Could This Have Been The Best Business Ad Ever Written?

Sir Ernest Shackleton knew a thing or two about business, marketing and recruitment.

After Amundsen succeeded in being the first man to reach the South Pole in 1911, Shackleton set out to be the first man to cross Antarctica from sea to sea.

In recruiting for the expedition, Shackleton advertised…

Men wanted for hazardous journey. Small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in case of success‘.

This turned out to be somewhat of an understatement.

Tragedy struck early on when the expedition’s ship, ‘The Endurance,’ was crushed between drifting ice flows and sank in the Weddell Sea before ever reaching Antarctica. This would become the start of a three-year saga whereby only through their determination and will power were they able to overcome some of the harshest and deadliest conditions on earth.

In what is now considered one of the greatest nautical achievements in history, Shackleton and five of his men, including the bauld Tom Crean from Annascaul, crammed into a 20-foot lifeboat and set sail on an 830-mile journey from Elephant Island to South Georgia Island.

It took them 13 days at sea. They faced hurricane force winds, 60-foot rogue waves, and the hourly threat of capsizing due to ice constantly freezing on their rigging.

They navigated with nothing more than a compass and sextant, which reading was often impossible due to storm clouds obscuring the stars and horizon.

Against all odds they succeeded. On May 8, 1916, they finally reached South Georgia Island; however, due to terrible weather, they were forced to land ashore on the side of the island opposite the whaling station. This left them no choice but to attempt the 32-mile journey by foot up and over the island’s mountainous interior.

Equipped with 50 feet of rope and wood screws pushed through their boots, they made the perilous trek in 36 hours. Despite several modern attempts, no group has been able to achieve this same route.

‘Find a way or make one!’ was their motto. Together they persevered. His men followed Shackleton through the hopeless situation and ultimately were rescued without a single fatality.


  • ‘From Good to Great’ by Jim Collins is the empirical study in business and academic circles into why some companies make the leap to being great and others don’t. It’s probably no surprise that the most famous and oft quoted sentence from that book is ‘First, get the right people on the bus.’
  • Except in Shackletons case it was ‘First, get the right people on the boat.’ And he certainly did. Some 5000 people responded to Shackletons advertisement including many women who matched the job description. The Scott Polar Research Institute uncovered one such letter from three British women eager to join the expedition. They wrote: ‘We have been reading all books and articles that have been written on dangerous expeditions by brave men to the Polar-regions, and we do not see why men should have all the glory, and women none, especially when there are women just as brave and capable as there are men.’
  • From these applicants, Shackleton carefully chose and built his crew around a core of experienced workers. He looked for people who shared his vision and enthusiasm for exploration, optimists, those who wouldn’t flinch at menial tasks, and those who had the expertise he lacked. He ensured that every man he hired knew exactly what was expected of him.
  • The bottom line was that he did recruit remarkable people for a nearly impossible task. Businesses today equally aren’t traversing the arctic or eating ponies, but they do need to find exceptional people for a hard journey.
  • The Gallop Poll revealed in 2012 that the single biggest reason good people leave an organisation is because they’re unclear what’s expected of them at work. Shackletons Ad is the ultimate template for defining clarity of expectation.


The quality I look for most is optimism: especially optimism in the face of reverses and apparent defeat. Optimism is true moral courage.

—Sir Ernest Shackleton.


1. What people have you got on your boat? Would Shackleton recruit them?
2. Are they clear what you expect of them?
3. Come to think of it, are you clear yourself on what you expect?

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