HeForShe: Ollie Ollerton | Founder, BreakPoint & Founding Instructor, SAS: Who Dares Wins

Meet Ollie Ollerton

Founder, BreakPoint & Founding Instructor, SAS: Who Dares Wins

Ollie Ollerton is the Founder of BreakPoint, which delivers a range of corporate and individual training programmes that help people change their limiting beliefs and unearth their potential. A former Special Forces operative, he found fame as one of the founding Directing Staff on the acclaimed Channel 4 show SAS: Who Dares Wins and now fronts SAS Australia. Ollie has also become a multiple best-selling author and a powerful motivational speaker, covering topics such as leadership, resilience, mental wellbeing and elite performance.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

I was a bit of a rebel growing up but from an early age I knew I wanted to join the military. My grandfather had been a captain in the Royal Engineers and when a teacher told me, aged 14, that I didn’t have the discipline to ‘make it’, I was spurred on even more. So, I joined the Royal Marine Commandos at 18 and toured operationally in Northern Ireland and in Iraq before being recommended for Special Forces Selection. I was one of just seven candidates to pass from an initial 250 that started the course and joined the Special Boat Service (SBS). I did extra training as a combat frogman and submersible pilot – something I’d seen in the Marines careers office as a teenager and had set my sights on – and served with the SBS for six years, undertaking missions that included counter narcotics, counter terrorism, homeland security, counter insurgency operations and humanitarian efforts.

On leaving the Forces, I worked internationally as a private security contractor. It was during this time that the concept of BreakPoint dawned on me. I worked with a number of organisations whose leadership and businesses lacked any structure and I imagined the power of bringing what I’d learned in the military into boardrooms. I returned to the UK and launched BreakPoint in 2015 with a mission to help people achieve positive growth and development, and since then, our courses have helped 1,000s of people change their lives.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I was totally hooked as a kid on the idea of joining the Marines – I loved the idea of being part of a tight-knit family, flicked through Combat Survival magazine, daydreamed about being in battle, really lived and breathed the military. But when I became a Royal Marine, it didn’t make me happy. Indeed, my life has been full of false endings – achieving my goals and then not finding the purpose I was looking for. The Special Forces taught me a lot but still didn’t give me purpose and I certainly didn’t find it doing security in a warzone afterwards. But a clarity washed over me on my return to the UK that I could use what I’d learned in these difficult scenarios to help others.

Have you faced any challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?

‘When have you not faced challenges?’ would be a more pertinent question! My childhood was a series of traumatic events, from being run over twice, splitting my nose open, and dislocating my shoulder, to being mauled by a 50kg ape – a pivotal moment in my life. These experiences seemed to hang like enormous dark clouds over the good stuff and adding wartime atrocities and counter-terrorism into the mix didn’t help my mental state. I thought I wanted those extreme experiences but with them came the extreme emotions and the need to dumb these down by drinking. For a long time, drinking was also a way of dealing with the relative monotony of civilian life but it was a toxic existence and it prompted additional anxiety and fear. It wasn’t until I had the experience of working with an organisation that was fighting child prostitution and slavery in south-east Asia, when I had the chance to truly help people, that I got satisfaction from my job. From there, things became a lot clearer in terms of putting those old negative experiences behind me. I suppose, in hindsight, I never discovered who I was until I left the military.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

My biggest achievement to date is my journey of recovery from mental health issues that were fuelled by a keen dependence on alcohol. Right or wrong, that was a path I feel I could only do on my own and it allowed me to gain so much knowledge and understanding of our true potential and the ethos of neuroplasticity. We can be whoever we choose to be, and the answers lie within. The notion that we can affect our wellbeing by any external fix is so alien to me.

You were one of the founding instructors on SAS Who Dares Wins – how did this come about?

I’d had the idea for BreakPoint – the blueprint, the website, the pitch to corporates, a venue for an HQ – but was struggling to make it work. I was running out of money and seriously considering getting a ‘real job’ when I got a call from Foxy [Jason Fox, co-star of SAS: Who Dares Wins]. He was sat with a production company, Minnow Productions, who had already been working on the treatment for the show and they asked me if I’d like to appear on it. After months of visualising the concept and putting all my efforts into getting BreakPoint off the ground, I knew this would be the platform for the exposure I’d been seeking. So, it took me about half a second to say, ‘Yes’!

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There was big controversy when women were allowed to join the special forces and when women were allowed to take part in SAS Who Dares Wins – do you think women play a part in the special forces?

When the Government announced – in 2018 – that all roles in the military would be opened up to women, my first thought was, ‘If the Special Forces are so good at what they do, why would they risk changing that dynamic?’ Quite rightly, if a woman wants to do a certain job and has the attributes to do so, she should be allowed to do it. But the issue of doing so on the frontline is thornier than that. It’s not that women can’t do the job – certainly the women that have been on SAS: Who Dares Wins have defied expectations, many proving they’re stronger, physically and mentally, than the men – but the presence of women changes the dynamic of a group.

What more can be done to help diversity and inclusion in the workplace, particularly within the armed forces?

It’s entirely different in the workplace, however, where any team should consist of many different characters. For example, there will be people who are particularly driven, those who are analytical, some who are creative and others who are empathetic, and to get the most out of people, and promote inclusivity, you need to really understand these characteristics and strengths. At Break Point we use an online assessment tool called PRISM, which was created by neuroscientist Colin Wallace, a former member of Army Intelligence and a psychological warfare expert. Businesses could benefit hugely from using these kinds of tools because they help people define which kind of character they are, moving beyond race and gender. A good manager will pick the right people for the right jobs but you need to really know your team members to do so, and individuals need to understand themselves in order to develop.

Why do you think it’s important for men to support gender equality in the workplace?

Anything outside of this is working against the ethics of teamwork and the success of our goals and outcomes. Every team member is an asset, and we must work within, otherwise we are left without.

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?

Do things for yourself, rather than for other people. Create the person you want to be, rather than the person you think will please everyone else. And don’t try and fake perfection. 

The whole world needs to move away from being driven by image and doing things because they look good on social media. That was part of the reason I joined the Marines – because I thought it would look good – but it didn’t make me happy. Nowadays I ask myself, ‘If no-one else existed on the planet, what decision would I make?’ So, is it designed for purpose, or for Instagram? Am I doing it for myself or to impress others?  

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

Later this year, I’m teaming up with record-breaking mountaineer Nims Purja, the star of the hit Netflix documentary 14 Peaks, and some other veterans, to take on the challenge of climbing the 6,812m Himalayan peak Ama Dablam. And there’s BreakPoint, of course, which is always being honed and developed. We’re launching a series of virtual and online programmes and, alongside a BreakPoint YouTube Channel, we will continue to inspire and change people’s lives. 

Get in touch with Ollie today to learn how a BreakPoint course could help you and your staff unlock infinite potential at: www.break-point.co.uk.

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