Co-founder of Dragon Adventure Race Events (DARE) Onslo Carrington has always been passionate about fitness and sports. After graduating from Cornell University, he went on to be co-founder of Slo Pony Adventures, a premier outdoor adventures company based in Cat Ba Island, Vietnam. “Sometimes you pick a place and sometimes it picks you,” smiles Carrington, reflecting on his decision to move from the U.S. to Vietnam in pursuit of business opportunities in the country’s burgeoning lifestyle and fitness sector. Today, Carrington is the General Manager at Vietnam’s Sunrise Events, a fitness and sporting events company that organizes competitions like IRONMAN 70.3 in Da Nang and the Techcombank Ho Chi Minh City International Marathon.
We meet with Carrington at our offices in Ho Chi Minh City to learn more about his management strategies and visions for the future of Vietnam’s fitness and events world.
Summarize your management style in three words.
Inquiring, analytical and detailed.
What kind of people do you like to surround yourself with?
I try to surround myself with people that are passionate about what they are doing, who also have the skills to achieve their goals in a timely manner. I like being around people that are good listeners that can inspire me and others working with them. Finally, it’s important that the people around me have respect for themselves, as people who respect themselves tend to project that same sensitivity onto others.
When are you most productive?
Early in the morning after I have had some exercise. I like the calm stillness of the morning hours. I set my intentions for the day when I get up then I usually go for a run, a bike ride, or meditate and read something that inspires me to be of meaningful service during the day.
I think of each day as a gift, so I owe it to myself and others to make a productive contribution to my life and to the lives of the people I encounter during the day.
How would you describe your ideal work environment?
Good people, a good mission, good music, good vibes, and a good product.
If we do the calculations, a great deal of our adult live is spent at work. I’m fortunate enough to do work I enjoy, and to do it with both people in the office and at our events that I enjoy interacting with and learning from.
Who has been the most influential in shaping your career?
My family and my mentors. They’ve let me make decisions for myself but counsel me in the moments where I might not have the best focus or insight. I got to explore a great deal as an entrepreneur from the age of 16. My family and mentors have supported me during the challenges of trying to do things that might not have been done before.
I’ve had a really wonderful success rate in business in part due to paying attention, but also because of the love I have in my life from people that want to see me succeed. I think it is madness to think one can just do things alone without influence or support or even a lot of luck.
Is there an author or book that has shaped your approach to business?
Sun Tzu and the Art of War, The Iliad and the Odyssey.
Sun Tzu and the Art of War has helped me focus on preparation and strategy, while the The Iliad and the Odyssey has helped me overcome challenges on the path to achieving a goal. I haven’t met a single business person that hasn’t had to walk across some fires. I have learned to find ways to limit damage in difficult situations, and to admit when you get things wrong. You have to be willing to keep trying, because a business isn’t just your own. People’s livelihoods, well-being, and investments are at stake and are reliant on your actions.
Both of these books address how important one’s character is in determining where you’ll go in life. I want to keep learning and growing, and that means I’ve got to go to places that are hard, both externally and internally.
What is one advice you would give to someone starting out in a management position?
Study, study and study. Study yourself, others, the market you are in, and the market you want to be in. Learn every day and pace yourself. It’s a marathon, not a 20 second sprint. Ask yourself why you even want to be in charge of other individuals or a business, and what do you want to give or gain.
What do you want people to gain from spending time in a room with you? Ask questions of yourself and those around you.
Someone once said, “The nature of a good solution stems from the nature of a good question.” You get asked all kinds of questions in a management position. Before you can answer to others, you need to be able to answer these questions for yourself.
What do you find most difficult about your job?
Getting things done by some unrealistic deadlines I set for myself. Finding another 12 hours in the day. Not getting behind. There is a lot of noise to filter out before you can really tackle the items that might sink the enterprise or, in some cases, your job.
Do you prefer power to be distributed equally or hierarchically in business?
In an ideal environment I would say equally, but the reality is that not everyone actually wants that responsibility. And, the fact of the matter is, because personalities come into play in organizations, we have to set some level of hierarchy so decisions can be made with accountability.
I am a dreamer, so I still believe that allowing input on matters in a horizontal manner leads to positive inclusion and a sense of being involved in the process and thus ownership. But at the end of most days in business, someone in a leadership role has to answer for what happens and some form of hierarchy usually lends itself to getting an answer.
What is the first step to addressing any problem that arises between different parties?
Listening. There are usually 13 sides to a story or problem. The problem doesn’t just start when you start addressing it. We only see the manifestation of the problem when it blows up.
I had one of my closest friends, who started as a business partner, say, “If you don’t hear what I say and give that weight whether or not you think I am right or wrong, then we will never get to the solution.”
We have to let individuals be heard before we can find a pathway out of whatever the problem is.
How often do you think about long-term goals?
Like most people in business, a few times a week. I am forecasting into the future on sales, growth segments of the business, what I would like to accomplish and how I would like to positively make an impact.
I don’t want to mess it up, so I have to find that balance between what I realistically think I can make happen with the help of a strong team, and what I need to make happen today.
I think about long-term goals often enough to have vision, but not so much that I forget to be present and do the best I can on a given day.
Who should we speak with next? (e.g. Vietnam-centric people in business, brand owners, those who see the next trends or have ambitious goals…)
This is the hardest question yet. Would you indulge me and try looking in the streets of Vietnam to find that inspiring individual?
I was riding my bike as usual this morning and ran into a young man leading a group of rollerbladers. I was so impressed with how he’d started a group, and created a name and labeled jerseys for the team. I believe they skate on a daily basis. These types of fitness groups didn’t exist ten years ago, and I think that the people responsible for their formation are some inspiring but overlooked thought leaders.
It’s your second time living in Vietnam. What brings you back here?
The first time I called Vietnam home, a lifelong friend and I co-founded the first adventure tour operator in country with a core focus on rock climbing trips in Ha Long Bay.
We bolted over 100 routes and, as a byproduct, the business expanded into 12 additional segments of operation from luxury overnight boat trips, corporate team building programs, experiential learning adventure trips for kids, kayaking, stand-up paddle trips, to jungle trekking, etc. The business was acquired and I took some time to focus on family and soul-searching.
I’d say sometimes you pick a place and at other times the place picks you. To that extent, I came back in part because I wanted to make an impact sharing some of the things I love doing the most, sports and fitness. Through sports, anyone can explore their personal limits.
The only thing above the IRONMAN and international-level marathons that we execute, in my opinion, is an event like the Olympics…so I am really proud of what we get to do on a daily basis. I get giddy about being part of something so amazing in a place that five years ago didn’t have events of this kind.
We produce events that transform individuals’ lives in a place that has transformed mine in unfathomable ways, and I think this is a very unbelievable opportunity. It’s hard not to sign up for that journey. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity.
What are some of the objectives of Sunrise in the next three to five years?
To continue to produce the types of events that help individuals to put forth their best selves. We like to think we create the situations and backdrops for a person to explore and tap into parts of themselves they might not have known even existed. We want to create ecosystems that allow our participants, sponsors, partners and stakeholders to get a great return on impact for their collaboration with Sunrise Events Vietnam.
This quote didn’t originate with me, but as a individuals and as an organization we would like to “be the change we wish to see in the world.”
If you want to be a better person, a better community, or a better company, then start with yourself. Then have the vision, grit and determination to see that all way to the finish line three years or even ten years from now.
The senior members of our team, both Vietnamese and non-Vietnamese alike, have embraced this idea. We always try to reinforce this with our younger staff. Most of us have been living with this ethos for decades, and it’s something we try to share with others. Three years in the future doesn’t feel so distant, so we look ahead to the kind of impact we see ourselves making, then start working towards that today.
The Techcombank Ho Chi Minh City International Marathon is coming up in December. How do you want the city and its people to see the Marathon in future years?
We want them to see that the Marathon was for them and by them.
For example, the New York City Marathon is the gold standard of marathons and it started with a handful of people that believed that it meant something special to run across a city together. True global iconic marathons have the heart and beat of its population involved. They have the local government and leaders of industry within the city involved. It’s a total effort of all parties in the city, and it is what attracts people to travel from around the world to be a part of that pulse and energy.
Our team has worked hard over many years to demonstrate that at Sunrise Events Vietnam, we have the ability to execute large scale events in large cities that showcase their history, beauty and vibrancy. For Ho Chi Minh City, this is then executed to international standards and successfully attracts local and foreign athletes, professionals and amateurs across all age groups and demographics.
We want the marathon to be something that the entire city is proud of. We want people to see it as a part of the city’s past, present and bright future.