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On this podcast, I talk with CH Maguire, a man with many interests beyond his career as Director of Financial Institutions Services Group at Merrill Lynch. Among CH’s interests is a passion for leadership and the great outdoors. This passion led CH to a twenty-five year involvement with Outward Bound, a wonderful outdoor leadership program for youth and adults. This podcast is a must for anyone interested in the history of the Outward Bound organization and its leadership objectives.  CH talks about how the outdoors can lead to the development of great leadership qualities. CH’s philosophy and approach to life is derived from these experiences, making him a wonderful mentor in this field. I consider myself lucky to be a part of the group who learns from him.  CH Maguire serves as on the Board of Directors of GWG Holdings, Inc.

#9 Innovating Life Podcast Interview With C.H. Maguire

by Jon Sabes | Podcasts

Jon Sabes: Welcome to another podcast here of Innovating Life. Today with me is C.H. Maguire. C.H., among other things, sits on the board of directors at GWG, and I’ve gotten to know C.H. over the years in that role, that official role. But in getting to know him, I’ve gotten to know more about him beyond his professional expertise, which is significant, and the things that he’s done in life, which are really, really interesting. So I asked C.H. to sit down with me maybe a little bit this afternoon to talk about those things, in particular around being an outdoorsman, what that means, and his experience, and Outward Bound in particular, and then also maybe just a little bit about leadership, what skills in leaders does he look for. Does he coach people toward achieving to be better leaders in their careers, so C.H. welcome to the podcast.

C.H. Maguire: Thank you very much. It’s always great to sit down and have a conversation.

Jon Sabes: Have you ever done a podcast before?

C.H. Maguire: I have not. I’ve been interviewed on television and radio, but not a podcast as such.

Jon Sabes: Yeah, so this is new for us. Outdoors, being outdoors, when I say that, what does that strike you in your life and experience?

C.H. Maguire: Well, I have been fortunate to have had the opportunity to get involved with this organization you mentioned, Outward Bound, and sat on the board for one of the schools for over twenty five years. It’s interesting because I think the out of doors really does allow an individual to learn who they are, to learn what’s important to them, and to face some challenges, and go beyond the challenges that they thought they might not be able to do. The whole objective of Outward Bound is to help an individual build the self-confidence to overcome obstacles that they thought they could never do, whether it’s climbing a mountain or doing some type of tightrope walking across a board, or whatever it might be. It’s always the objective is to help an individual, increase their confidence, their self-confidence. Outward Bound was formed in the early 1940s during the second world war. What happened was that the British found that their seamen were perishing during the war when they would go into the water from the ships that were sunk by the Germans. And so the government asked a fellow by the name of Kurt Hahn to design a survival course that would help them with the self-confidence of getting through and surviving during the war. And from that initial survival course, it became a worldwide movement of understanding, getting into the out of doors, understanding and developing the self-confidence. The Outward Bound didn’t come to the United States until the 1960s, and the first school was a school up in Maine called Hurricane Island, and then it broadened its expanse across the country to five other schools. There’s the school of North Carolina, one in Minnesota, one in Colorado, one in the desert southwest, and then one up in the Portland, Oregon, and Washington area. The schools then developed over a period of twenty and thirty years as licensees of the concept of Outward Bound, so there was an Outward Bound USA, but each school was separate. Each school ran its own courses. Each school still dedicated to the principle of to serve, to strive, and not to yield. And then thousands and thousands of people went through, and the majority of the clients, you might say, were in the sixteen to twenty-one age group, as opposed to the mid-adult or later adult individuals. And again, the whole purpose was to help these young men and women develop their self-confidence. So that’s what the Outward Bound’s all about, and the school is the out of doors, which just seems to allow people to be who they are.

Jon Sabes: Well, I know for me anyways, being outdoors has yielded that benefit. I find I get closest to myself when I’m outside, and I’m always trying to discover who it is I am. And being outside somehow allows that to come out in its best expression, and to declutter my mind in a way that things are less important. Your mind’s certainly heightened when in the outdoors, and there are natural things, and threats, and elements that you just cannot control.

C.H. Maguire: That’s what the out of doors is all about. It’s nature, and it’s much, much bigger than we are, and to be able to exist in nature, and to be one with nature is extremely important. And then when you feel the confidence that you have, that you know you can go into nature and quote on quote survive, do the things that are necessary to allow you to not only survive, but to benefit from the experience, whether it’s sleeping on the ground, looking at the stars at night, whatever it might be. It’s worth the opportunity. If you ever have the opportunity to do an Outward Bound course, I, of course, since I’ve been involved and have done courses on my own, I would certainly recommend it to anyone to take off and do a course.

Jon Sabes: So does Outward Bound still exist in the UK, globally?

C.H. Maguire: It still exists globally. It’s in the United Kingdom. It’s also in Australia. It’s also throughout Europe.

Job Sabes: Ok.

C.H. Maguire: There were at one time about thirty six to thirty seven schools around the world.

Jon Sabes: Ok.

C.H. Maguire: Including the six that were in the United States. United States went through kind of a consolidation during the late ‘90s and into the early 2000s. What happened was that the North Carolina school decided to kind of go off on its own, still maintaining the licensing, but to kind of do their own thing, and then the other schools decided to kind of consolidate into one school, and run all the marketing, and run all the advertising, and all of the course designs that are out of central locations. What happened was that those individual schools that were in Minnesota, and the southwest, et cetera, what happened was that they got into some financial difficulty, and they spent more than they earned, and so the schools kind of imploded in a sense. And within the last five to six years, they’ve now reestablished themselves as individual schools. And what’s left, the southwest school no longer exists. They actually went out of business when they had a debt. There were some kids that were in kayaks, and they were in the Baja, and they had an unexpected storm. Unfortunately three of the students died. And so that school closed its doors. Minnesota closed its doors years ago, probably maybe thirty years ago, maybe twenty five years ago. But what’s left now is the Hurricane Island, North Carolina school, the Colorado school, and the school in the pacific northwest.

Jon Sabes: And you’re involved in the North Carolina school?

C.H. Maguire: I’ve been involved in the North Carolina school, right.

Jon Sabes: That’s great. And I do believe we still have some Outward Bound going on in Minnesota, but it’s just not through an Outward Bound school, or maybe we don’t. I don’t know.

C.H. Maguire: At this point I couldn’t tell you. I’m sorry, I don’t know what’s going on.

Jon Sabes: I’m going to find that out, and I’m going to post that in this podcast. Well, that’s great. And my son did the Outward Bound in the Baja course that you’re referring to.

C.H. Maguire: He did?

Jon Sabes: You know, knock on wood, he wasn’t part of that group that suffered the tragedy, but you know, a tremendous growth experience for him in that Baja kayaking.

C.H. Maguire: There are, I believe, kind of stairstep of experiences in the out of doors. When you’re younger, and you’re twelve-years-old, or thirteen or fourteen-years-old, there’s an organization called Wilderness Adventures that you literally go to camp, and you’ll do the rock climbing, and the mountain climbing, and the rappelling and all that. And they just teach an appreciation for the out of doors for that age group. Then comes along Outward Bound, and that’s really for the sixteen-year-old, twenty-two, twenty-four-year-old, and that’s the whole concept of developing self-confidence. And then beyond that, there are referred to as National Outdoor Leadership Schools, NOLS. They’re headquartered in Lander, Wyoming. And those schools have a tendency to focus on the development of the skill level, whether it be in the winter or whether it be in the summer, whether it be the mountain climbing, or the rock climbing. And they really focus on the development of the skills that you need to accomplish whatever you wish to accomplish in the out of doors.

Jon Sabes: That’s great. My son, being the finest expression of myself anyways, as every father would like to be, did NOLS and did Denali.

C.H. Maguire: Oh he did. There you go. Exactly.

Jon Sabes: Got some self-confidence along the way on that one too.

C.H. Maguire: I would think so. (laughs) That’s a real challenge to climb Denali.

Jon Sabes: Wow. And so speaking of being on mountains, you’ve done quite a bit of that yourself.

C.H. Maguire: I have. I again have had the opportunity to move around. I’ve climbed Kilimanjaro. I’ve been to Everest base camp. I’ve done some mountaineering throughout Alaska in the Wrangell mountain wilderness area, and gone to Europe, and climbed, tried the Matterhorn several times, and unsuccessful because of the weather. The side of the mountain got iced over and we couldn’t go up, and couldn’t go down.

Jon Sabes: (laughs) Wow.

C.H. Maguire: So, again, I’ve had the opportunity to climb throughout the world, and it’s been a wonderful experience.

Jon Sabes: That’s amazing, being in the twenty thousand foot type of mountain. You’ve been in the Himalayas. Any notable experiences, stories you want to talk about today or not really? (laughs)

C.H. Maguire: (laughs) Not really. What’s interesting, normally I go with a group, and the group might be people I don’t know or it might be family. When we did the family experience, when we climbed Kilimanjaro, we had to be careful about altitude sickness, because you start off at about thirty five hundred feet, and you go up to the top of Kilimanjaro, which is nineteen three. My wife got altitude sickness at fourteen six. The good news was we had a couple days to try to work it out, because if we couldn’t work it out relative to her sickness, she would have to go down immediately, and they literally would’ve had to carry her down. But we got enough water in her and enough of a diamox, which is one of the things people take for high altitude, and she did find, and she went on to the mountain. Lots of experiences that make you appreciate who you are, where you are, and what you’re doing.

Jon Sabes: That’s awesome. You know, it’s great you’ve incorporated into your family’s life. I know your son has done quite a bit too. You guys have probably done some stuff together. I know I’ve done some of that with my son, and really been a nice place to establish a different type of bond when we have a common goal.

C.H. Maguire: It is.

Jon Sabes: And we depend on each other, rather than maybe being at odds when we’re sitting around the house, arguing about who gets to control the next TV station or drink the chocolate milk.

C.H. Maguire: When my son– I have four children, and the oldest is a girl– my oldest son and I, when he was anywhere from thirteen to fourteen to fifteen, we did a lot of climbing together. We did Rainier when he was fifteen. And he went on to become an ice-climbing and mountain-climbing god in Alaska for the three years that he was in school after his freshman, sophomore, and junior year. And he spent the three months during the summertime in Alaska, taking people up to all kind of ice climbs and mountain climbs. He is quite experienced today. Now he’s teaching his fourteen-year-old how to rock climb, and how to do the mountain climbing also.

Jon Sabes: That’s awesome. Wow. So as you think about– after your career, you know, very successful in the financial services industry, Merrill Lynch, for I think over thirty five years, right, correct me.

C.H. Maguire: That’s correct.

Jon Sabes: You’ve done a lot, in terms of leadership coaching, working with a number of institutions, executives, and groups to improve, kind of what lessons do you take from the outdoors, and when you think about leadership, how do you encourage and coach the groups you talk to? Kind of relate some of those lessons and move them forward in their confidence and achieving their goals.

C.H. Maguire: There is a relationship between what you accomplish in the out of doors, and what you accomplish in your business career and your life. Because of the fact that when you’re out of doors, you have a vision of where you’re going and what you want to do, and what you want to accomplish, whether it’s a particular mountain, or whether it’s white water rafting, whatever it might be, doesn’t matter. The same thing’s true in your business life. In working with the individuals that I have worked with, and doing coaching and counseling for leadership, the one, or two, or three overriding considerations has to be the visioning, where do you want to go, and what is your vision of what you’re trying to accomplish. And then once you have a vision, you’ve got to be able to communicate what that vision is. You’ve got to be able to help other people buy into your vision with your enthusiasm and your confidence. And then once they’ve bought into what you want to be accomplished, what the vision is, then you have to work with them to help them understand how to get from point A to point B to point C, so that over a period of three to five years, or whatever the vision might be, the length of the vision, that you can accomplish what you’ve set out to do. It’s a lesson that you learn in the wilderness. It’s a lesson that you learn in the out of doors. You take it right to your business career. But the primary thing is there are an awful lot of individuals out there who are chairmen of the boards of companies, and they may be leaders, and they may have a vision, but they can’t communicate the vision. They can’t get anyone to buy into what they’re doing, and so the vision dies, and whatever they thought they wanted to do, it doesn’t work. Or an individual might be in the position to be the chairman of the board of a company or president, and be quite good at executing the daily action plan, but there’s really no vision of where he’s going. So that individual kind of falls into the category of being a manager, as opposed to being a leader. I have found over the years that there are basically three types of individuals. There are leaders. There are managers. And there are the worker bees. And those who are leaders are the ones who set themselves apart from the managers or the worker bees because they have a vision of what they wish to accomplish. They can communicate what that vision is, and then they can get people to buy into the vision, and in a sense, execute the steps necessary for the vision. ‘Cause a leader doesn’t have time to do it all. (laughs) To say the least. Anyway, so the dependents that you have in your business career on other people is the same dependents that you have in the out of doors in that when you’re climbing with somebody, their life is in your hands, and your life is in their hands. You have to depend upon those people. Well, the same thing’s true in your business. You’ve got to have individuals who will work with you and who you can depend upon, who can help you execute the tasks necessary to accomplish the longer term vision.

Jon Sabes: I know I’ve used the analogy with my team a couple of times, where I said, where I found myself maybe alone, or at least looking back behind for the rest of my group, and I’ve used the analogy, where you know we’re coming up over a pass, and we’re at the hip of a pass so to speak, and I’m climbing up right over the peak so to speak, right, and I turn around, and I look right back behind me, and they’re still down at the hip. You know, and I’m saying, guys, aren’t you coming with me, and they’re looking at me like, well, we’d like to, but that’s scary or we see a storm or something going. Well, I said, well, that’s the part where we need to be working together here, right. If you see a stormcloud that I’m not aware of. And a lot of times, again, I don’t have a map. You know, we’re in unexplored territory here, and if you’re pretty attuned that we’ve got some danger ahead, then clue me in. I’m with you, and I’m trying to guide you to that promise land together, and we want to land there safely. I’ve used that analogy a couple of times. I think it’s on point.

C.H. Maguire: It is on point. And I want to use another personal experience. I was watching television, and Gandhi was being interviewed. And behind Gandhi was this large, large group of people, and they were somewhat out of focus because they were maybe four, five hundred yards behind Gandhi. And the interview was progressing, and all of a sudden, this mass of people behind Gandhi started moving, You could see that they were moving, and all of a sudden they were moving from the left side of the television screen to the right side of the television screen. And so the interview continued with the individuals and with Gandhi, and all of a sudden, after about ten or fifteen minutes of this movement of people behind Gandhi, Gandhi looked around, and he said, oh my gosh, look, he said we need to conclude this interview now because there they go, and I am their leader. (laughs) So there’s when your vision and your communication of that vision, and the buy in is such that those individuals, as opposed to your leading them up mountain where there might be danger. They’re now doing what needs to get done accomplish the vision.

Jon Sabes: Correct. Right.

C.H. Maguire: If that makes sense.

Jon Sabes: Oh, absolutely. Yeah, yeah, that’s great. Love it. I love that. Well, to serve, to strive, and not yield.

C.H. Maguire: Not to yield.

Jon Sabes: Not to yield.

C.H. Maguire: That’s correct, yeah. That’s the motto of the Outward Bound schools.

Jon Sabes: It’s terrific. Well, look, it’s been a great chat with you, C.H. I always learn something when I’m talking with you, and it’s been a pleasure to get to know you over the years, and share your thoughts and ideas, and learn more about Outward Bound, where it came from, and how we can improve ourselves with some of the tools and techniques that they’re teaching out there.

C.H. Maguire: Well, it’s always a pleasure obviously for me to be with you and to talk with you. Thank you for asking me to be part of this podcast.

Jon Sabes: Alright. Signing off. Cheers. (music) Ok, that was a conversation with C.H. Maguire. We covered a lot of really interesting topics, Outward Bound, leadership, and his philosophy. So if you’re looking to take the advice of Gandhi, get your people to start moving, realize they’re moving, and quickly run to catch up and keep up with them. Ok, have a great day. Thanks for tuning in. Stay tuned.