‘My work is like being on a raft in a fast-flowing river. I’m just on it for the ride.’
Todd Carmichael is the CEO and co-founder of La Colombe Coffee Roasters, a coffee brand based in Philadelphia. He’s also a well-known adventure traveler and was the first American to complete a solo trek from Antarctica to the South Pole on foot and with no assistance. (The feat took him more than a month, and he set several speed records in the process.)
Carmichael has been described by the media as both “foul-mouthed” and “big-hearted,” and he is often credited for taking strong positions on social and environmental issues. He’s a dad and husband—Carmichael is married to singer-songwriter Lauren Hart, and they have four adopted children—and he refers to himself as an inventor and adventurer. He was the host of the Travel Channel shows Dangerous Grounds and Uncommon Grounds and is the inventor of the “draft latte,” which the La Colombe team says is one of the fastest-growing ready-to-drink beverages.
This week, Carmichael talks to Elemental about his morning routine, his obsession with cottage cheese, and why he travels.
I wake up at 6 a.m. on weekdays. On the weekends, I wake up at 4:00 a.m. I’m a hockey dad—I play ice hockey with my son!—so my weekend time is precious, and I want to get in as much time as possible with my family.
Right after I wake up, I go to look at my sleeping children. Then I wake my little son Bek, and we make coffee together. We always drink espresso. Well, actually, I drink multiple espressos. Bek drinks a decaf cappuccino. He loves it. We sit in the kitchen while it’s dark and we talk.
I eat two meals a day. I don’t eat a lot of meat. If I do eat meat, I like meat that hasn’t been tortured. At work, I have an assistant who keeps an eye on my diet. At home, I have my wife. So, together, they ensure that I eat very healthy. I have one oddity in my diet: I eat a quart of cottage cheese every night. It’s like dessert to me. It’s my nightly treat! I also take vitamin D and C multivitamins.
I drink the equivalent of six to eight espressos a day. And I like them made in a certain way: no cream, no sugar, just espresso. That’s the beauty of it.
There is nothing normal about any of my workdays. They can go in any direction! We try to schedule it all out, but more often than not, my work is like being on a raft in a fast-flowing river. I’m just on it for the ride. Right now, a lot of my time is spent with my innovation team in my lab in Philadelphia. We’re always tinkering, creating new products, and evolving existing products. I think that’s what makes La Colombe special: It involves exhausted experimenting plus cutting-edge innovation.
From a business perspective, I’m also quite interested in coffee’s potential impact on one’s cognitive abilities, particularly as we age. I am very interested in how coffee impacts dementia and Alzheimer’s.
I watch the news in my office every night before bed. If I want to sleep well, I need to catch up on what’s going on in the world. Then I spend time in conversation with my wife, catching up on her day. This slows me down. I feel like it gives me an ounce of peace so I can sleep well.
Overall, I’m trying not to push so hard right now, both for myself and everyone around me. The adrenaline you get when pushing a company can be addictive. But there are times when you need to stop pushing so hard and simply let things run their course. In that sense, I think I’m beginning to approach a solid work-life balance for the first time after 25 years of work. For any entrepreneur or startup, there’s really no such things as balance. But after two and a half decades, I think I’m getting closer.
I travel because it reminds me that the world isn’t small after all. It’s huge and complex, and there are many of us. All types of us. And there are different ways of doing things. These adventures have always been part of my life, because I want to be my own hero. Don’t you want to be the hero of your own life?