Lack of visibility is often the enemy of a CEO. But Renaud Laplanche, the founder and chief executive of Lending Club, embraces the challenge with gusto. In the wee hours of April 19, Laplanche was skippering Lending Club 2, his 105-foot maxi-trimaran, on a 635-nautical-mile journey from Newport, Rhode Island, to Bermuda. The goal: to break the speed record for one of ocean sailing’s marquee courses.
The little moonlight that had helped Laplanche and his international crew of eight navigate following their 1:30 a.m. departure was gone, hidden behind a layer of clouds. All they could see of the chilly Atlantic waters were the crests of the waves just as they were about to slam into Laplanche’s state-of-the-art boat, soaking everyone on board with predictable frequency.
“It’s very scary when you don’t get the moonlight,” he says. Under those conditions, the boat’s instruments help with overall navigation, but for minute-to-minute decisions sailors rely on experience and their own bodies. “You drive based on the balance of the boat,” Laplanche explains. That’s not easy, especially when you are literally flying above the water at 40 knots–slightly slower than the top speeds achieved by the much-lighter America’s Cup racing boats–with only part of the daggerboard submerged. “The sensations are different at night,” he adds. “You feel like you are going even faster. It’s really exhilarating.”
It’s also quite a change from Laplanche’s day job running Lending Club, which he founded in 2006 and took public in December in the largest Internet IPO of 2014. The company, which allows individuals and institutions to make loans to individuals while bypassing banks, has moved swiftly, becoming the leader in the so-called peer-to-peer lending market. By all accounts, Laplanche, who at 44 is soft-spoken and unfailingly polite, has been a deft navigator.
But nothing quite matches his passion for sailing, which he developed at an early age. Laplanche grew up in Hyères, a small French town halfway between Marseille and Nice that’s known as a sailing destination. He began the sport when he was 7. By age 12, he began sailing on an Optimist. His parents sent him to a special school where he attended classes three days a week and sailed the other four.
By age 15, he began racing, and three years later he won his first national competition. Two years after that, once Laplanche had won a second French national title, he faced a decision: to train for a spot in the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona or go to law school. – Forbes, full story