Sep 6, 2012

The People You Meet: Accomplished British Alpinist & Author, Andy Cave

Whilst this blog claims 'not to be a climbing blog' - I can't help but include the profile for Andy Cave - a figurehead for British Mountaineering with more than 20 years of desperate routes to his name in the Himalaya, Patagonia and Alaska and esteemed author of Learning to Breathe and Thin White Line. I had the pleasure of working with Andy - not as a climber, but as a change-management consultant - in May 2012. We drew upon our climbing and consulting experiences to co-present at the PwC Finance Leaders Summit, an event organised by the firm to provide an opportunity for finance leaders to learn how peer organisations have delivered significant changes to the finance function, share their own ideas and innovate to deliver new solutions.

You wouldn't immediately think that this would be a natural place to find someone like Andy - you'd think he would be more comfortable hanging off a vertical wall or plodding his way to the summit of a remote peak in Alaska, the Andes or the Alps. However. through combining the lessons learned from the early days of his career 3000 feet underground as a coal miner to his experience in climbing the North Face of the Eiger (at the age of 20!), attaining a PhD in Sociolingistics from Sheffield University, and reaching the summit of the notoriously difficult Himalayan mountain, Changabang by one of the most challenging routes ever recorded, Andy has a plethora of experiences to draw from and share in a business context. 

He often runs workshops and presentations with organisations to illustrate how motivation plus teamwork and an ability not to be limited by the expectations of others can lead to the realisation of extraordinary goals. Succeeding on the world’s most formidable, inaccessible mountains requires innovation, effective planning and the ability to manage risk, sometimes in situations of extreme crisis. These are themes, which are central to the business world - hence the perfect opportunity for a talk to an audience of business leaders which was, well, 'beyond' the numbers..!

Our presentation titled, 'From Basecamp to Boardroom' used the John Adair Action Centred leadership model through which we demonstrated that good managers and leaders should have strength and depth in each of the 'elements' of the model, drawing from each of these elements according to the situation. These three elements of the model are: Achieving the task; Developing the team or group; Developing individuals. Being able to do all of these things, and keep the right balance, gets results, builds morale, improves quality, develops teams and productivity, and is the mark of a successful manager and leader - be it at basecamp or in the boardroom.
Reflecting on our mountaineering experiences we were able to discuss the qualities of individuals and experiences in which we saw elements of true leadership. In a very engaging presentation, Andy drew specifically from four main mountaineering case studies - his experiences as a coal miner at the start of his career, the climb of the North Face of the Eiger, Shishapangma as well as the climb of Mount Kennedy.

I've learned heaps from Andy and have gone on to reflect on our presentation and other parallels that exist between bascamps and boardroom and the lessons learned from individuals in both environments. I look forward to continuing to work with Andy in exploring these new routes and helping others to forge their own - both in business and in the hills..!

If you were to go on an expedition for 2 months and hand-pick a team of individuals to be on your team, who would you pick and why? Roles could include: Team mates, Guide, Sherpa, Cook, Porter....etc.

Andy: I would take Dave Hesleden as a lead climber, he seems to know how far to push it and has good judgement. he is also very courageous when necessary. Mick Fowler would be a great asset too, he is always motivated and is excellent at the meticulous planning and dealing with authorities to gain permits to unusual areas. Jamie Oliver could do the cooking!

What was the biggest mountain that you've ever climbed - either figuratively or literally..?

Andy: There are too many to mention. At 20 yrs old Eiger north face was a big deal though I went on to climb much harder things in the Alps. Changabang north face first ascent was arduous. But also projects we failed on (and remain still unclimbed) Gashebrum lV south ridge, Annapurna 3 south west ridge, Ogre north face - These climbed in alpine style will be cutting edge challenges. Going where nobody has been before is pretty exciting.


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