Yale School of Management

After 15,000 Miles Rowing the Ocean, Roz Savage Teaches Courage

“You have to be vigilant to make sure that you don’t have any barnacles on your bottom,” said Roz Savage, the world’s foremost female ocean rower, who spoke to students at the Colloquium in Advanced Management on April 4. She was referring to the detritus on the hull of a boat, but the principle applies equally well to life on land, she said: “Get rid of everything that doesn’t support your vision and could create drag to slow you down.”

Savage, a senior fellow at Jackson Institute for Global Affairs and former World Fellow at Yale, teaches a weekly seminar on courage. Before she rowed solo across the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian oceans—a total of 15,000 miles in a sea of sharks and storms—Savage, an Oxford-trained lawyer, was a management consultant for companies including Accenture and UBS. Realizing she found corporate life constricting, she set out to find her true purpose.

To do that, she said, she used an exercise from Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and pictured herself at the end of her life, looking back. The people she admired most, she found, lived fearlessly: “They seemed to get so much out of life, constantly reinventing themselves, thirsty for new experiences.” That realization became a set of vision and values that swiftly became action. A central value emerged after what Savage calls an environmental awakening; she knew that whatever form the adventure took, it would serve to raise awareness of the planet.

It’s not that the rowing itself was easy. Alone on the water for as many as five months at a time, Savage faced a long list of adversities, including broken oars, a rusted electrical system, loss of contact with the outside world, sunburn, and exhaustion. But, she said, “even when it wasn’t enjoyable, it was my not-enjoyable, rather than my boss’s.” She taught herself a technique she finds useful in her non-rowing life as well, in which she steps outside herself and asks: “How can I behave now so that in the future I will be proud?”

A strong enough motivation can conquer fear, Savage said. Yet she also noted that—especially for women, who are notoriously risk-averse—it can be vital to leap into ventures we haven’t fully mastered. Risks are worth taking because, after all, “Most failures are recoverable, short of falling overboard and drowning.”

About the Event

Roz Savage, senior fellow at Yale’s Jackson Institute for Global Affairs, speaks during a Colloquium in Advanced Management, which convenes global leaders for conversations with Masters of Advanced Management students. Savage is the world’s foremost female ocean rower, having rowed—solo—a total of 15,000 miles across the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian oceans. She holds four Guinness World Records. An Oxford-trained lawyer, she spent the first 11 years as a management consultant (Accenture, UBS) before becoming a world-class adventurer. Her transformation from office professional to ocean rower is documented in her book, Rowing the Atlantic: Lessons Learned on the Open Ocean. A World Fellow at Yale in 2012, Savage teaches a weekly seminar on courage.