HeForShe: Ruari Fairbairns | Co-founder and CEO of OYNB

Ruari Fairbairns photographedat his home near North Berwick, East Lothian, for Guardian Labs

Originally from a small island off the West coast of Scotland, in his younger years, Ruari was no stranger to a pint or two.

After moving down to London and starting a career as an oil broker, he quickly fell into the ‘work hard, play hard’ style of living. 

After meeting his now wife, and having a child, his old ways started to wear thin and create friction in his relationships as well as cause him a few health problems. Reluctant to blame alcohol for any of these issues, Ruari took an anger management programme where he quickly learned that coffee and alcohol are the two biggest instigators of anger. After reading this, he decided to drop them for the length of the programme (90 days) and that is when everything changed. 

Happier, healthier and fitter, Ruari decided to set up One Year No Beer, a toolkit for surviving modern society alcohol-free, and has since recruited over 70,000 members worldwide. Ruari believes that having a community is crucial to making a positive lifestyle change and is constantly finding new and exciting ways to provide this support.

OYNB is not an abstinence programme; it is not about eliminating alcohol entirely. It’s about breaking down old habits and building new ones and creating a positive mindset that lets the individual take back control and make clear-sighted decisions when it comes to booze.

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

Hi, I’m Ruari Fairbairns, Co-founder and CEO of One Year No Beer, a global alcohol prevention program, aimed at anyone drinking more than 3 glasses of wine a week. Originally from a small island off the West coast of Scotland, in my younger years, I was no stranger to a pint or two. After moving down to London and starting a career as an oil broker, I quickly fell into the ‘work hard, play hard’ style of living.

After meeting my wife, and having a child, my old ways started to wear thin and create friction in my relationships as well as cause me a few health problems. Reluctant to blame alcohol for any of these issues, I took an anger management programme where I quickly learned that coffee and alcohol are the two biggest instigators of anger. After reading this, I decided to drop them for the length of the programme (90 days) and that is when everything changed.

Happier, healthier and fitter for being 90 days alcohol and caffeine free, I realised that no one was championing the benefits of abstaining from alcohol – but instead, all of the focus was on how bad drinking was for you. That is when I decided to set up One Year No Beer, a toolkit for surviving modern society alcohol-free.

I absolutely love my current role because every day I get the opportunity to help people and I genuinely believe that this is what I was put on this earth to do. Changing my own relationship with alcohol was the starting point for my journey with OYNB, because this allowed me to create space in my life, to find my true meaning and purpose. I couldn’t believe how much happier and healthier and fitter I felt. It has opened up an incredible life for myself and my family – one of meaning, purpose and ‘healthy’ socialising. One my kids will be proud of and my wife loves being part of.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

No, I can’t say that I did. I’m not too proud to admit that I had a series of failed ventures before I created OYNB. I was constantly looking for answers and I was determined to find a role where I could genuinely make a difference in the world. In 2017, when I met the Dalai Lama, this was perhaps the first time in my life that the stars aligned, and everything started to make complete sense. I’m not religious myself but if I was, I would definitely practise Buddhism. My meeting with him had a profound impact on me and made me realise that every life decision I had made was all part of a journey, that had let me to this point.

It was in that moment that I realised that I was put on this earth to help people and everything I was about to do – every decision that would follow on from this, would be about supporting people to make better life choices. I feel so blessed to do something in life that I would do even if I wasn’t paid. To me this is true success, because when you achieve this, then it isn’t really work, it’s a way of life.

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

Yes, plenty!  I struggled intensely with my head as a youth and I really found it difficult to fit in anywhere. At the age of 6, I was labelled “hyperactive” and my parents were offered an ultimatum – they could put me on drugs or run me through a course of counselling. I will forever be grateful to them for their decision to support me with the latter, because I think it has made me the wiser individual that I am today.

I attempted suicide in my early teens, and then bouncing back from this at 14 years old I wrote a letter to Richard Branson, and it said: “I’m going to change the world one day and I’m looking forward to having lunch with you.” At 15, I had already set up my first business and by the time I was 25, I’d tried five different enterprises, the largest of which employed 10 people for three years in Edinburgh. The driving force behind everything I did was the drive to someday achieve something that would have a massive impact in the world.

I genuinely believe that challenges form a very important part of both our personal and professional journeys in life. How we face them, learn from them and overcome them is what makes us who we are and is very much the life blood of our OYNB online community too.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

I’ve recently been named the Great British Entrepreneur of the Year for Scotland and Northern Ireland at the Great British Entrepreneur Awards which is pretty awesome! Our OYNB community is also supporting over 70,000 members in 90 countries across the world, and the business continues to witness 300% growth YoY. These are also things which I am super proud of.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

I can’t wait to write my book – I’m going to call it the 1001 Things Not to Do in Business. These things have cost me an absolute fortune, after all this is my 6th start-up! The biggest lesson that I have learnt since being in business is surround yourself with good people who complement your weaknesses – for me there are so many, so I need a big team!!! Jokes aside, we can’t all be good at everything so build a team that complements you and you’ll go far!

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?

I think we all need mentors and I’ve had lots of mentors through various stages of my business and personal life. Finding a mentor to do everything is impossible. You will find that different mentors are great for certain moments of your life. I’ve had great mentors who have made me strong for so many different reasons. I’m currently looking for a mentor to help me go to the next level and that is someone who has been involved in consumer technology in the journey up to a billion valuation as leadership team, board or investor.

What can businesses/government/allies do to help diversity and inclusion?

Change starts with awareness so get uncomfortable with how undiversified you are and start embracing the opportunities to champion diversity and inclusion. Looking inwards and well as outwards in terms of the direction in which your businesses needs to be growing, is really important. Here at OYNB we celebrate diversity and inclusion and believe that our very diverse team is one of our greatest assets.

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

First of all awareness is key. The facts are that as a man, you are more likely to have more opportunity and be better paid. So therefore if you are female you are at a disadvantage, simply for being female. All men should be aware of that societal conditioned bias and work hard to eradicate it. I went from working in a 99.9 per cent male orientated business in the broking industry to 75 per cent female in my own company today, with a 50/50 gender split on the leadership and this is something that I am really proud of.

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

Believe you can make a difference to both yourself and other people too!

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

We are now developing technology that will enable members to connect over the common goal of changing behaviour, such as caffeine, sugar, gambling, social media. Our next challenge is to become a global health and wellbeing brand, ultimately empowering all of our members to live life better.


WeAreTheCity has a back catalogue of thousands of HeForShe interviews, including Suki Sandhu, Philip Baldwin, Asif Sadiq MBE, Rob Neil OBE and many more. You can read about all the amazing men championing gender equality here.

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