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We speak to Clipper CEO William Ward about supporting Unicef and the Prudential RideLondon 100 cycle

by Sarah Heron 19 Jun 2017 13:00 BST 19 June 2017
William Ward enters the Prudential RideLondon 100 cycle challenge in aid of Unicef UK © Clipper Ventures

The Clipper Race's official charity is UNICEF, and this year the teams are aiming to raise £400,000. Clipper's CEO, William Ward, has worked closely with Unicef UK and its global offices, experiencing first-hand the vital work it does to help protect children in danger.

To further help with fundraising, William is joining the cause by entering the Prudential RideLondon 100 cycle challenge in aid of Unicef UK alongside Clipper Race crew and staff. We caught up with him about his involvement with both Unicef and Clipper.

William, why did he get involved with the Clipper Race? What potential did you see, and how did you view your partnership Sir Robin Kox-Johnston?

In 1995 I received a phone call from old friend and business associate who I had sailed with in my school team, about investing in a sailing business with Sir Robin Knox-Johnston. It sounded intriguing and although I didn't know anything about the sailing industry, I decided to meet with Sir Robin anyway. I quickly learnt that lots of people were ready to sign up for the first race. I immediately sensed Sir Robin's passion for the idea, and also that of the crew, who included my own son, from reading their application forms. It was a powerful combination.

Over our past 20 years together, Sir Robin and I have built a fantastic relationship based on mutual respect which has gone from strength to strength. We've faced and overcome many challenges together, especially in the early days but we've managed to grow the race every edition. It's more than business, we have a lifelong friendship that we're both incredibly proud to share.

What skills did you bring to make the organization grow in a commercially viable manner?

Sir Robin takes his biggest personal risks during his sailing adventures, but won't take big risks in business – whereas I thrive on doing so. We have very different life experiences and specialties, but in my belief, this is where the best business partnerships find success.

Crucially though, we share very similar character traits. I noticed early that he would not give up easily, even when situations got really tough, which is also my philosophy but I take my risks in business.

We provide a unique opportunity which is highly effective and delivers an excellent return on investment. The business model for interlinked sponsorship and crew fee revenue was strong and I could see the opportunity for business partners early on.

When we had our original fleet of eight 60-foot ocean racing yachts, the natural first step to growth was to commission a new, larger fleet to attract more crew and business partners. This decision saw the fleet of ten 68-foot ocean racing yachts give us a 40 per cent increase in crew numbers and gave us the opportunity to reach more partners, which has continued to grow ever since with our most recent fleet of twelve 70-foot ocean racers.

Please explain why Unicef is the perfect charitable partner for the Clipper race.

The race has supported many great charity causes over the years but as we reached our twentieth anniversary, I felt it was a fitting moment to partner with a charity which has a truly global reach just like our race and its crew members.

I wanted to partner with Unicef, because it works all around the world to promote child rights and wellbeing, and does crucial work to save the lives of the most-at-risk children throughout the world. As a father and grandfather, I do feel a personal responsibility to help protect those unable to help themselves.

During the last race I was able to view first-hand how Unicef supports children with disabilities in Vietnam, during a visit to a day care centre in Da Nang that cares for children affected by Agent Orange following the war. The visit was particularly heart wrenching but made me prouder than ever about our decision to support Unicef and projects like this which are making a huge difference to children's lives.

Our Clipper Race crew are taking on a huge challenge. During the 2015-16 race we raised over £320,000 for Unicef and we're now hoping to raise £400,000 in our upcoming edition so I am proud to be joining the cause through my own personal fundraising.

Tell us more about the Unicef RideLondon 100?

RideLondon 100 is a 100-mile cycle race which will take place on Sunday, 30 July, which follows the route of the London 2012 Olympic Road Race.

Our race crew and partners are adventurous and competitive and just like the Clipper Race, RideLondon 100 tests you mentally and physically. We thought this was great preparation to take on the world's oceans and myself and a number of our crew from past race editions have signed up to take part this year in aid of our Unicef cause.

We understand you decided to enter following a skiing accident and this is a goal to recovery – how has your training gone?

I ask our crew to raise money for Unicef, and also encourage our staff to take on fitness challenges, like London Marathon and others, to help with our fundraising efforts so knew I would soon have to take on my own challenge.

I had already made the decision to sign up to RideLondon 100 when I broke my femur in January in quite a major skiing accident, just at a time when I was feeling strong and fit again after recovery from a hip replacement the previous year. I also turned 60 this year and am determined age doesn't mean I have to slow down or stop pushing myself!

Breaking my leg has definitely made the training extra tough, and I think my surgeon thinks I'm crazy, but I found it incredibly frustrating not to be able to keep fit and active when I was in hospital and after so I've channelled that mental determination into my training to keep me going during the toughest moments.

I'm up to 60 miles on the bike at the moment. It's not easy at all, both physically and also finding the time to get out amidst all the meetings and travel while the next race gets ever closer, however once I set my mind on something I don't give up. It's the toughest thing I've done in a long time but I know I'll do it. There will definitely be a bike for sale after July 30th though!

How do we sponsor you?

My goal is to raise £10,000 for Unicef. If you would like to help me reach my goal, you can donate via my justgiving page here:

What's the latest update on the Clipper Race?

With under 70 days until the start of the 2017-18 race, preparations are well underway and we are really looking forward to taking the Clipper Race back to Liverpool's Albert Dock for the first time in ten years.

The fleet will arrive up there on Monday 14 August, with events and activities held throughout the week leading up to Race Start on Sunday 20 August. With over 710 crew set to take part from over 40 different nationalities, the 2017-18 race is set to be our biggest yet.

Many thanks William and best of luck!

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