FEATURE1 September 2009

Double Lives – Jonathan Shingleton

Researchers reveal how their out-of-hours pursuits impact on the 9-to-5. This month we speak to Jonathan Shingleton, who’s a director of Giraffe Research and Consulting, and has also sailed across the Atlantic.

?Tell us about your day job
I am director of Giraffe Research & Consulting. I spend most of my time talking with senior representatives of clients’ global target audiences, from the City, media, government, academia, IGOs and NGOs, and their corporate peer groups and key customers. I investigate and report on perceptions of UK and US clients’ reputations, business performance, communications, and issues influencing the potential future success of their businesses.

Tell us about your other life
My other life is that of an ocean sailor. About ten years ago I was diagnosed with a life-threatening illness and I decided one way to beat it was to have a project to focus on. Some people climb mountains, others cycle across deserts, others run marathons. I decided to sail across the Atlantic. And so began a deep passion both for long-distance sailing and for the yacht I selected for the project – she’s a 47’ Oyster and to me she is the absolute business.

Which came first?
I started sailing when I was about 10 and spent much of my early years in a dinghy, thrashing around in gravel pits, reservoirs, stretches of the Thames and Chichester harbour. Regrettably I could never find a girlfriend who shared my love of sailing so it had to take a back seat during my 20s and 30s but re-emerged in the form of windsurfing alongside a Porsche in what I now accept was my mid-life crisis. Eventually the windsurfer ended up in a skip and I took myself off to the London Boat Show to dream of bigger things.

How do you fit the two around each other?
My Atlantic adventure was part of a three-month sabbatical I took in 2005 when I was executive chairman of the BPRI Group. Now at Giraffe I’m fortunate to be able to manage my time such that I can take extended periods off to achieve my ocean sailing fix when I need it. And the boat is fully equipped with electronic communications so I can stay in touch with my clients – even when 500 miles offshore.

Are you ever tempted to take up sailing full time?
No – I like the mix of business and sailing. And then there’s my family – they enjoy the swimming, snorkelling and sunshine, but not really the long-distance ocean journeys. My wife much prefers to travel in the front section of a 747.

What does sailing offer you that research doesn’t?
Freedom, wonder at the raw power and beauty of nature, exhilaration, excitement, terror, independence, surprise… It remains a miracle to me that 18 tons of boat can be moved along at 10 knots by wind power alone. Sailing is a hard taskmaster - it’s definitely not a case of if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. One has to continually anticipate what can go wrong, and then take appropriate steps to ensure it doesn’t.

What does research offer you that sailing doesn’t?
I think it’s more a case of how the skills of ocean sailing and research complement each other: teamwork, anticipation, intellectual challenge, absorbing and digesting huge amounts of information, decision-making, delegation, optimising available resources, and the ability to communicate quickly and clearly, often in stressful situations.

If you had to give up one of your two lives, which would it be?
Well, after a research career that spans more than thirty years, I guess it has to be research, although I would miss very much working on the business challengees confronting Giraffe’s clients - challenges that get increasingly complex every day. In fact, on second thoughts, I wouldn’t give up either. I’ll stick with both.

Jonathan’s next ocean challenge is the 2010 1,800-mile Round Britain and Ireland Race. Anyone interested in joining
his crew can contact him at jonathan.shingleton@girafferescons.co.uk