I guess, it took me out of that quagmire of apathy, which is really easy to get stuck in.
[00:12:16] Sophie Hoyt: So in 2007, with the assistance of a guide, Alan ran the grueling 151-mile long Marathon Des Sables in the Sahara Desert. And with his guide navigating, Alan was able to just focus on finishing the race.
[00:12:30] Alan Lock: And we got through with that. So plenty of blisters on my feet. It was great to come over to the finish line. I think at that point, this is two years after I left the Navy, but three years after I’d really lost my sight. I felt my first sort of first big victory, I guess that gave me a huge boost in confidence.
[00:12:49] Sophie Hoyt: And this is where the momentum kicks in, coming off of the marathon. Allen saw his next major goal on the horizon.
[00:12:56] Alan Lock: I’d put a proposal into HSBC to say, “Look, it might sound a bit crazy, but I want to become the first blind person to row across the Atlantic Ocean”. Probably everyone who’s listening is thinking “Why on earth would you want to do that?”
[00:13:10] Sophie Hoyt: In some ways, it’s not at all surprising that Alan would take this on. He was in the Navy after all. But this was a goal that he’d had since he was a kid. Just lingering in the back of his mind. In another life, it might’ve stayed there.
[00:13:24]Alan Lock: But at this point, I thought, you know what, I suppose I’m trying to prove something to myself. I think I felt that by doing that, I just wanted to give myself the springboard for the rest of my life.
[00:13:34] Sophie Hoyt: In the middle of 2007 before the markets crashed, HSBC had launched an internal initiative to encourage employees to take on major challenges. So Alan submitted his proposal.
[00:13:45] Alan Lock: Luckily it’s one of those times. I’m really glad I did a math-based degree cause I was able to sort of loosely think on my feet in terms of various distances and costs that I was getting quizzed on. A week later, they said, look, we’re going to fund this. So basically go away and start training.
[00:13:59] Sophie Hoyt: So whenever he wasn’t working, Alan was training. When he wasn’t training, he was building the boat. This wasn’t any ordinary rowboat. It had to be ocean-ready. The challenge would be 3000 miles from the Canary Islands to the Caribbean. That’s the entire length of the United States. The trip would be unsupported once you’re out there, you’re on your own. Their journey began on January 11th, 2008, and Alan was ready.
[00:14:25] Alan Lock: Honestly. I don’t think I’ve thought about my eyesight at all when I was doing that. Because I just had something that was just focused and it was probably while I was doing that. It was the first time since I lost my sight, I truly felt really fulfilled. In the sense of having a really kind of clear goal. I wasn’t measuring myself against my peers as well.
[00:14:46] Sophie Hoyt: Yeah. I mean, how could you? It’s such a unique experience to have put yourself in. The ocean is for me personally, I will just share with you that it is something it’s a source of a lot of fear for me. I do think that there’s this sense of just this vastness when you’re in the middle of the ocean, it’s just, there is nothingness around you, right?
[00:15:12] Alan Lock: It’s really hard to explain because I’m not completely blind, but I lost a huge portion of my vision. I know what the world looks like. So I would appreciate this big panorama of emptiness and some really beautiful sunsets. Not because I can necessarily see them, but I could see enough to fill in the gaps if that made sense. For me, all I could see is this sort of emptiness, the different colors. There were a lot of blues in the sky. There’s a sort of dark blue-gray, which is the sea. And there’s that sense of openness, but it was in some ways really intoxicating. In the same way, just that incredible feeling of actually the world. Isn’t that small, it’s actually really big and I’m a very tiny, tiny part of that.
[00:15:55] Sophie Hoyt: Alan reminded me of a statistic that more people have been to outer space than have rowed across the Atlantic ocean. 553 to 300. And all I can imagine is being that tiny dot of life floating in the middle of expansive nothingness. The ocean and outer space are like flip sides of the same coin, seemingly boundless, untapped, conquered, and feral. When you’re out there, you’re completely isolated, but dangling in the back of your mind is the knowledge that you’re probably not alone.
[00:16:27] Alan Lock: We’d row at night and I was rowing one night and I sensed, rather saw the huge shape next to me. I thought, what’s inadvertently run us into a rock or something? I heard a sort of whoosh and it was a whale. Out of my peripheral vision, I could see this big shape. And I, again, because I knew what the world looked like. Okay. That’s probably going to be a whale. There was this spout, I guess, a flux of water. And then it stayed there for a little bit and then went off. It was incredible. I mean, I couldn’t buy that kind of experience.
[00:17:08] Sophie Hoyt: The journey wasn’t easy sailing. So to speak. There were heavy rain winds that went up to 35 miles per hour. Their bodies were covered in salt sores. All of that muscle that they put on in training, it just seemed to melt away. But that’s when it’s time to eat the elephant.
[00:17:26] Alan Lock: Okay. You’ve got a really big challenge. It’s a way you can always chop it down into smaller parts. You know, literally that cliche about taking a day at a time? That’s all we did cause you saw on your GPS, how many miles you had to go. At the start is, you know, three thousand. Even a few weeks in, when you look at it and it’d be some enormous figure, 2017, you feel it’s just too big and depressing to think about. So all we’re going to focus on is, from the moment we get up, we’re going to row and we’re just gonna sort of time box these things down. And so day by day. I know that if I can just mentally, just take it a day at a time. Which again is an overused phrase, but it’s really true. Then eventually all these days are going to add up and I’ll get to the other end.
[00:18:12] Sophie Hoyt: And then on their last night at sea, there was this major storm that just pushed them forward about 17 miles. It was like a gift from above. So once they got there, all in all, it took them 85 days, three hours, and 20 minutes to get across.
[00:18:29] Alan Lock: I’d set a Guinness world record for the first blind person to row across the Atlantic. Which again, I think proves more that you can get a Guinness world record for doing anything. So as long as you’re happy to do something that probably no one else is going to do. We were also able to raise around $80,000 for a charity called Sense, which supports deaf and blind people. I think one of the things that I wanted to do was this challenge for myself, but I thought, “You know it’s like a lot of the military, wanting to feel part of something bigger”. There’s more to the awareness in helping them. More than the press that we could get from it and being associated with that. So it wasn’t for me to say, to show to the world, “Hey, I’ve done this. Look at me”. I really wanted to do this for myself. I could look into myself and say, “You know what, Alan, you have the confidence. Don’t be embarrassed by who you are. Some thought your sight’s lost. There may be some kind of constraints in your horizons by preemptively thinking that your sight loss is going to be a barrier”. And that obviously helps in terms of my career, “I thought actually you know, what, if I’ve done that, I’m probably going to be able to figure out a way to do this particular role that may be beforehand I’d have been a bit apprehensive about doing it. That also led me to think, you know what, “I’m going to go do an MBA”.
[00:19:45] Sophie Hoyt: Alan started down the grad school process, going to info sessions and studying for the GMAT. It was like his nuclear engineering course all over again.
[00:19:54] Alan Lock: Then I have to get it for the same issue on my side. Again, that’s sort of. Spoke to the GMAT people and said, “Can you find a special way to let me do the test? I’m mostly not going to be able to do it on a regular computer”. We need some more time. I found myself at a testing center in London and they hired someone who’s a lovely old lady who was basically there to be my eyes.
[00:20:17] And I’d have to, she’d read the questions out to me and I’d have them tailored. She’d sort of type into a response. Which made it really difficult. For some of the maths questions, because she was trying to describe to me some of the sorts of lesser use symbols and I’m thinking, “Well, I think that’s that”. Then between the two of us, we got it done. And then luckily my score pops out at the other end and it seems to be in the ballpark for what was properly, at least not hindered my application.
[00:20:43] Sophie Hoyt: And after interviewing at Haas, he flew out to the campus to kind of get a sense of the place.
[00:20:48]Alan Lock: I knew as soon as I spent even just 10 minutes on the campus and it just felt right. So, how am I going to do this? And it’s just gonna be a really lonely experience. I’m always going to be the odd one out basically. Just always have to feel like I’m hassling basically to get some assistance and get the adjustments I need. I quickly realized none of this, that’s not going to be the case.
[00:21:16] Sophie Hoyt: So in 2009, Allen moved to the Bay Area to study at Haas. And even though he was a bit apprehensive, his peers extended themselves and made every possible effort to help them adjust.
[00:21:27] Alan Lock: Honestly, I never felt at all that my sight was something I need to be worried about. Except for crossing. Clearly crossing. Like crossing the busy roads around Berkeley. I’d always, I wouldn’t jaywalk that way. I think when I had the opportunity to speak to the alumni and staff, Berkeley in particular, I guess it was that confidence without attitude. I just get that nice sense that I’m going to be a part of a community where it’s genuinely self-supporting and mutually helpful. And I just thought, “Yeah, you know what? These are genuine values that drive the school”. I got the sense of, I guess, that this feels like home for the next two years.
[00:22:19] Sophie Hoyt: Coming out of his MBA, a lot had changed for Alan. He had met the woman who would later become his wife. They were preparing to move back to the UK and Alan realized he wanted to move away from his operational role at HSBC and into something more strategic.
[00:22:37] Alan Lock: With BT, British Telecom back then and they had an MBA intake program. Where you essentially act as internal consultants and have that. To have the opportunity to do something different and work in the larger organizations would move around. That’s a chance, I guess, to put a lot of what I’ve learned in practice into. It’s that new role as it happened during my time at Haas in parallel with that job search and the studies I’d been doing. I thought well this is probably the time to try and see if we can get to Antarctica. This is probably it. I’ve said, look, I really want to put this Antarctica expedition together. I’d love to become the first blind person to ski from the coast of Antarctica to the South Pole. I said, “I’ve got no idea if we can do this, but maybe we could plan for it. If it’s possible to do it, as soon as we leave Haas, would you be up for it?”.
[00:23:26] Sophie Hoyt: So we gathered a few friends, Andrew Jensen and Richard Smith, and with some support from Haas, they headed up towards the Arctic Circle and Nunavut Province in Canada to prepare for the trip.
[00:23:36] Alan Lock: In my spring break in my final year, we went up when everyone else is doing something more fun like going to Las Vegas, we went up to a place called Iqaluit. Which is honestly the coldest place I’ve ever been in the world. The Arctic cold is much colder than Antarctica because it’s extremely wet cold. We went up there for a week of cross country skiing and learning how to live and survive in Arctic conditions.
[00:23:57] Sophie Hoyt: Not your typical spring break destination, but a necessary one, especially because this wasn’t going to be a vanity trip. Alan and his crew also wanted to do some good. This time they are partnering with Sight Savers International and Guide Dogs for the Blind.
[00:24:12] Alan Lock: Similar to the row that will, this, I want to do this as an ambition, but let’s try and make this a bit more meaningful. So, we were supporting a couple of sight-related charities. We flew down Southern Chile and then the three of us joined our guide and we boarded on the CoStar. That’s the start point. Then from there, we started skiing.
[00:24:33] Sophie Hoyt: And it wasn’t easy. Not that anyone thinks it would be, but again, they ate the elephant. They skied upwards of 15 miles a day in harsh winds, plummeting temperatures and whiteout storms, hauling all of their equipment on sleds attached to their weight.
[00:24:49] Alan Lock: So cause it quicker than the rhyme. Thinking about it, that is six days of continuous skiing across and across. Again, we got to the South Pole on the 3rd of January 2012.
[00:25:00] Sophie Hoyt: And then it was time for him to get back to his everyday life. But how can you go back to your life after an adventure like that?
[00:25:07]Alan Lock: And then, I think within it’s quite a strange experience, really being familiar. I think three or four days of being at the South Pole being back on the underground in London. This sort of vastness, emptiness going from that to one of the busiest tube stations in central London was really, really a strange experience mentally in such a short space of time.
[00:25:28] Sophie Hoyt: Back at British Telecom, Alan bounced around a few positions before finding his niche in business improvement and internal consulting.
[00:25:35] Alan Lock: Now, I found that, although my sight was a challenge in terms of, it’s hard for me to go and visually see a problem. I love taking on problems and saying, “Well, okay, how do we find a new way of doing this?” And actually, the one thing I did have from both my sight loss and from doing these various challenges, was that there’s always a way to overcome a problem. If you can be sort of tenacious enough and actually just be quite action-oriented. So let’s just make things happen. Let’s go out, let’s try new things. If it’s going to fail, it’s going to fail first. But let’s not sit around in endless meetings and plan for something that we know, we ultimately don’t take action on that. I think that took a lot of learnings away from Haas. It’s sort of cliche straight out of the prospectus but it was really the learnings I had from my peers. But what I do remember is those discussions we had in class and seeing how people from different parts of the world, different industries, how they tackled issues on the challenges they face. Just having the confidence as well to think, you know, “I don’t know the answer to this, but sure”. There’s someone in there in my class that probably does. I think the sort of attitude that I was able to take from my time at Haas. That sort of confidence to not be apprehensive about taking on problems or new roles has always been something I was very grateful to get from from that experience.
[00:27:02] Sophie Hoyt: Hmm. Yeah. I have. I use the saying a lot of the time when I’m thinking about those kinds of situations. Which is, you know, how do we turn? I don’t know. And to help me learn. It sounds like that’s something that has been a consistent takeaway.
[00:27:17] Alan Lock: No, definitely. I think that the next stage of that also means that if it’s going from, I don’t know, to help me learn. And then, “Well I can do that, or I, at least I know how to try to do that”. Whereas, previously coming to Haas, I would have thought, “Oh, I haven’t, I haven’t studied that. Or I have no experience in that”. So I think sometimes we all kind of collectively forget that no one’s born as a sort of tech entrepreneur. No, it sounds like a statement of the obvious. I guess, but it’s reminding yourself, there’s obviously a path to get to that point because other people have gone down that road. This and this opportunity in the world is the fact that the more you can get out there and just create opportunities for yourself, the more chances you have of some of those getting to some really amazing places. When you set yourself some really big goal, whatever that might be professional, personal, there’s also no guarantee that you’re gonna be able to achieve that. But, the one thing you can guarantee is you definitely won’t do it, if you don’t at least take some steps in that direction.
[00:28:22] Sophie Hoyt: And since 2019, Alan’s been using that mentality to help him balance his two startups, Icarus Originals and Blow Leaf.
[00:28:31] Alan Lock: I’m going to. I want to have a crack at doing a startup business or something online and possibly in a previous life, I wouldn’t have necessarily gone down that route. But it’s certainly after my experience at Haas, I think just in general, the culture’s obviously changed a lot. But even if I ultimately decided to step back into a corporate role, I think that the entrepreneurial experience and the learnings that have come from that view are much more positive than everybody would be 30 years ago, particularly in the U.K.
[00:29:00] And our idea was Icarus Originals. We would make jewelry, then develop it into other sorts of gift products, which were all made from the item that they celebrated. But our concept was effectively to take the idea of people who value owning a piece of history. So for example, we teamed up with a museum in the UK. They look after lots of famous aircraft. The idea was that we would essentially meltdown the original, but surplus parts of these aircraft. We would cost those with our jewelers in the UK and get all nicely packaged and certified. And they would be a unique gift. I guess, the logic as well as that with my site you know, I’m not going to be there doing heavy coding. This was something where it was a little bit different, but it is a physical product. I can bring my engineering knowledge to that. I guess by definition, it should never become obsolete because of the nature of what you’re doing.
[00:29:59]Sophie Hoyt: And then there’s Blow Leaf, his most recent endeavor.
[00:30:02] Alan Lock: What we’re trying to do is essentially collate lots of experience that will help people in the early stage, in their careers. So everything on the practical side from: Here’s what you need to do in an interview. Here’s what a great CV looks like. Here’s how you should map your career out. We balanced that out as well with some mental resilience training.
[00:30:25] So actually saying that you don’t just need the skills there but here’s some really inspirational stories about people who’ve gone down paths. Here’s how to work in a really high pressure environment. Whether it be at a startup, wall street, or in a submarine. And then we’re trying to model the Netflix model. If you want that we can give access to people to all this material, this life coaching for a very affordable fee. Then if we do our jobs well, obviously we can then help them into their career. And also accelerate their career and ultimately do a genuine benefit. Particularly as it seems likely that we’ll have a lot of people who, coming out of the pandemic, struggled in the early stages of their career. Hopefully this is something that can be a successful business. But also giving genuine benefit from that community can only be a good thing.
[00:31:18] Sophie Hoyt: Absolutely. I have one, I have one last question. What is the status of this fourth adventure?
[00:31:27] Alan Lock: I had some sort of swimming in the channel in late 2014. I did it with three others. The idea is we do a relay first and then I come back afterwards and do it on my own. I’m not a natural swimmer. Swimming is one of those things. I have a really lousy technique. And by the way, it’s a great challenge because I’ve got to force myself to do this. It may sound crazy as well. But I was always a little bit scared of the water when I couldn’t see the bottom. If that makes sense. Which I know sounds nuts. Given I went into the Navy and I went across the Atlantic and everything. I thought, like learning from this whole experience, you got to face your fears. It’s never as bad as you think and you’re always going to come out the other end. So we got across to within about four miles of France. And then, unfortunately, the weather really sort of blew up in the channel. We just couldn’t safely get across. I would love to do that in the future. At least because my little brother went and did it as well. I know we’ll be highly trained for that as well. So yeah, I’d love to have another crack at it.
[00:32:26] Sophie Hoyt: So it’s a solid three and a half challenges. That’s pretty good in my book, but it looks like Alan might have a partner in his featured ventures. Someone to eat the elephants with.
[00:32:37]Alan Lock: My daughter sees me running on the running machine. She saw me running with one of my guys who I still do a lot of marathons and I enjoy running with. She’s like, “Daddy, you know can I be running person as well in the future?” I say, “Yeah, of course”. She says, “Can I run with you and like show you where to go?” I say “Yeah, absolutely”. So I think at that point, I said, “You know what? As soon as she’s 18, assuming my joints are still working then, to be able to do like a marathon or half a marathon. With my daughter acting as my guide, I think it would be the most meaningful collective goal to achieve together. I think it would just put the seal on that whole idea that we have to live this challenge, the rest of my life from my sight. I can look ahead to that and say “Yes, that would be a really positive thing to do that I’d love to do with my daughter”. Often, some people will say, “Look, would you rather not lost your sight?” I really struggle to answer that. And sometimes I think, of course, obviously if I could have my sight, I’m going to have this completely different career. I’d love to be able to just do basic things, like ride a bike and read a book again. In some ways, I can honestly say probably if I was offered that choice now I’d probably say, “You know what, I’m going to stick with what I’ve done”. Because having had that experience quite early in my life, it was almost being slightly hyperbolic. I guess the worst thing that could have happened, happened. So at that point, a lot of the fear and apprehension fell away. Though, you know what I have to worry about at this point? I think of two really big things. One of which it made me actually, it made me really conscious of. It made me really conscious of other people’s experiences. I guess, because beforehand. If you’d have asked me, well, what do you know about blind people? I just said, well, it must be a really awful life because you struggle to do it. I thought it was a very naive assessment. And having gone through this, I realized that’s probably not dissimilar to someone who feels out of place maybe, or feels apprehensive for different reasons. I can empathize in a way that maybe I couldn’t in the past. The same with anyone that’s just had any other sort of disability or shocks to their life. So it made me very conscious of that in a way that I wasn’t previously. And secondly, I think this whole experience just showed me the value of having that goal and purpose in life. Understanding the value of time, which often, we don’t.
[00:35:13] And I certainly didn’t before this happened. Get out there and hopefully create opportunities for yourself and align those to your goals. If you can, you can. Make that a positive experience for those around you as well. Be a good thing.
[00:35:30] Sophie Hoyt: Thank you for tuning into this episode of the one Haas podcast, the crossroad series, and a special thanks to Alan Lock for sharing his story with me. If you want to check out Alan start-ups or support the various charities he’s worked with over the years, all of that information will be linked below in the show notes. If you enjoyed our show today, please remember to subscribe to One Haas wherever you get your podcasts. Rate and review us on iTunes. You can also check out more of our content on our website at h-a-a-s-.-f-m, where you can subscribe to our monthly newsletter and check out some of our other Berkeley Haas podcasts. Until next time, Go bears!