Renowned Chilean Mountaineer appointed Honorary Visiting Professor in Experiential Leadership

Dr Rodrigo Jordán, the first South American to summit Everest, will contribute to the MBA Programme

Cass Business School has appointed Dr Rodrigo Jordán as its first Honorary Visiting Professor in Experiential Leadership. Jordán, a well-known Mountaineer around the world, is also a social entrepreneur, business man and communicator.

The announcement of his role at Cass comes in the same week he begins his fifth expedition to Everest. In 1992, Dr Jordán led the first South American group to scale Everest, a feat which prompted Time magazine to name him as one of the “leaders of the next millennium”.

In 1996, Jordán, who holds a PhD in Philosophy from the University of Oxford, led another successful Chilean expedition, this time to K2. Between November 2002 and January 2003, Jordán led an Antarctic expedition travelling without external support across 400 km of unexplored mountainous territory. The team collected various geological and glaciological samples for several scientific studies on the Antarctic.

Dr Sionade Robinson, Associate Dean of MBA Programmes at Cass,

“Rodrigo has helped in the development of the optional Leadership Expeditions which have become an intrinsic part of our programmes. He has also delivered Leadership Masterclasses to the MBA Programme based on his mountaineering case studies which received outstanding feedback. I am delighted that we are able to offer our MBA candidates the opportunity to connect with and learn from such an extraordinary individual”.

Before embarking on his latest expedition, Dr Jordan offered some advice to those of the FTMBA cohort who aim to conquer one of Iceland’s most spectacular glaciers, Mt. Eyjafjallajökull, at the end of their International Consulting Week in the country.

Tell us about your latest expedition?

Dr Rodrigo Jordán: This is my fifth expedition to Mount Everest. I have been lucky enough to have climbed it twice. The novelty of this expedition is the route we are taking. It is known as the North Col route and has this immense value of being the “historical” one. It is through it that the pioneers attempted Everest in the 1920’s. We will be following the steps of those great men; George Leigh Mallory and Andrew Irvine.

What first motivated you to become a mountaineer?

RJ:I started reading “Tintin” at a very young age. He was a great adventurer, a wonderful role model. I wanted to be like Tintin. Later, I was able to read magazines such as National Geographic and watch wildlife programmes on television. I became a fan of Jacques Cousteau and David Attenborough. I wanted to do that, live amongst nature. Mountain climbing came later in life.

What is the most important leadership lesson you have learned?

RJ: In 1992, we climbed Mt. Everest by ascending the very difficult East or Kangshung Face. It is an extremely technical and dangerous climb. Everest was a kind of epiphany in many ways. It is here that I learnt about how crucial “soft” skills are in putting together a successful team. We had failed twice before and were only successful when we considered these skills in selecting and training the team. It was here as well where I had my first thoughts about the relation between environment, people and development. As we trekked out from Everest by the almost untouched Kangshung valley and met the local population of Tibetans who have seen very little of the outside world, I was confronted with the question about their future. How to strike a balance between environment and culture­ conservation, ­and economic and social development?

What advice would you offer to the Cass Expeditionaries who will be climbing Mt. Eyjafjallajökull?

RJ: Non-climbers usually think that expeditions involve strong and technically very competent people. Although this is generally true, successful expeditions need, above all, good people. Nowadays I am more concerned with including individuals who have not only good technical skills but also excellent social abilities – leadership, effective communication, conflict management, teamwork– as well as personal capabilities –perseverance, a sense of humour, self-motivation and discipline. To me, however, the most important issue is that every member of the team should share a common set of values we have all agreed upon. For us concepts like excellence, humility, respect, generosity and friendship are embedded at the core of our expeditions.

What can they expect to learn from the experience?

RJ: Let me relate to our learnings about risk from our Antarctica expedition. Risk is present always and everywhere, and that produces concern within us. This doesn’t scare us, but it does force us to work with excellence. Our Antarctic expedition was different from those I’ve undertaken as a mountaineer, because this time we had to cross 400 km, with 45 different camps. When you climb Everest you only have three or four camps. And with the temperature reaching as low as –30° C to –40°C, we had to study carefully each item – the ropes, the food, the sledges, the tents, the communications system, the health preparations – because we realised that each element had to perform at 100 per cent in those conditions. That adds up to excellence in the overall effort. If not, you run a big risk.

We faced difficult stretches, with steep descents down 60° slopes meaning we had to lower the sledges with ropes. We also had to cross complex crevasse fields. Nature is very demanding if you are going to survive, and forces you to work with diligence and to attend to every detail.

That easily translates into everyday life, into everything that we do, our work, our family life, our studies. We have to achieve perfection. And not just because it helps you survive the daily risks in the city, but because there’s a great spiritual satisfaction that comes from having done something and knowing you did it well. What gave us the greatest joy at the end of the expedition wasn’t that we had covered the distance, or that we were the first to do so, but simply that deep, personal satisfaction that we had done something well.