It'll be the polar opposite of normal when great minds discuss the future of business.
Penguins and seals will be the only witnesses to one of the most unusual and potentially far-reaching business think-tanks ever conceived – in Antarctica.
A ship-load of up to 117 of Australia's most entrepreneurial minds will aim to convene a series of conversations in one of the globe's most exotic locations, in a bid to inspire radical thinking about business practices and principles.
The project evolved from wanting to take a bunch of kick-arse people to somewhere kick-arse.
Participants will become foundation members of The Unstoppables Club, which co-organiser and entrepreneur Chad Zani says will have a mandate to create a new, more sustainable plan for Australian business and industry.
He and co-conspirator Julio De Laffitte have already committed $1.2 million of their own money to the trip – which they hope to recoup in bookings – yet Zani hesitates when asked exactly how he came to be organising the first conference he has ever assembled, in an exotic location he has never visited.
“I guess the project evolved from wanting to take a bunch of kick-arse people to somewhere kick-arse,” he says.
“Antarctica is a place that everyone I know who has been, even if they didn't go for this reason, has come back much more self-aware and much more planet-aware.”
Zani argues they aren't environmentalists, but says he has become concerned that standard business practices in Australia and around the world are unsustainable.
“We know that businesspeople are the ones that are going to lead the changes that have to happen,” he says.
“We need to be planet-aware, we can't just keep growing these massive businesses that are impacting negatively on the planet. Last time I checked we've only got one.”
Zani and De Laffitte plotted a conference that would inspire entrepreneurial minds to think outside the square. They originally discussed booking a small group of like-minded individuals onto a commercial Antarctic cruise, before the idea grew.
“We had this Kevin Costner, Field of Dreams moment, and we were like, 'you know what? Let's just take a whole boat and invite people who are up to big things and create an environment where they can collaborate and think big, dream big, without all that tall poppy thinking',” Zani says.
They secured the Sea Adventurer, a four-star exploration ship with space for 117 guests, plus the services of respected Antarctic expedition company Quark Expeditions. The trip will depart from southern Chile on an 11-day journey.
Prices to join the expedition range from $15,000 up to $25,000 per participant, but Zani declares that being able to afford to go isn't the sole criteria. “We just need to make sure we get the right people involved. We don't want it to be who can afford to go, that's why we haven't advertised it as such,” he says.
“Ultimately it's someone who has shown entrepreneurial vision or talent and they don't have to be an entrepreneur, they can be an executive that took a company in a different direction or took a stand within their organisation for the client.
“The perfect person would be someone who has achieved success, but who has realised there's more to life than individual success.
“I think people get lonely at the top when they realise what they're doing is pretty shallow. While I don't want a boat of depressed people, I want people who are looking for what's next in life, and what's next for Australia.
“It's also got to be someone who can write a $15,000 cheque out of their business and then cover travel costs to get there, so we're probably not talking about emerging entrepreneurs.”
The pair hopes to convince a handful of high-profile sportspeople and politicians to join the trip to help drive conversations that are not just about business objectives.
Zani recently approached a former Australian sporting captain who has expressed interest, and says he is having “some amazing conversations with some people I never thought I would have a reason to call”.
They founded a club he named “the Unstoppables” for legal reasons – under Australian law only a registered club can charter a cruise ship. However, it will also serve to provide a sense of ownership to its participants who will continue to convene for meetings, conferences and trips after the polar expedition is complete. It will also include people who are keen to contribute but unable to take part in the Antarctic cruise.
“The intention is to have the community continue to come together, whether for amazing travel experiences or trade missions, but definitely keeping the group together with dinners and functions. Antarctica is just the launch of this community.”
Zani stresses the club and the Antarctic cruise are not designed to make money. “We're not about taking $1000 a year from people to be a member, it was never a commercial concern,” he says.
“The reality is, the cruise will sail with 50 people (if we can't get) 117. But with the conversations I'm having I'm very confident (it will sell out).”