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Sven Lindblad keeps adventure travel all in the family

By Chris Taylor

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Travelers these days take it for granted that they can journey to remote places like Antarctica or the Galapagos, but it was one family, the Lindblads, that helped make that even possible.

Famed Swedish-American adventurer Lars-Eric began Lindblad Travel in 1958, and son Sven eventually took up the torch as the head of Lindblad Expeditions.

Sven Lindblad, 65, recently talked with Reuters about what adventurous travels can teach us about life and money.

Q: What was your first job as a teen, and what did you spend that money on?

A: I worked in a safari camp in Kenya as a driver and eventually as an assistant manager. Every cent I made went to photographic equipment and personal safaris to other national parks, particularly the Serengeti. Over the years, I saw so much wonder: a face-off between a lion and a cobra, and wildebeest crossing a river and being preyed upon by crocodiles.

Q: In developing such a unique business, were there money troubles at first?

A: Most definitely, for two reasons. First, we made mistakes as we learned about the challenges of building a business. Second, capital was hard to get in order to expand, and when we did get it, was costly. Once we got involved with long-term charters and ship ownership, most of the capital came from private individuals who wanted significant returns for the risk they were taking.

About 10 years into the business, we were able to acquire bank loans to expand, but all came with around 15 percent interest.

Q: You are obviously a risk-taker in life. Does that translate to your investments as well?

A: I have always taken the view that the best investment I could ever make was in my own business. The only exception I ever made was for real estate, but that was less an investment than just a place to live.

Q: Does being in such remote places like the Galapagos give you real perspective on the world?

A: Being anywhere where wildness still rules and natural systems are functioning well is both a joy and a reminder that healthy natural systems are probably the world’s most underrated and essential asset. I will never forget at age 17 the first time I swam with sea lions. The power and grace were mesmerizing.

Q: With your philanthropic efforts, how do you decide where you can make a meaningful impact?

A: We try to be strategic where our efforts can be leveraged beyond the actual dollars. Our investments in teachers, for example, and helping the experience we give them have as broad a reach as possible.

Our support of National Geographic’s Pristine Seas program allows us not only to support the creation of vast marine-protected areas but also to create a conversation with the guests about the importance of ocean health.

Q: Since you helped create a unique industry, do you have any advice for young entrepreneurs about spotting the right opportunities?

A: My advice to young entrepreneurs contemplating this field is always to strive to understand that your real answers are your guests. If you understand and respect them, you may be rewarded for it. The common denominator is always curiosity and a desire to explore, so we work tirelessly to put them in a position to get that perfect polar bear shot or to take them to a coral reef that is alive with fish.

Q: Since you are always off doing something adventurous, what are your thoughts on life insurance?

A: Life insurance is important so that you protect those you care about. I have come close to disappearing from this Earth on numerous occasions - an encounter with a very angry elephant, a face-off with a cobra, broached by a massive wave, and more.

Q: What lessons about money and life do you try to pass down to your kids?

A: Be passionate about your endeavors, and be principled. Talk to yourself in the mirror where you face yourself head-on.

You might or might not make a lot of money, but that is not ultimately where satisfaction is derived. One of my sons works with us, and he comes into the office every day brimming with ideas. He is a great blend of explorer with business savvy.

(Editing by Beth Pinsker and Lisa Von Ahn)

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