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In business, you take risks all the time, says Jamling Tenzing Norgay

In an interview with  Anand Adhikari on the sidelines of the BT-MindRush event in New Delhi recently, Jamling discusses the similarity between business and mountaineering, among other things.

Jamling Tenzing Norgay.

Jamling Tenzing Norgay.

Jamling Tenzing Norgay is a much sought after motivational expert in the corporate world. His late father Tenzing Norgay, a Nepalese sherpa, was the first to climb Mount Everest with New Zealander Edmund Hillary in 1953.

Jamling, who has penned a book Touching My Father's Soul, himself climbed Mt Everest in 1996. In an interview with  Anand Adhikari on the sidelines of the BT-MindRush event in New Delhi recently, Jamling discusses the similarity between business and mountaineering, among other things. Edited excerpts:   

Q. Do you see a similarity between climbing Mt Everest and running a business ?

A. Business, like climbing, is a journey. You have goals, targets to achieve and also a team to execute it. Similarly, when you climb Mt Everest, or any other mountain for that matter, you plan, strategise, form a team and execute the plan. Mt Everest is the highest peak in the world and also one of the most challenging mountains. You need to have (individual) skills, knowledge and then you have to work together as a team. Teamwork is a key factor in achieving any goal, whether it is business, personal, or climbing a mountain. The most important thing in any walk of life that you  are involved in is to be passionate about what you do. When you are passionate about something, then you enjoy more and get involved in it and you want to do it better.

Q. You studied business administration at a US university. Can things like leadership, teamwork, etc., be learnt by going to a management school?

A. A business school teaches you about the rules of the game. It is basically a guiding factor... [But] more than a degree, you need to have experience, which comes with time. You don't become a CEO once you're out of a business school. You work your way up as a manager, senior manager and then probably a CEO. Similarly, to climb a mountain, you need training. You have to do entrepreneurship here also... Many, many years of experience make you an expert. You have to work your way up in the mountains. Once you understand the terrain, the weather conditions, how the support staff works, it helps you to make a better judgement.


Q. How does one deal with slow learners in a team while climbing a mountain? Are there any lessons for businesses?

A. You have to pull each others' weight. You might be a slow learner, but you might have a good understanding of the terrain. Similarly, you might be the strongest climber but have no knowledge of fixing lines or logistics. A good team is the key to successful climbing or, for that matter, business. Sometimes, you will have people who are slow learners or weak. So, you need to support each other. You try to get a back-up for them. We are all supporting each other and watching each others' back while climbing the peak.

Q. How do you resolve differences?

A. There are always disagreements. It's part of human nature. In business, there are a lot of disagreements in meetings or decision-making. The important thing [while climbing a mountain] is safety. We make decisions based on it. We never compromise on it because the moment you compromise, you are finished. The group leader makes the final decision, but a good leader will listen to his team. You have to accommodate the team's views.

Q. Are risks or threats in business similar to those in climbing?

A. In business, you take risks all the time. Your client trusts and relies on you. You are basically his guide. As a business manager, you have to make sure that the capital is protected. Life is not a straight line, there is a zig zag. There are obstacles on the way... You  have to make sure to adapt and adjust to the changing situation.

Q. The post-2008 global crisis hit the corporate world like an avalanche. How do you deal with rough weather or sudden changes?

A. In our world, we have no idea what is going to happen. When we are climbing a mountain, the chances of coming back are 50:50. There is no guarantee of making it to the top. This is irrespective of whether you are the best or the worst climber in the world. It all depends on the conditions. You should not mess with nature. You [have to] learn to respect it.    

Q. What's the first step that you take when faced with a very rough situation on a mountain?

A. On April 18, 2014, 16 sherpas died in an avalanche. That's a huge loss. It is a hazardous terrain. [But] we take risks. If you are at a wrong place at the wrong time, something is going to happen to your life. You come back and then try to work out another route. But this year, as a mark of respect for [our] sherpa brothers, nobody climbed.

Q. There is not much motivation left when you are climbing down after achieving success. How do you motivate yourself then?   

A. It's [actually] very much the opposite. The journey is all the way back. Getting to the top is only half the way, but you still have to come down. The journey down is even more difficult because you have to stay more focused. You have used every inch of your energy just to get to the top. You are running out of oxygen, you are tired and you are hypoxic. By the time you reach the top, you have used 80 to 90 per cent of whatever you have. On the way down, you have to think even harder and be even more careful so that you don't make a mistake. A lot of people have died on the way down.  

Q. How do you deal with failures if you are unable to reach the summit?

A. You come back again. You have to keep trying. Never push your luck. Don't force it. If you force it, you will make it, but you will not come back alive. A lot of people have made that mistake. So, a smart climber will go as far as possible, as far as it is safe. And if they feel it is not safe, the best decision is to come back down because you can always do it later.

The mountains will always be there. You can always come back next year. My father tried six times and never gave up. On his seventh attempt, he made it. In his sixth attempt in 1952, he was just 400 metres away from the summit, but he came back down because of bad weather. Otherwise, they would have made it to the top, but they wouldn't have made it alive. The next year, my father made it. Always be patient.

Q. Tell us about the corporate interest in engaging with a motivational expert like you?

A. There is not much sense of adventure... People don't take the time out to try adventure. There are beautiful mountains just a few hundred kilometres from New Delhi. We need to get more people outdoors. The children have to go outdoors more. It's very important. Look at Europe, where kids start skiing at the age of four. Here, people give a TV remote or tablets to kids to play games. We have to change that mentality.

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