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Case Study

Embracing The Trials and Victories in Your Own Hero’s Journey

The eventful personal story of Stefan Beiten, founder of The Argonauts, in his own words.

 

For as long as I can remember, there has been an insatiable desire within me, an urge, or force which compels me to action. Coming from an entrepreneurial family, it was only natural that it would be channelled into enterprise. In school, when I was 16 years old, my first venture involved fixing bikes. I gained the nickname ‘bicycle doctor’. My next teenage venture was exporting German cars to the US. Through maintaining a close relationship with a former classmate in the US, I was able to co-found an export company that would reach $1m in sales. That was when I first started seeing the power of close relationships.

 

Later, while studying law and history in Munich I combined my love of photography and marketing, and founded Images, an advertising firm which gained notoriety through our ad campaigns with Philip Morris and other blue chip clients. Then my legal path took me to Los Angeles to work at a boutique entertainment law firm. While studying comparative law at UCLA and Berkeley. Wanting to gain a more diverse range of experience, I entered investment banking by joining ABM Amro Bank in London and consequently gave birth to my own firm, Argo Ventures, a private investment firm. Our first project was Greenlight Media, responsible for the animated series Simsalagrimm, which I authored through the inspiration of my oldest daughter. It was also then I learned the importance of investing in my personal growth. If I hadn’t invested in my education and pursued a diverse range of experiences, I would not have learned the workings of the media industry. The series went on to be a hit both domestically and abroad.

 

I felt like nothing could stop me. I was practicing law and building companies, all the while maintaining a family life with my wife and daughter and cherishing life to the fullest with the arrival of my second daughter. My next step was to launch an animation film fund and I raised ca. 170M Deutschmarks, with the successive fund at a volume of 240M Deutschmarks already signed with the banks. This was around the break of the millennium and for the more veteran reader, you have already anticipated what comes next.

 

With the advent of the .com bust of 2002, Greenlight Media received a stake through the heart. Overnight, the company bled from 70 employees to 5. The family we had built and the aspirations we shared were torn apart by forces larger than ourselves. While we struggled to stay afloat, my sister died as a consequence of clinical depression. Her death crushed my parents and almost crushed me. But as the heartbeat of my family and my company were on the brink of stopping, a new one came to life. My wife was pregnant, giving me a lone light in a time of darkness.

 

When you are on the brink of failure, you begin to question everything. I wasn’t sure what it was yet – but the experience made me reflect and ask myself deeper questions about my purpose. Now looking back, I can see this moment as the crisis that would begin a chain of events leading to far greater heights. Failure can either break you or become your catalyst and it was through this desperate moment that I came up with my best ideas yet.

 

Privately, the birth of my son was a turning point. It fueled me to restructure Greenlight Media and we went on to secure a revolutionary five-pictures deal with the BBC Worldwide. Deep Blue would be the first project and it would go on to gross $30m in box office sales, surpassing records. Building on the success of Deep Blue came the extraordinary performance of the Planet Earth franchise and we made media history. Parallel to Greenlight Media, I helped Berlin Atlantic Group to become a leading investment company in Germany with more than US$ 1bn AUM as well as Gate 5 to grow from a small tech start-up to be sold to Nokia and become the second largest digital mapping company in the world.

 

Me and Loes in Greece, 2016

 

On paper, I was on top of my game. I had surpassed my previous financial best and there was much more room for growth. But the feelings I had many years ago started to come back; the feelings of uncertainty and incompleteness. The truth came out in a dinner with Tony Robbins in 2008. At that time, I was a well-known and successful entrepreneur. I had what so many only dreamed about. Then Tony asked me if I actually felt fulfilled through all my achievements; and the answer was no. I was still missing fulfillment.

 

Over the years, I had accrued and mastered different domains; exports, film, and finance were just a few of the industries I dabbled in. I had acquired the ‘what’ and ‘how’ of entrepreneurship, but there was still not an answer to a simple resonating question; why? It’s not a question you can simply ask yourself and receive an answer. It’s something that can only be uncovered or created.

 

The following financial crisis triggered by the Lehmann Group would force a merger between Wachovia Bank and Wells Fargo. The collateral damage? The Berlin Atlantic Group. But that wasn’t all. At the same time, it was uncovered that there were hostile actors in my midst. The business attacks failed, but I paid a costly personal price. After 23 years of marriage, the burdens of this hard time weighed heavily on my family. My marriage did not survive.

 

Although I had failed in the past, nothing could prepare me for both the professional and personal crisis I was facing; it could not get any worse for me. And then the answer to the big question came; my why. What was all this achievement for? From fixing bikes at age 16 to documenting the beauty of the earth, it was suddenly clear to me now and my life sense.

 

What I truly wanted was to make a positive impact on others. And if you want to make a big impact, you have to truly know yourself; something which can only come from being humbled by the world. You have to invest in your own growth, develop your character and figure out how the universe works. You have to be open to being helped, and also helping in communion with others. With these new lessons learned and a clear purpose, I got back to work.

 

In the following years, I rebuilt my private life with my fiancée and am blessed to have had my children come out of our family crisis stronger than ever. I went on to see further success and after several subsequent business wins, it was time to put my purpose at the forefront of my life. I asked myself; how can I maximize the impact I make on the world? From my collection of experiences, there were two things that came to the forefront: conscious business leadership as a vehicle to solve problems and the power of uniting people.

 

I have since gone on to create my own network of elite impact-makers in the form of The Argonauts, hoping to channel the world’s greatest leaders and talents into solving the biggest problems from their collective points of influence. Together with my Argonaut peers, we have managed to build a lifelong, global community with a focus on personal and entrepreneurial growth, while holding the same core values.

 

We all go through similar experiences and challenges to the ones I faced: crisis of business, crisis of family and crisis of self. Leading a business is one of the most challenging and rewarding pursuits in life, but you don’t need to make the journey alone. We can empower each other with the collective wisdom and strength of a regular Trust Circle. This peer mentorship would have helped me avoid past costly traps and find smart shortcuts to professional success. This would have also given me a safety net to take greater risks, and a catapult to hurdle the big challenges.

 

I’m telling you my story because we can all learn from each others life experiences and I wish someone had shown me the beauty of community sharing and support sooner in life. Now that I have found balance and fulfillment, I can share that experience with other daring business leaders, always seeking more out of life.

A Banker’s Redemption Journey to Ethical Finance

CASE STUDY: Reconciling greed with self-love and purpose

Sitting in front of me is an incredible man, who has taken the path of the heroes journey. From top London City investment banker to pioneer impact investment advisor on a mission to bring back ethics in finance, Alessandro Mele has searched and redefined his values and expanded his horizons to touch the lives of others. He has kindly shared his intimate journey of growth through his inner family life, which allowed him to align his moral and spiritual path with his financial path.

Hi Alessandro, thanks for agreeing to share openly about your life experiences. Shall we start at the beginning? What was your family like growing up?

First of all, I’m very lucky that I remember seeing my parents almost as institutions. They were not people, they were mom and dad. I could see how my fathers integrity and work ethics were very strong as he was the head of our County in Italy. He was an odd one out, as a public servant with a very high level of motivation and using the tools that were allowed by law to improve the community. He was using every law that was passed to promote investments, hiring, promotions within, and he never took advantage of that power for himself. I see that integrity as a strong imprint, but at the same time he was a conservative low-risk person.

Are you also a conversative, low risk person?

I feel that one of the biggest fears that I’ve had was my fear of failure. The fear of disappointing my parents and not making them proud of me. My father’s impulse to advise me to stay me in a stable employment environment sometimes held me back. I can see this fear was holding me back in terms of not taking too many risks. I’d been wasting a lot of energy in my father’s expectation that I should do a high level public servant job or working in a large organisation. He saw success as having seniority, like a central banker at the bank of Italy, but that’s the kind of expectation he had. I was educated in opus dei, with philosophers and I had a different dream.

 

Did you rebel against his expectations of you?

The first thing I realized when I went to study in Milan was how my parents had influenced me. I could see how powerful an education is in terms of the behavior transmitting values as opposed to words. As I grew up, I saw myself being at times in disagreement with what my parents told me to do. I could see how my mother, always so loving and generous with everyone, would tell me to do things to protect myself from others. Or my father worrying and telling me to be careful as an entrepreneur. I know it was their way of showing their love, but also their own weaknesses. So with introspection, I see a paradox: we all live the values and principles that were transmitted to us. We are part of a society that we’re trying to change, but we’re trying to protect our kids from risk, from disappointment, from failure so in fact we just reinforce the world that we are living in.

So what path are you now taking?

It’s become clearer and clearer because a lot of my meaning was about helping others as my mom has always done. Or being a high integrity person like my father, in being generous and helping others. In a way, I was a little confused on how I could achieve this in all my different roles. I wanted to be a good person as father, son, husband. And when it came to business I was a little confused as to what it meant, or how I could put in into practice while also making money, and I was searching for answers. When my mom died, I had a very profound spiritual experience. I felt a huge surge of energy come from her. I could see so clearly a lot of things that I couldn’t really understand in my catholic education.

What I saw was the power of love through my mom’s work. At her funeral, I saw hundreds of people coming to us to explain how much my mom had helped them in many different ways. I could see like the flashbacks of her life, and how many people she had touched profoundly with her regular phone calls or meetings. In a way I could see how love mixes across people, how God is there in every one of us, and in the hands and the senses of each one of us, when we act in accordance with love.

What an amazing revelation! How did that inspire your life today?

The biggest challenge that came up for me was how to incorporate my family and catholic values into the business life. In a way it was always there, but in different places. I couldn’t put the pieces of the puzzle together because they were separate; my values, my personal calling, my business which, in my mind were for me different and far away worlds, but they’re all inside myself. My wife was tremendously supportive of me through these learning times. Now at different points of time and from different mentor perspectives, I saw what it means to be a holistic person. I am looking at myself as a whole being and look at the quality of relationships with others, regardless of the hat I’m wearing.

The most powerful event for me has been spending a weekend with my friend and mentor Tim Malnick. A good mentor needs to see inside someone’s soul and gain total trust and then they need to love you so much and with very kind hands give loving attention, guiding you in the inner journey to discover your own subconscious. I am also very open, so I’m not afraid of showing myself. That vulnerability can be hurtful at times and very powerful as well, people see the beauty in you and you can create truly deep and trusting relationships which enrich both people.

Thanks to the inner work, I saw in a striking way, the paradox that I lived in my life. How I was so judgemental of myself, trying to be a very generous person, but also fearing my pride and my greed and my ego. I was trying to repress them as opposed to accepting them, and playing and joking with them. I was used to judging myself and judging others along the lines of greed and generosity. I came to the realization that it’s totally fake, just a creation of the mind. The reality is that as souls, we are holistic. We are one and all therefore it’s not a matter of me being generous or greedy, I’m both! It’s how I play with all the elements of my nature and use the energy that I have to make the most of the two aspects of my whole.

 

It sounds like you took your family and religious values but completed the circle into wholeness

Exactly! Because of what I understood from working with Tim, I can retrospectively understand what elements in myself are actually coming from my upbringing, my parents. For example, I see the integrity and generosity of my parents, as values that I have going forward. But in terms of my purpose, I now have more awareness and clarity of myself. I can consciously use my energy to achieve my purpose in life, regardless of the role that I’m playing; me as a father, or husband or CEO.

I keep reading and listening to authoritative people that say there is a huge shift in consciousness on a global scale. And I can feel it. Because of what I’m trying to do with my company EthicalFin and personally, I’m sure that the change is happening. Each one of us are in the ocean of society and we all play a role. I also see a very powerful combination of factors, almost like an alignment of planets.

What Jesus did 2000 years ago I think it can be done on a global basis in a very short time today. Just imagine what is possible today in terms of the speed of communication with social media and new technologies. His most important message was “love thy neighbor”. So I try to love my brother, who is actually anyone I meet, which is difficult. I struggle with that and it’s amazing how difficult it can be to even love yourself. It’s so simple and powerful at the same time. We humans tend to complicate things.

Now what is your purpose or greater vision?

When I was a kid I used to say that I wanted to become an inventor and solve the biggest problems, like the Bermuda Triangle! During a recent coaching session, I have seen the life purpose that I have been called to do as “helping others”. I still want to be part of the current society and I don’t want to turn into an ascetic monk, I still want to play my role within the business world. So what I’m doing is bringing a different approach within finance.

I see myself as a member of this powerful network of like minded people. And I play my role by building an impact investment advisory firm, helping visionary change makers build sustainable businesses, and introducing them to the right investors who share their vision and purpose. My vision is to do my part in accelerating a systemic shift towards a sustainable society, returning into a balance with nature. I would love to connect with people who are motivated to do the best we can with our combined talents and capital to reconnect each of us and heal the planet we live on. It’s amazing how many similarities we have with people from different worlds. The divine in all of us.

Redefining Wealth and Success

Jessica Kuljis has searched, discovered and redefined what her value is and expanded her limits on every level. Now she has kindly given us the time to pick her brain and share her intimate journey of growth and finding her own inner wealth. Jessica has redefined true success and has generously let us in on her secrets.

Read the full interview

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