Great Adventurer

The Explorers Club recently honored a Wharton alumnus for his service and far-flung expeditions.

Fritz Selby, W’50, bonds with villagers in Papua New Guinea.

Frederick “Fritz” Selby, W’50, once taught the brother of the king of Nepal how to water ski. Selby was among the first outsiders to encounter isolated villagers in Papua New Guinea. He scaled the Himalayas and Alps and explored numerous countries including Bhutan and Myanmar (Burma). In part for these unique travels, the Explorers Club in New York awarded Selby a 2012 Citation of Merit, given in recognition of outstanding feats of exploration or service to the club.

His love of adventure is rooted in his active, outdoorsy upbringing in Baden- Baden, Germany, where he hiked, climbed and skied with his family, Selby recalls. When he came to the United States to attend the Wharton School, Selby says, he often slipped away on winter weekends to ski in New England, driving most of Sunday nights to get back to Philadelphia.

After graduation, Selby put his Wharton education to use as an investment banker and corporate executive for 35 years at Legg Mason Wood Walker Inc., Bankers Trust Co., Burnham & Co., and BAII Banking. A life-defining opportunity came early in his career in 1960 when Selby was offered the position of an advisor to Nepal for the U.S. State Department to help the country launch new industries. Selby jumped at the chance. He promptly married his girlfriend and moved to the capital of Kathmandu for the next three years. The oldest of his three children, Christopher, was born in Nepal.

“I have a close relationship with Nepal,” Selby says. “It is the most beautiful country in the world.” His love for the country is evident in his book, Postcards from Kathmandu, published in 2008.

For Selby, a typical expedition means getting away from everything—his home on the Upper East Side in New York, and modern civilization in general.

In 2009, along with a local guide, six other men and five women, Selby trekked into the highlands of Papua New Guinea and came face to face with an isolated tribe that had never encountered such outsiders. The highlanders turned out to be just as curious about Westerners.

“They stared at us, and we stared at them,” says Selby.

A year later, the government of Papua New Guinea named a trail near the tribe’s village the “Selby Trail” to honor the explorer and his group.

Yet one accomplishment has eluded him: reaching the summit of Mount Everest. Bad weather thwarted his attempt, forcing him to turn back at 23,000 feet, he explains.

Selby continues to alert a circle of about 25 people about new exploration opportunities. Selby’s expedition companions are businesspeople from various parts of the U.S. who having sampled the world’s luxury resorts, are ready for more fascinating experiences in the unexplored world.

“All of them have one thing in common, and that’s fitness.”

Selby was on Penn’s track and football teams and continues to set the pace on his trips. “I keep myself in pretty good shape.”

Having “an uncomplaining spirit” doesn’t hurt either, Selby adds. He explains, “The places we go to do not have five-star hotels.”

Selby joined the Explorers Club in 1988 and has since served as fundraiser, adviser and recruiter, as well as organizer and leader of expeditions carrying the club’s flag. Founded in 1904, the club’s mission is to serve as a unifying force for explorers and scientists worldwide. It counts among its members Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, the first people to reach the summit of Mount Everest in 1953.

 —By Samantha Drake, CGS’06

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