I am Paul Gardiner, originally from South Africa where I was born. I have been living in the UK for 18 years now and move between here and Africa with my wife and daughter. I am the CEO of a company called Mantis which is our family run business and I am also the MD of the Bear Grylls Survival Academy which we’ve built with Bear over the past several years.
What was the path that lead you to today? My youth was spent in Africa, and a large part of this youth was spent in the African bush – so I have a real appreciation for the outdoors and for nature and the power thereof. Today I get to work in this space through our family business Mantis, which develops and operates eco lodges across the globe; through our foundation, the Community Conservation Fund Africa (CCFA) which raises money to support conservation initiatives across Africa; and through our Bear Grylls based business, the Survival Academy which is all about getting people back outdoors!
Who inspired you to do what you do? I’ve taken all my inspiration from my parents. My mother has taught me all about the importance of family values, while my father has taught me discipline, he’s the hardest working person I know. He’s instilled in me his entrepreneurial flair; he’s always thinking out the box and he’s not got a negative bone in his body. So many of these traits run deep in my veins today as a result of the two of them.
What have been the biggest obstacles you have encountered? I’ve come from a privileged background, we have a lovely home, we’re a tight family and our businesses have fortunately had more ups than they have had downs, so all in all I have very little to moan about. Sure, we encounter obstacles in life from time to time, but having grown up in Africa, I’ve witnessed first-hand what other less fortunate peoples obstacles are and they’re often heart breaking and these in my opinion are REAL obstacles. Mine in comparison have been speed bumps and so I can’t complain.
Biggest triumphs? As a family business built on pure entrepreneurship, I guess the losses often exceed the wins, but when you win, you win big. I think some of our greatest triumphs have been when we’ve managed to succeed in exiting some of the businesses we’ve built through blood, sweat and tears – it’s very rewarding to have these triumphs in life when you’ve literally put your life’s work into it and you have a dedicated team behind you helping you achieve this victory.
What is the most important lesson life has taught you? Keep humble in business and love and cherish your family.
Why is getting outdoors so important in modern life? Nature is the absolute greatest healer on the planet.
Amongst all the endeavours you have been involved with, which is the most unforgettable and why? In 1990, my father embarked on an endeavour which would see him rewild a part of South Africa which had been completed denuded by man over a period of 200 years – literarily every wild animal had been destroyed. He single headedly reintroduced every species that once roamed there. Everyone laughed at him, but he persevered. He ultimately opened the provinces largest privately owned game reserve and named it “Shamwari” – which means “my friend” in a local dialect. It became one of the continent’s most successful commercially sustainable game reserves and it has served as a model for countless other rewilding projects across the planet. A blueprint for the world to aspire too.
Why is this particular project so important to you? Shamwari was well ahead of its time, my father was rewilding over 30 years ago, he was a pioneer then and today I think the world needs to seriously embrace a “Shamwari” type model. You’re now starting to see people in the UK adopting elements of the model with multiple rewilding projects on the go across the country, including in Kent, Sussex, the Highlands of Scotland etc. The United Nations has set up a collection of 17 interlinked Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which are designed to be a "blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all" – we all need to step up to the mark and get behind their roadmap and get behind it fast! The Shamwari legacy is important to me because it’s a model of hope for our planet’s future.
Who has been an unsung hero in your life? I’d have to say my Mom, she’s always been there for us, very much behind the scenes, she’s a true Matriarch to all our family and I love her dearly.
Do you have a motto you live by? You’ve got one life on this planet, so live it to it’s absolute fullest, always giving back along the way.