Dancing Upon the Precipice
Ken Friedman BS ’79
In December 2019, Ken Friedman mounted his BMW dual-adventure motorcycle for an epic six-day journey across the interior of Antarctica.
Outfitted in protective polar gear—with GoPro cameras on his helmet and handlebars—he traversed the continent’s icy blue landscapes. At times, he endured a wind chill of nearly minus 20 degrees. “It was surreal—the experience of a lifetime,” he says. “As a result, I was able to fulfill my dream of riding on all seven continents.”
Inspired to share the joys of this trip, as well as the life-affirming aspects of his other adventures, Friedman is launching Dance Upon the Precipice. It’s a nonprofit that encourages individuals to transcend their comfort zones; persevere through challenges; and achieve personal growth and a more richly textured existence. Ideally, it will be a social media hub where individuals share their journeys and lessons with those seeking inspiration.
Friedman currently allocates his time among worldwide adventure motorcycle travel, surfing, serving on various corporate boards, and engaging in philanthropic activities. He also serves as a guest lecturer on entrepreneurship at the University of Southern California.
Friedman built his career around venture capital and investment banking. After gaining experience as a business valuation consultant, he founded and became president of the investment banking broker-dealer of Houlihan Lokey. Eventually, he left to form his own venture capital firm, Friedman Enterprises. “My passion is working with entrepreneurs and building companies,” he says.
Friedman has always been driven to succeed. He grew up in a blue-collar neighborhood in California’s San Fernando Valley. “My dad was an electrician, and from a very early age, I was his apprentice-in-training.”
When Lewis & Clark offered him early admission, he embraced the opportunity to be the first in his family to attend a four-year college. He soon met his match in the “tough and intimidating” Ken Pierce, professor of business administration, whom he now considers an early mentor. When Pierce told Ken he couldn’t take an upper-level business course because he was a first-year student, Friedman pleaded his case. “We had a challenging conversation, but he ended up letting me in,” says Friedman. “I think he respected me for standing up to him.”
Laser focused on attending law school, Friedman balked when Pierce challenged him to apply to business school. “Initially, I had no interest in an MBA,” he says. However, after gaining admission to Harvard Business School—and interviewing both lawyers and business executives about their careers—he decided a career in business better matched his independent spirit.
It turned out to be a wise decision. And even though he worked the “prototypical 80- to 100-hour week,” he eventually set up a home office “back in the day when it was unheard of” and made his family a priority.
Ilana Friedman, his daughter, remembers observing her dad balance intense work with family time. “Most evenings over dinner, he’d ask about our day—not only what happened but also why and how we felt about it. We weren’t allowed to make excuses or use words like ‘can’t’ or ‘bored,’” she says.
In 2007, when Friedman was 49, he got a wake-up call when a close friend died of cancer. He drastically cut back his work schedule; bought a Harley Davidson motorcycle; and started surfing four or five times a week. Soon thereafter, he began his worldwide dual-adventure motorcycle travel. Friedman also leveraged the appeal of his home in Paradise Cove, a beach area in Malibu, California, renting it out more than 1,000 times for movies; commercials; celebrity magazine covers; catalog shoots; and ultra-high-end weddings and parties.
Friedman relishes the sense of freedom and independence that motorcycling offers. He has ridden in remote off-road areas in many parts of the world, including Bolivia, the Andes Mountains, Africa, and the Himalayas. “During my journey to India, I felt immersed in spirituality and reflection,” says Friedman. His India trip is featured in a new 10-part TV docu-series titled The Road to Dharma.
This year, Friedman’s travels will take him to Japan and northern Europe as well as other locales. Characteristically, he’s investigating an even more spectacular adventure: He wants to ride a motorcycle out of a plane as a giant parachute deploys to transport him to an extraordinary riding location.
“I don’t have a death wish … I have an engineering team assessing its viability,” he says. “I’ve always been fearless, fiercely independent, and tenacious to the extreme. If people tell me I can’t do something, I relentlessly set out to conquer the challenge and prevail.”
—by Pattie Pace
Editor’s Note: To connect with Dance Upon the Precipice, visit @danceupontheprecipice on Instagram or Dance Upon the Precipice on Facebook.