Reaching the top: lessons from Everest

Embarking on a significant challenge such as studying for an MBA, or climbing the world’s highest mountain, can be both exciting and daunting. But it is these attempts that can deliver the best rewards through testing us to our limits and teaching us lifelong lessons about teamwork, leadership and growth, says Apex Group’s Peter Hughes

Mountains have long been used as metaphors for obstacles to be overcome, or achievements to realise. In the case of Apex Group, it’s always been about the heights we aspire to in delivering the best experience we possibly can to our clients.

When I founded Apex Group in 2003 my vision was simple – to do things better. Having been client-side as a CFO at a hedge fund, I knew I could develop a business that delivered enhanced value to clients through focusing on an agile approach, evolving in line with client needs.

One thing that has been abundantly clear over the past 20 years of scaling the Apex Group is that it’s our people that make us what we are. Teamwork, entrepreneurial spirit, constantly challenging ourselves and a flat structure have forged a culture where anyone with a great idea can make an impact. As leader of that business, it has always been critically important for me to roll up my sleeves and stay involved. Recently, I decided to take a brief break from the business to scale a different challenge – climbing Mount Everest.

Over the course of 13 days, our team made it from Namche Bazaar to Everest Base Camp with an elevation of 5,364 metres. The strain of such a trip can’t be underestimated – some days required ascents in excess of 1,000 metres, all while dealing with harsh weather, diminishing oxygen levels and dizzying heights. But, much the same as my experience throughout Apex Group’s journey, it was the diverse team of people supporting one another, learning from one another and encouraging one another, as well as bringing difference perspectives, that enabled us to achieve our goal of reaching base camp together.

Learning about leadership on Everest

I learned from both the mountain itself, as well as the people. The team that joined me as we ascended and descended the mountain taught me lessons about resilience, camaraderie and teamwork that I know I’ll be taking forward in my personal and professional life. It’s easy to say that a business is only as good as the people within it, but that doesn’t make it less true. Having spent some of my early 20s working on a farm, I have always known that it’s essential to have the respect of your team – and the value, as a leader, of leading by example and quite literally rolling up your sleeves. Spending those weeks being reminded daily by mother nature of how insignificant and vulnerable we are as humans further reminded me and reinforced the strength of working together, being aware of our weaknesses and embracing the strengths of others.

We were a team of four women and 13 men, between the ages of 29 to 54 and hailing from 18 different locations around the world, including the US, the UK, the Netherlands, Ireland, Luxembourg, India, Australia, Singapore and Hong Kong to name just a few. Huddled around bowls of warm noodles after a hard day’s trekking, or during a daunting 20k descent of Everest in the darkness, we were in unified pursuit of a single goal and supporting each other every step of the way.

The benefits of having a diverse team, with a range of experiences as well as perspectives on the future, were undeniable. When trekking on Everest, just like running a business, you need every competitive advantage to bring you closer to your objective, something that can only be achieved with a diverse range of outlooks and personalities.

Another lesson learned, and one that is vital when trying to build a business, or challenge yourself either mentally or physically, was resilience. As the trek progressed, altitude sickness impacted the whole team. Symptoms included feeling sleepy, shortness of breath, brain fog and blurred vision. However, the team persevered and the mutual support seen within the group is something I will never forget.

To acknowledge the team effort, and to pass the cold, dark evenings in our basic accommodation, we held mini-awards ceremonies that recognised the qualities and strengths of our team members as we navigated the trek. These emphasised the importance of different values and celebrated just how far we had come.

Why having a purpose is powerful

Purpose is increasingly important to businesses as we want to leave a legacy we can be proud of, which is also in part why we were on the trip. To mark our awards, we sourced locally made crafts from the Pang Boche Beyul Women’s Group. In this way, we embodied one of the ways in which Apex Group – and the recently launched Apex Foundation – is committed to driving positive change, through women’s empowerment and economic independence.

Finally, it would be remiss not to mention the awe-inspiring location we were in. The varied scenery, from snow-capped peaks to remote villages and colourful meadows filled with flowers, are landscapes that will remain for a long time in our memory. A reminder, perhaps, to stop every once in a while, to enjoy the journey of life and take stock of your surroundings.

Beyond this, the landscape also served us an essential reminder of how precious and irreplaceable our environment is and how important it is that we use our actions and platforms, both personal and professional, to protect it for future generations. At Apex Group we believe it is our responsibility to be a catalyst for change and inspire others to do the same. It’s more than a strategy for us; it’s part of our legacy and we feel a responsibility to be bold and try to set the standard when it comes to creating a sustainable future for people and planet. This is why we’ve not only gone carbon neutral, but also backdated and offset our lifetime of historical emissions, too.

To show the world what can be achieved, we first have to show ourselves what’s possible and, more than anything, that’s what we accomplished as a team on Everest.

Peter Hughes is CEO and founder of the Apex Group, a global financial services provider employing nearly 5,000 employees across more than 50 locations globally

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