It is no secret that former Olympic medallist, Andreas Helgstrand is a man of ambition. From being Denmark’s best dressage rider and head equestrian for Blue Hors to having a worldwide empire of sales and breeding of top dressage horses has been a long and turbulent journey.
But it is far from over. We talked to one of Europe’s most successful horse entrepreneurs to learn what the future brings. It has turned into a personal and candid interview with the man who, if he wanted to, could retire tomorrow and support himself and his family for the rest of their lives. So, what drives him? And when is he really satisfied with everything he has achieved?
What is a maverick?
“Hi Andreas. Would you be willing to do an interview for our magazine? It will only take an hour of your time. ”
The same evening: “Hi Laura. I would be happy to. Just say when.”
The answer came promptly. Honestly, not exactly what I expected from a man who reportedly has an equity capital of over $ 350,0000 and has just bought Windsome Farm in Wellington, Florida for the staggering sum of $ 17.5 million. And yes, he has also just been to Vectha for a stallion show and showcased some of the world’s best stallions with his companion Paul Schockemöhle himself.
But what is a Maverick? A Maverick is one who does not abide by rules or one who creates or uses unconventional and/or controversial ideas or practices.
The word derives from Texan rancher and politician Sam Maverick, who allowed his unbranded cattle to roam semi-wild instead of branding them and penning them in fenced-in ranges. That sort of independent spirit describes the companies, entrepreneurs and business leaders being qualified as maverick. A term suitable to fit Andreas Helgstrand.
Still, I quickly realized that Helgstrand is a down-to-earth man despite all the hype and all the success. Later that week when we arranged the interview, I had, off course, prepared a wide range of critical questions to the maverick of the horse world.
I wanted to understand the man behind the millions and to try to penetrate the smooth answers I imagined he would come up with for all my critical questions. Bring it on, Andreas: Now all the truth should be brought to the table!
But all of my initial thoughts would soon prove to be wrong. First of all, Andreas Helgstrand was very pleasant to talk to. He patiently and carefully answered all my questions, and thus did not uphold my notion of a stone-cold businessman. Second of all, he spent a lot of time explaining how much he had struggled to achieve success and how many sacrifices he had to make. I noticed this when, for example, he said things like:
“I have had to give up things to achieve things. Results do not just come by itself, but at the expense of something else. If you are born with a talent, it is your obligation to continuously develop yourself. Despite the sacrifices you have to make. Trust me, it is totally worth it.”
The equestrian world is a tough industry. It literally costs blood, sweat, and tears. Andreas knows that. For he had to sacrifice all three. He even left the safe environment of his family home and moved out at 16 to the other end of the country to follow his talent. Family, friends, and teenage life were replaced with long working days of stable work, preparation and breaking in young horses. Something he describes as extremely tough, but which has helped shape the person he is today.
Another example he probably never will forget was the time he won the silver medal on Blue Hors Matine at the 2006 Word Equestrian Games in Aachen, and just when it could not go any better, chose to cancel it all. Something he subsequently told me was one of the hardest decisions of his life.
But what the heck was the reason for giving up all the success he had fought for for so long? Why bet everything and change career right when he could hardly get any closer to the top? To answer that, there is something you need to understand about Andreas. He is a sportsman. And a sportsman never finishes setting new goals for himself. Combine that with a devil-may-care attitude, and you have the recipe for a Helgstrand.
“I had a great job, had great horses available and the opportunity to ride among the best in the world. But I wanted to go my own way. Test myself in another setting. I had to borrow millions, and I almost did not sleep for the first 3 years. But it is all been worth it.”
As a sportsman, there is no big difference between the goal setting he applies on the horse versus the one he applies when doing business, Andreas says.
“I used to say that I was satisfied with an individual medal at a championship. Then I knew I could not do any better. Now with Helgstrand Dressage, the goal for the first years has been to survive. We used to say: We are happy, if we survived. And it is great to see it is succeeding.”
Almost humbly, Andreas says, he is proud of what he has achieved – both at home and not at least in Florida and Germany. The exciting collaboration with Paul Schockemöhle in Germany is one of Andreas’ childhood dreams, so when the collaboration came into place, it was a bit of a dream coming true. And Helgstrand has only just begun.
How he wants to expand the empire in the future, we return to later on.
The dream of starting his own empire was planted in Andreas by a friend and business partner who helped him develop the idea of Helgstrand Dressage and financially supported him from the start.
And sooner than later, and with a good economical support from his partner in the back, Helgstrand opened his stables in Vodskov in 2009 in the northern part of Denmark. Since then, several branches in Europe and Florida have been added, plus a jewellery company run by his wife, Marianne Helgstrand.
The defiant one
“In five years, we have grown even bigger. There are plenty of opportunities in jumping and eventing – and of course, equipment. There is a huge economic potential in the equine sector.”
I could not get Andreas to elaborate more on the matter, but it is clear to see that something big is going on. For Andreas, it is about seeing the horse sector as a great untapped market. Extremely large amounts are being traded, but no one has yet managed to do what he does, namely to create a comprehensive concept for breeding, riding and competition, he says. Everyone is busy with their own things and they are looking inwards instead of outwards.
This is where you sense a small tab of something defiant in the otherwise calm businessman and rider. So, I allow myself to ask him if he thinks the established horse sector is a bit old-fashioned in its way of doing business. To this he replies:
“If you look at the horse sector there is huge economic potential, but everyone is busy with their own smaller stables. So, you have to dare something and believe in the idea of going new ways. The market is there, it is just a matter of having the courage to pursue the idea.”
Does that mean Andreas is tired of the horse sector? On the contrary: He wants to revolutionize it and develop new ways of doing things, across sports, breeding, country borders, and cultures. A fresh breath of something new that is needed in an otherwise conservative world.
“I do not do it for the money. I could easily have stopped long time ago and retired myself and supported my family financially for the rest of our lives. This is about something else.”
For Andreas, it is about believing in something bigger and coming up with a new way of doing business. There will always be hardships and bumps in the road when you start something from scratch, but the question is just how to get up and get on, he says, and continues:
“Helgstrand Dressage is what it is today because I enjoy working with it. Seeing new potentials and overcoming challenges. As long as I think so, I stay on. If one day it comes to me that I am no longer taking the lead and is the first mover of new ideas, I will stop. And that is fine with me.”
And so the interview with the horse entrepreneur and maverick ends, and he is off to another horseshow and another business meeting.
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