It’s little surprise when Mark Beaumont answers the phone from astride his bike on a two-mile jaunt from a breakfast meeting in St Andrew Square to the northern Edinburgh suburb of Trinity. He dismounts to take the call, walking the bicycle the rest of the way home with the sound of traffic swooshing by in the background.

“I am not as competitive as I once was,” says the record-breaking long-distance cyclist. “When I got to Around the World in 80 Days which was five years ago now, that was very much my Everest. There is nothing bigger than circumnavigation. I remember when I was a teenager being inspired by Ellen MacArthur sailing around the world. That had always been the dream for me.

“So ever since then I continue to – I think I will always be an athlete at some level – I continue to train hard and make one or two hopefully interesting films a year and take on interesting projects, but it’s not my main focus. I have moved on to the next chapter of my career, if you like.”

That transition was underscored in November 2020 when it was announced that Mr Beaumont had joined the leadership team of Eos Advisory, an investment firm founded in St Andrews in 2014 which focuses on disease prevention, energy security, climate change and sustainability. He paid an undisclosed sum to buy into the business, joining four other partners led by managing partner Andrew McNeill.

The assumption is that an athlete would gravitate towards investing in sports technology, but Mr Beaumont says those aren’t the things that keep him awake at night. With two young daughters, his thoughts are focused on the world’s bigger challenges.

HeraldScotland:

“Five years ago I was looking – I certainly wasn’t looking to build an investment firm – but I was looking for opportunities myself,” he said. “I was looking for some businesses I could get involved in within areas that I am passionate about.

“When I say passionate, there are things I am worried about, like climate change and renewables. Being a farmer’s son, the agriculture and aquaculture space is of particular interest to me.”

But apart from the veneration that comes as a world record holder in the gruelling field of ultra-endurance cycling, what qualifies a 39-year-old athlete as a business mentor? Well, in his second trek around the world in 2017, Mr Beaumont knocked more than a third off the previous best time to take the record down to 78 days. It didn’t come cheap though, with a team of 40 around him and a budget of some £1.2 million – including £500,000 in cash – required to bring the project home.

“Athletes just want to train and focus on the bit they’re actually about, and it’s the same in business,” he said. “But how do you tell the story, how do you get the earned media value?

READ MORE: Record-breaking cyclist Mark Beaumont joins impact investment firm

“That was always part of my plan from the start. That is why I boldly walked into BBC Scotland at the age of 22 and pitched my first documentary. I had no right to do that, but I knew that I would not attract major sponsors unless I did more than just ride my bike.”

That approach – building specialist teams, having corporate sponsors, making television programmes – has brought criticism from some quarters in the rather laissez-faire world of adventure sport, which many regard as an escape from the corporate rat race. Mr Beaumont doesn’t flinch from the principle of building a “sustainable growth business”.

“I guess because I was an economics graduate I always had a keen interest in business,” he said.

“That was always a part of my motivation, and I’ve always made no apologies for that. I’ve taken my career as seriously as Andy Murray or Lewis Hamilton.”

Home schooled until the age of 11, Mr Beaumont attended the High School of Dundee and at the age of 15 completed a solo ride the length of Great Britain. He continued with his cycling endeavours while studying economics and politics at the University of Glasgow.

HeraldScotland:

He has held and continues to hold a number of ambassadorial roles and served as rector at the University of Dundee between 2016 and 2019. His continuing association with the latter landed him the task of co-hosting the forthcoming eight-part Path for Potential podcast series, which goes live on August 12, on behalf of the university’s Centre for Entrepreneurship.

Recorded over several months, Mr Beaumont and co-host Johanna Basford spoke to entrepreneurs from a range of backgrounds on how they got started, survived and succeeded in business. The aim, he said, is to provide new graduates with useful information on their options going forward.

“When people graduate they think it’s just about working silly hours. There is a currency in [being busy] and there’s a mindset of ‘I’m just going to work harder’.

“That’s not really it. Successful careers, happy careers, are about feeling like you’ve got choice, and you need to sometimes take slightly entrepreneurial risks. You can question norms around you – I don’t care whether you set up your own business or work for a multinational, there is no wrong job out there, it is a personal choice.”

Q&A

What countries have you most enjoyed travelling to, for business or leisure, and why?

The countries that stick out most in my memories are always the ones that are most different from what I expected. For example, cycling across Iran was a particular highlight, the friendship of strangers and the beautiful history and culture. Closer to home, I was recently exploring Portofino and the Italian Riviera, which for family time or cycling, has to be one of my very favourite corners of the world.

When you were a child, what was your ideal job? Why did it appeal?

I was home schooled on a small organics farm in rural Perthshire, so my reference points for what life could be was very limited. Until the age of 12 I assumed I would also be a farmer, as that was all I knew. My parents were farmers and all my neighbours were farmers.

When I was 12 I started working bob-a-job in Bridge of Cally hotel, from which point I wanted to own a hotel! The appeal at that age was clearly limited to what I could see. There was no dreams of being an astronaut or a fireman. As for being a professional cycling, that happened entirely by accident.

What was your biggest break in business?

When I was 22 I was selected for an internship in Boston that was run by Scottish Enterprise – it was called the Tomorrows Leaders Program – which has since become the Saltire Program, now run by Entrepreneurial Scotland. It was such a formative summer, lead by my host, the Global Scot Helen Sayles. I credit this experience with a lot of the drive and direction to set out on my own after university and build my own business. A few years later, it was meeting Derek Stuart and Lindsay Whitelaw from Artemis, the first people to say yes and back my big dream, soon before a great, late friend called David Peat agreed to make a BBC documentary about my first world cycle. These key friendships and moments of belief were the important early breaks.

HeraldScotland:

What was your worst moment in business?

There have been many. I didn’t have a clue in those first few years about how to structure my business. I’ll always remember getting on a plane to China when I was about 25 when my mum called to say we have made a big mistake in our tax planning – I can laugh about it now, but it made me feel sick to my stomach and I will always remember that feeling of worry.

When it comes to people, one of my greatest mistakes was realising my focus and style of communicating was intimidating some of my team. Whilst I was trying to inspire them, I was actually scaring them – that wasn’t the plan and I was deeply sorry and had to learn from that!

In terms of jeopardy, I very nearly died in 2012 when rowing the Atlantic and capsized. There were over 12 hours when my wife and my mum didn’t know if I was alive or not. Putting them through that and the mental recovery was certainly very difficult.

Who do you most admire and why?

I greatly admire people who have real world experience and balanced views. Perhaps not surprising given the recent success of The Rest is Politics podcast and The Long History of Argument, but I have long been a great admirer of Rory Stewart – ever since I read his wonderful book about walking across northern Afghanistan, The Places in Between.

Less in the public eye, I have huge love and admiration for Una Beaumont, my mum, who has worked alongside me my whole career. As a parent myself, I can’t imagine how hard it must be to support and trust your children in their work, without stepping in and being “mum”.

What book are you reading and what music are you listening to?

Currently I am reading How the World Really Works by Vaclav Smil, which is fascinating and fairly self-evident from the title. For lighter interest I am also enjoying Arthur, a book about a dog that was rescued by a Swedish adventure racer whilst in South America.

On music, the soundtrack to our household at the moment is the Zombies soundtrack, which is serious grating pop music, thanks to my six and nine-year-old daughters.

In my own time I am more likely to listen to the Bach suites, as I still enjoy scratching away on the cello. The last song that I Shazam’ed was Snowman by Sia whilst sitting at Nice airport a few days ago.