OPINION: On Reaching the Summit

Terry Flanagan

John Waechter, managing director and partner at Delafield Hambrecht, a fund manager based in Seattle that invests primarily in U.S. equities, is among a small group of elite mountaineers to have conquered the Seven Summits—the highest peak in each continent. In a forthcoming book, Waechter recounts the unimaginable physical and mental toll of this feat, into which he was often thrust in life-threatening situations.

In achieving his life’s ambition of climbing the Seven Summits, Waechter had to overcome overwhelming obstacles. Months of grueling conditioning could not prepare him for the ordeal of scaling twelve vertical miles over rock, snow, and ice, racked by violent winds and bone-chilling cold.

It requires talent and perseverance to make it to the top in any profession, and the capital markets are complex enough to weed out the merely proficient from the top performers.

Yet it’s often the case that the most successful people in business derive equal if not greater satisfaction from accomplishments in other aspects of their lives.

And the achievement is not only in the summit, not by any means. Most mountaineering accidents occur on the descent, particularly on peaks like Everest, where exhaustion can lead to a fatal misstep, and killing storms can move in quickly, trapping climbers at high altitude. Although Waechter got down safely, taking about eight hours to negotiate 3,000 vertical feet, he did come perilously close to that end stage of exhaustion.

The major lesson, he says, is that the same attributes that make for a successful mountain climbing expedition—physical conditioning, teamwork, and goal-orientation—also make for stellar business performance.

How, one might reasonably ask, did Waechter find the time to build a successful boutique investment bank, which raises private equity for high-tech companies, while achieving this seemingly all-consuming objective (by the way, he’s also a marathon runner, skier, biker, golfer, and yachtsman)?

The answer: it’s in the pursuit. Waechter loves the challenge of raising capital and making private equity investments in emerging growth companies in technology, healthcare, retail, and finance. It’s a high-risk, high-reward pursuit that’s
suited to his personality.

The same traits that get Waechter to the Seven Summits have served him well in business. “You apply what you’ve learned to the task at hand,” he says.

Waechter has distilled his achievements in business and mountaineering into three essential stages: Project, Prepare, and Persevere.

Project Every success begins with an ambitious and clearly articulated vision. It’s essential to project one’s future and clearly define a vision for oneself and one’s team.

Prepare No mountain is scaled in a single climb. One must create a detailed roadmap that delineates every step of the journey and includes tangible benchmarks to measure success along the way.

Persevere All great achievements are realized by committing to a goal and then working ceaselessly to attain it. Perseverance is the singular quality that Everest summiteers and top business performers have in common.

Not bad guiding principles.

Featured image via iStock

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