Rune on a cave diving exploration
Rune Sovndahl, co-founder of Fantastic Services, enjoying a dangerous cave dive while away from his desk. Credit: Koox Adventure

Top Six Ways to Stay Calm in the Boardroom - From an Extreme Sports Fanatic

THIS UK entrepreneur has revealed his top six tips for staying calm under pressure, whether you’re a start-up boss or a veteran CEO.

And he’s more qualified than most to be dishing-out such advice.

By day, Rune Sovndahl is co-founder of leading cleaning and maintenance firm Fantastic Services, a company first founded in 2009 and which processed customer orders worth £32.5 million last year.

Fantastic Services also has in excess of 300 successful franchising partners, as the network of cleaners, gardeners, handymen and pest controllers and more continues to spread across the UK.

But away from his desk, Rune is a passionate cave diver - an activity which involves the exploration of water-filled caverns using scuba equipment. If scuba diving is already inherently dangerous, cave diving takes the concept and runs with it to the extreme.

In an emergency, a cave diver cannot swim vertically to the surface due to the rock walls above them, and must instead keep their cool while they find a solution.

Unperturbed, Rune has even been part of teams who’ve been the very first to dive in newly-discovered underwater caverns in Mexico - including the Cenote Chan Hol system, in February 2017 - having gained special permissions from the local government.

And it’s these encounters that call for intense problem-solving which Denmark-native Rune, 44, says have influenced his business behaviours.

Here Rune, a husband and father of one, reveals the advice he hopes might help others, no matter where they are in the management hierarchy:

OBSERVE THE RULE OF THIRDS: “In cave diving, you abide by the rule of thirds - for safety reasons, you dive as a three, and each one of you only uses one third of your air before retreating. That way you have plenty between you in case anything happens on the way back. And in business, you can compare air to cash. If you run out of air, you die. And that’s what happens when firms are either too ambitious in their growth, or they’re not ambitious enough in their sales. In diving, once you’ve used a third of your air, you turn back and get out. Everyone makes it out alive. If we go into an investment or project, we always have the money to make it back out, and then some. When forced to retreat, you can always go back - but can take more air with you the next time.”

STRATEGIC PLANNING IS VITAL: “Cave diving is very technical by its nature and strategic planning is vital. You say, ‘I’m going to go in there for two hours, I’m going to have this amount of oxygen, and we have responses in place for all manner of different scenarios.’ If the line is broken, how do I get out? If someone is hurt, what do we do? Anything could happen down there in the murky depths. And anything can happen in business, too. If you plan, meticulously, for all eventualities, you’ll feel better assured that you can cope with anything thrown at you. And because of that, your stress levels will be lessened.”

WHAT’S THE WORST THAT CAN HAPPEN?: “Cave diving can be dangerous. But it wasn’t until I went shark diving - without a cage - off the coast of Playa del Carmen, Mexico, that I really started to think about my own capabilities in business. You go down to a depth of 29 metres and you see the shark’s silhouette. You think, ‘Well, that looks quite small’. But then they get closer… and suddenly you have these three metre long animals circling you. It’s surreal. You realise you’re an arm’s length away from something that could eat you in one bite. And an experience like that changes the way you approach a stressful situation. I now sit in boardrooms, typically with lots of investors - and I just think, ‘Well, you can’t eat me. I’ll survive whatever happens in this room’. I feel complete calmness. It’s a good mentality to have.”

DON’T RELY ON HABITS: “I was recently taking a cave diving exam in Mexico, and I went on a dive in a very enclosed, tight space. One of the drills saw us shutting-off our air supply, via a nozzle behind our heads. I switched my supply off, did the drill, and then turned my air back on. But in the process, I somehow managed to break the switch. I’d held my breath for 30 seconds at that point and when grabbed my hose to take a big gulp… there was no oxygen. My dive partner was turning around at this point to continue, as we’d always done before, but I was frantically trying to signal to her that something had gone wrong. I had to physically grab her in order to reach her emergency hose. The business lesson I took from this quite frightening incident is that if you get too comfortable, and everything is always performed in the same way, you can become blinded by habit. Don’t take the numbers for granted - check, check and check again. Do your figures really stack up? If they truly do, and you’ve asked the right questions, the stress-inducing scares will be less frequent.”

YOU’RE MORE IMPORTANT THAN YOU THINK: “Your mood and your energy levels are of vital importance. And you are allowed to take those breaks, stepping away from your desk to enjoy a breather. No start-up business is worth sacrificing your own health for. We’re sometimes so fixated with hustling for business that you lose sight of the bigger picture. You don’t need to create a billion dollar app. You just have to make a couple of really smart steps and you’ll be okay. And then, just disappear for a couple of weeks and recharge your batteries. I typically end up in Mexico, hanging out at the dive shack. And that puts me in the right mindset for the rest of the year.”

HAVE PATIENCE: “It’s me who causes myself the most amount of stress. I want to serve a million more customers. I think we can and we have all the right systems in place. But now my impatience to grow quickly and become a global organisation is also my biggest source of frustration. I just have to tell myself that we do it one bite at a time - one borough, one town, one county at a time. And we have to do this in a structured way. If you can see that this structure is in place, you know that it will progress in a certain way, and that will cause your stress levels to fall away. Become obsessed with getting that structure in place - and then calm down and watch it flourish.”

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