Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Former Top Trader Fossett an Adventurer But Not a Daredevil

By Edward Nawotka

Dec. 26 (Bloomberg) -- What's your New Year's resolution? Steve Fossett says he intends to break the absolute land-speed record in 2007.

The 62-year-old, who made his fortune trading options and securities, is already the first person to fly solo nonstop around the world in an airplane and the first to circumnavigate the globe alone in a balloon. He has swum the English Channel, finished the Iditarod, sailed across the Pacific Ocean single- handedly and holds 115 world records in five different sports.

Despite all this, he still refuses to bungee-jump.

``When people do that, they want to free-fall and have the living daylights scared out of them,'' Fossett says. ``I'm not a thrill seeker. I don't enjoy getting scared.''

On Dec. 15, the National Aviation Hall of Fame announced that it would induct Fossett, along with four others, including Frederick W. Smith, the founder of FedEx, and space shuttle astronaut Sally Ride, first American woman in space.

Fossett's personal philosophy of risk and reward is elaborated in his recent memoir, ``Chasing the Wind: The Autobiography of Steve Fossett'' (Virgin Books).

I spoke with Fossett by phone from his home in Monterey, California.

Nawotka: How does becoming an author rate in difficulty against your other achievements?

Fossett: People have been asking me to write a book for a long time. It was a daunting task that took two years and covers the most important projects that I've been involved in and recounts some of the best stories. I accomplished an awful lot in business, but it's not polite to talk about how much money you make, so the story is not as interesting to tell. It's a lot more fun to share an experience, which is what I do here.

Dangerous Projects

Nawotka: Do you see any corollary between your business career and pursuit of world records?

Fossett: The management skills I developed in trading have enabled me to accomplish what I have. It was a logical progression. I came from a business where I was managing people and trying to control risk. The kinds of projects I undertake are dangerous and require a strong team. I haven't done these things with any extraordinary talent or ability. I'm very well organized and know how to set goals. What really differentiates me is aspiration. I'm surprised we don't see more businessmen taking more high-risk adventures -- they have all the necessary skills.

Around Ireland

Nawotka: You describe your first record, the speed record for circumnavigating Ireland in a sailboat, as almost accidental.

Fossett: In 1993, I just happened to have one of the fastest sailboats in the world at the time. I was there to participate in another race, but then I saw an ideal weather pattern where I could follow the winds circulating around the coast of Ireland and challenge the record. So I went for it. The previous record was 75 hours, but I was able to do the entire 704-mile circumference in 44 hours.

Nawotka: A relatively small number of people fly planes or balloons, but the absolute world land-speed record is set by driving, something nearly everyone knows how to do. Do you anticipate this record attempt will generate even more interest, especially in America, where people take pride in big, fast cars?

Auto Love

Fossett: True, this record reflects on our American love for driving cars fast, and while I think it's wonderful that the public follows what I'm doing -- and I hope they receive some motivation -- I'm not doing it for publicity. The absolute land speed record is one of the most prominent of all world records and goes back to the start of the car. The British have held the record since 1983 and have been more important to the sport, but it would be very good for an American to come back and capture this record.

Nawotka: The record is 763 miles per hour, and you're shooting for 800. What's the fastest you've ever driven?

Fossett: I went 298 miles per hour out on the Bonneville Salt Flats in a car with a four cylinder Saturn engine.

Nawotka: Surely, you'll need something with a little more muscle to break the record?

Fighter-Jet Engine

Fossett: I have seven people working on a car with me, including Craig Breedlove, who originally drove 600 miles per hour, and an aerodynamicist. The car utilizes a fighter-jet engine and relies on something between airplane aerodynamics and ground effects to cope with moving through the transonic speed range. It takes some very good technology to break that record and live to talk about it.