What Matters To Me: Paul Niel, Impact Investor And Adventurer
In the What Matters To Me series, a Generation T honouree describes what they do, why they do it, and why it matters.
Paul Niel is an impact investor, a technologist and a motivational speaker. He, however, prefers the term “adventurer.” Given his long list of accomplishments, which include conquering Everest and sailing across the Atlantic, the title is richly deserved.
Five years ago, Niel left behind a career in banking to pursue his passion for exploration. Driven by a desire to make a positive impact, he now uses his financial and technological expertise, as well as his unquenchable thirst for adventure, to support the causes and companies he believes in. Here, he introduces his work in his own words.
I would say I’m “omni-interested.” I engage in projects around exploration and new technologies, and try to combine the two when I can. My projects may look very disparate on the outside, but there’s a common line that runs through them all—the search for adventure.
I’m driven by discovery. I’m always looking for new things, whether it’s a new application of a technology or an expedition into an uncharted area. I marry the knowledge I have from my financial background with my interest in technology to support projects that I think are truly change-making. The “impossible” lies beyond all the things that have already been explored or done before.
It’s the journey that counts much more than the goal. If you just focus on reaching a goal, you undermine the whole project. If you’re working at a bank for the bonus at the end of the year, sooner or later that’s not going to be enough. If you’re climbing Everest and the only thing that counts is reaching the summit, you’re probably not going to get there.
I’m a statistician, so a lot of my life has been spent calculating risk. I actually consider myself quite risk-averse, although appearances might suggest otherwise. Rather, I’m all about crazy ideas and dreaming big—then I like to make big ideas a reality, with the necessary risk adjustments.
For me, success is staying true to my values, making an impact and maintaining the balanced lifestyle I want to pursue. There’s a Dutch word, gezellig, for a concept that’s important in my life. There’s no direct translation in English, but it means being in a comfortable place, somewhere you have balance. There’s no benefit to having millions of dollars and being the boss of whatever if you’re not content with what you have and do.
My most recent expedition followed the footsteps of Roy Chapman Andrews, an American adventurer who explored the Gobi Desert 100 years ago in search of dinosaur fossils. Two scientists on our imaging team, who used to work for Nasa on the Mars rover mission, used drones and multispectral cameras to find 250 new fossil locations and potentially three new species. The fossils are still being examined at the lab. Walking through the sand and discovering a dinosaur fossil (similar to the one Neil is holding in our main picture), bones that have been resting in the same location for 60 million years, is an indescribable feeling.