Emaciated and delirious from cold, fatigue and hunger, Todd Carmichael nearly froze to death in Antarctica on a 39-day, seven-hour trek from the coast to the South Pole. He's been shot at and knifed in the ribs in his pursuit of the best beans around the globe.
But there's something else that terrifies Carmichael, 53, chief executive officer and co-founder of La Colombe Torrefaction Inc., the Fishtown-based coffee roaster with national ambitions and a line of cold-draft lattes soon to be available in 7,000 stores.
"I have this sense that there are a lot of people who fall asleep," he said.
(Maybe they should drink a La Colombe cold draft, but joking aside...)
"They have 20 years’ experience being a CEO or they have one experience but experience it over and over for 20 years. They’re not challenging themselves. They’re not alive. They’re going through the motions, because they’re really good at them. I don’t want that."
"A life unchallenged is very bland. If your intention in life is a big one, then you have to remain challenged. And the challenges need to be outside your comfort zone so they’re realistic. Ultimately, I would like to end my life with the idea that I had a hero and that hero was me. I would really like to be my own hero."
But how do you avoid falling asleep?
You do something outside of your normal. Misbehave. Don’t compromise alliances and allegiances, but do something unexpected that your heroes would do.
You talk about climbing a mountain, metaphorically.
If you’re lucky, your mountain is lying in the road, right on your journey. It’s easy to explain to the outside world why you need to climb this mountain, because it’s a factory.
You just bought a factory in Michigan to mass-produce the cold draft lattes. Not everyone has the challenge of running one.
Sometimes you need a mountain and you’ve got to go find it. It could be learning how to surf. It doesn’t make sense, but it scares ... you and it gets your heart pounding.
Not too many people, let alone CEOs, trek to the South Pole, solo and without support. How did that 2008 experience impact your leadership.
I know how to be the last man standing. I know the depth of my ability to endure obstacles, and just keep going. I've got to put the material of my mind and my soul and my body under flame. I know how far I can go.
So when others are discouraged, you encourage them?
Yes, how hard can it be?
Who could possibly have as hard a day as you did during your South Pole trek?
Don’t get me wrong. It’s a super private experience. It’s not something where you [say], 'C'mon guys, it can’t be harder than Antarctica.' There are times when people feel forlorn and dejected. I just look up and say, 'You know what, I’ve been there.'
You grew up working on farms, picking crops. What did you learn that helps you in the coffee business?
That's straight up applicable to what I do, which is it teaches me about agriculture. So I have a certain insight as to how it should be done. Ultimately and far more important, it teaches you endurance -- stick-to-it-tiveness. Have you ever hoed strawberries for 12 straight hours?
Do you have a good interview question?
I ask [candidates] to tell me about one or two people they've helped in their careers and how they did that, because internally, we don’t compete against each other. We help each other.
I saw you, your wife and daughters at the Women's March on Philadelphia. How will the Trump team impact La Colombe?
Since my mission is to help change the world, it’s going to hurt it. I want to make coffee for America. But there’s a really difficult rift in America now. America is like throwing up in a toilet right now. It’s hard to really make [people] happy. But, financially, we’ll be all right.