Magnus Houston suffered a terrifying crash that changed the former pro-Superbike rider’s life for good, setting him on course for a new adventure as a fisherman and award-winning entrepreneur
In 2006, Magnus Houston was lying in a hospital bed with a shattered pelvis following a horrific accident that ended his career as a Superbike rider. Last year he collected IoD Scotland’s Emerging Director of the Year award.
Houston’s turnaround has seen him launch two businesses, Coast & Glen and Fishbox. The former supplies fresh seafood to hotels and restaurants in Scotland, including some run by Albert Roux and Gordon Ramsay. Fishbox, however, delivers fresh seafood straight to your door, anywhere in the UK, within 48 hours of it being caught. To put that in context, supermarket fish can take up to a fortnight to make the journey from trawler to shopping trolley.
As Houston recounts his story in the wake of that bike accident it becomes apparent that he looks on every challenge as just another hill to climb. “If I’m honest, and it’s not a macho thing, I enjoy pushing myself,” he says. “I enjoy pushing my boundaries. I guess it’s the sense of achievement you get when you reach the summit. The thing I have gained after racing and all the things I do now, such as hill walking, cycling, mountain biking, surfing, I enjoy.”
We are in Glen Affric, real 4×4 country, around 35 miles from Houston’s hometown of Inverness. The website walkhighlands.co.uk says: “By common consent, Glen Affric is the finest of all Scotland’s glens. It features a fabulous variety of scenery and is deservedly popular with walkers.”
Houston loves its challenge: “The things you have to deal with when you get here sound quite basic. Where am I walking? What is the weather like? What am I going to eat? But the weather can be hostile and the temperature can drop quite rapidly. These adventures are about preparation and plotting the right path.”
This adventurous spirit dates back to his childhood in Inverness. “My mum was a bit of a hippy and gave me free rein. There was this hill outside which, as a kid, looked like Everest to me. My best friend Tim would come up at the weekend and we’d set off to reach the summit.”
As a teenager, Houston became obsessed with motorbikes. “I raced for seven years. In the last two years I was competing in the support races for World Superbikes. Some of the British rounds fell between the world rounds. At Thruxton I crashed at 140mph. I know that because the bike went through a speed trap at 138mph and I wasn’t on it!” He emerged with a sprained ankle. But then his luck ran out.
“A few weeks later, at Snetterton, I was only going 40–50mph but I had a ‘high-side’ crash [one that catapults the rider into the air]. I smashed my pelvis. I remember feeling so hot and the pain was so bad that, ridiculous as it sounds, I thought, ‘If I hold my breath for long enough I’ll pass out’. It was horrendous.”
It wasn’t the month in hospital, the three months in a wheelchair or even the fact he could no longer get back on a motorbike without assistance that forced him to leave the sport. “The moment came when I was told there wouldn’t be a contract for the following season.” On reflection, he says: “My accident was a saving grace. A lot of people compete for years, will never win a title but still get a contract. You reach a point where you say: ‘What else can I do?’”
Houston was working in a bike shop when he met his future wife, Fiona. On their first holiday together, touring west Scotland in a van, she introduced Houston to a friend who was a fisherman. “It was the first time I’d been fishing,” he recalls. “I thought it would be like the TV show Deadliest Catch. Then I discovered if you had a lobster boat you could go out for a few hours and come back. I treated every day as if it was a new adventure.”
So he bought a boat and embarked upon a new career but was surprised to learn whatever he caught was exported to Europe. He decided he would become a wholesaler – selling fish from Scotland, for Scotland. From there he started to tap into the burgeoning demand for fresh, local and sustainable produce delivered to the doorstep. To realise his promise of freshness, every box is different and based on the day’s catch, producing interesting discoveries for customers. Tusk, for example, has proven popular because of its similarity to cod, says Houston.
“I eventually realised that running a business is just like racing. It’s about planning, organising and having a strategy. When I stopped looking to do adrenalin sports and set up my own company I suddenly realised – this is fun.”
The demands of the job, plus those of his twin baby daughters, mean he cherishes his trips to the Highlands for the valuable thinking time it allows. “You have time to put into order all the things going around your head for work, the business and how that’s evolving and changing. The best way to do that is to take yourself away from it all. It’s almost as if you’re allowing one part of your brain to shut down for the other part to work. When you get back to the day job, things feel a wee bit easier.”
He is now working with the University of Stirling on an algorithm he says will transform Fishbox and result in a quicker turnaround of supplies. “Every fish buyer will have a live, real-time shopping list they mark off as they’re buying it.” If it is successful, they hope to roll it out in other countries. Houston has packed a lot of living into 34 years but it seems his real adventure has only just begun.
Magnus Houston Gallery
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