01 Dec 2015

In My Humble Opinion: Joss Kent (MBA 1997)

Tales from a life on safari
by April White


Joss Kent’s (MBA 1997) first memories are of being on safari. “I remember the smoke rising from the fire to boil water,” says Kent. Safari was the family business: His grandparents and father founded luxury adventure-travel company Abercrombie & Kent in 1962. By age 30, Kent—a professional safari guide, with military and consulting experience in addition to his MBA—was COO of the company and he later became CEO. Today, Kent leads one of its competitors, andBeyond.

He describes andBeyond, first, as a “conservation company.” The company’s luxury tourism pays for the habitat management, community development, and other conservation efforts in Africa, South Asia, and South America. “The conduit by which we do all of that is exposing guests to experiences that bring to life the wonder of the land, wildlife, and people,” Kent says. Among those projects: Rhinos Without Borders, an ambitious effort to relocate 100 rhinos from South Africa, where poaching is a constant threat, to safer havens in Botswana. “It’s a very raw experience to be close with a large wild animal,” he says. “Our lives are often very removed from the rhythms of nature and both the beauty and the savagery that comes with that.”

Home: West Sussex, England. “As close to Africa as I can get in an English environment. It’s an overgrown farmhouse with horses and rabbits and dogs and many children.”

On safari: “I was in one of our mobile camps in the Serengeti, and the migration was next door. So there were 5,000 wildebeests on the doorstep. At night it’s very loud. We had some guests ask, ‘What can you do about the noise?’ No, no, enjoy the noise!”

Leaving the family business: “It was more than just leaving a family business. It was like breaking an umbilical cord with an identity that you had grown up with your whole life, which was very difficult indeed.”

Touching a rhino: “Take sandpaper and multiply that feeling by 20. But once you get past the hard exterior, here’s an animal that’s actually very vulnerable. Underneath the armpit, it’s smooth like a baby.”

Where the work gets done: Forget the offices in West Sussex, England, and Johannesburg. The real work gets done “under the wild mango tree” at the lodges. “We have these open house meetings where you pull up chairs under the mango tree and you talk for two hours—that’s the proper office.”

Lesson learned as CEO: “Even with all the technology, people like to see who’s leading them. It’s not even what you’re saying, it’s just the fact that you’ve taken the time to sit and talk to them one to one.”

Industry trend: Homogenization. “People play it safe...once a Starbucks latte, always a Starbucks latte. Transfer that to Aman, the Four Seasons, the Ritz-Carlton. They are all great brands, but what I would like to see is people stepping out of their comfort zones.”

Never been: To Japan. “It’s an amazing place, and I just haven’t got there. I promised my son that he and I are going to do Japan.”

Why travel: “It sets one’s values. If you don’t travel and look for yourself, and learn for yourself, and touch for yourself, and think for yourself, I’m not sure you can be a better kind of global citizen.”

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Most memorable trip: Driving from London to Nairobi in 1998, through Syria, the Iraqi no-fly zone, and Yemen. “I remember thinking, maybe people won’t be able to do this journey in the future. How right I was.”

Must pack: Earplugs. “The proper wax kind. These things that the planes give you are completely useless. It will transform your life.”

Featured Alumni

Featured Alumni

Class of MBA 1997, Section F

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