Geoffrey Kent, the founder and CEO of Abercrombie & Kent, has built a half-billion dollar brand by pairing incomparable luxury and high-octane adventure. Now this celebrated innovator and risk-taker opens up about his decades spent on the cutting edge of experiential travel, a concept he introduced more than five decades ago and has been perfecting ever since.
In his captivating new book SAFARI: A Memoir of a Worldwide Travel Pioneer (HarperCollins, Hardcover, $64.99. On sale 1 September 2015), featuring a foreword written by Jeffrey Katzenberg, CEO of DreamWorks Animation, he invites readers on an unforgettable tour of some of the remotest locations on earth while offering a riveting look at his extraordinary life and illustrious career.
The son of a London debutante and a soldier in the King’s African Rifles stationed in Kenya, Kent was born while his parents were on safari in Northern Rhodesia in 1942. Raised on a farm northwest of Nairobi, the intrepid and highly intelligent youth absorbed everything a boy growing up in Africa should know about the land and its inhabitants. On an elephant safari to mark his passage into adulthood he received a ritual gift, a bracelet made from the hair of this magnificent animal’s tail. Recognising an opportunity, he began selling these good luck symbols, and after a couple of months, his business was more profitable than the farm.
With its proceeds he bought a motorcycle and became the first person to bike the three thousand miles from Nairobi to Cape Town, an immensely challenging trip that revealed fresh possibilities for his future. After climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, he departed for the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, where as one of the youngest cadets, he received an education in many ways. His service in the British Army further fine-tuned the tactical skills, logistical acumen and attention to detail that would serve him so well in the decades to come.
Advised to find a calling that harnessed all his passion, he returned home to Kenya. When a new government seized his parents’ acreage, the family decided to found a travel company, capitalising on his father’s unmatched familiarity with the continent. Abercrombie sounded grand and put them at the beginning of the phone book. Thus in 1962 a global giant was born. Displaying Kent’s soon-to-be renowned ingenuity, Abercrombie & Kent was officially the first East African safari outfitter to introduce mobile refrigeration, and his gamble to invest everything in this start-up enterprise paid off beyond his wildest dreams. Once their foothold in Africa was secured, he set his sights on the rest of the planet one destination at a time.
Kent recalls that as their client base grew so did the cravings for exotic holidays and here he shares his visionary accomplishments in thrilling anecdotes and illuminating stories. In Egypt, he built a fleet of boats to cruise the Nile; in China, he did sixty days of reconnaissance in a country that had long kept foreigners out; in Uganda, he led efforts to save gorillas and preserve their natural habitat; in the Galapagos Islands, he found a dazzling spot off the beaten path with ultra-reliable weather conditions; and in Antarctica, he created an expedition in equal parts educational and lavish.
From surviving jail and extortion in a South Sudan shakedown and bringing desert housing, ice cream and mobile latrines to thousands of oil industry workers in Saudi Arabia, to fulfilling Bill Gates and Warren Buffett’s request to ride the train that Chairman Mao rode when he made his famous national tours, and being the last person in the twentieth century to stand on the North Pole, Kent reflects on the remarkable moments that he has experienced on his journey so far.
All along, his goal has been to build a successful company while also giving back. Since the early 1970s, he has been working tirelessly on community-minded conservation projects with world leaders and fellow philanthropists, efforts that today focus on a triple bottom line of environmental, economic and social responsibility. Kent sees travel not only as a way of life but as a way of changing lives too for visitors and locals alike. And as SAFARI conveys so memorably, despite his innumerable achievements, for Geoffrey Kent, there is always a next place to go and there will always be another frontier to explore.