Friday, January 18, 2008

Stranded, The Documentary

Two years ago, Gonzalo Arijón, a Uruguayan film maker, asked me to participate in a new documentary. As I had always done, I turned him down because I thought nothing more could be said about our odyssey. He insisted, so I asked my brothers and my children what they thought about it. To my surprise, they all wanted to hear my testimony. I had been silent for so long.!

So, I participated in Arijon´s documentary, and actually I enjoyed doing it. And participating in this documentary was one of the events that made me abandon my stubborn rejection to share my mountain with others.

When I finally saw an advance of the documentary, I didn´t like it that much. I thought it was a little boring, rather long, and technically weak. On top of that, my participation in the film is very small indeed. Arijón insisted with his work, he fought hard to deliver it, he ran out of cash and his sponsors were uneasy. I thought he was not going to make it.

But now, Chapeau!!!!! Stranded won the Joris Ivnes Award at the International Documentary Film Festival at Amsterdam and is being presented at the Sundance Film Festival these days with chances of winning a new award. What an accomplishment!!.

To be honest, I didn´t have faith in Arijón´s film success. I recognize my mistake and now I strongly congratulate Arijón and all those who believed in his film from the onset. The Joris Ivnes Award is already a tremendous recognition and he is just starting his road show.

Watch Trailer

Thursday, January 10, 2008


I have just read a book about Shackleton. He and 27 more men tried to walk across the South Pole from one sea to the other. When they were getting to the South Pole in 1915 on their ship "Endurance", the freezing sea caught the "Endurance" in the ice until it was broken up by the enourmous pressure of the ice on the ship. Shackleton and his men lived for almost two years adrift hopping from one iceberg to another, feeding on seals and penguins. Finally, Shackleton and two more men sailed a small boat for more than 3000 miles until they got to an island from where all his men were rescued.

It is an amazing story, they all came back!. Shackleton died a few years later, but most of his men lived long lives, and many spent a lot of their time speaking about their ordeal.

Shackelton people chose to go on that trip, and they knew it was going to be dangerous and demanding, they even knew they would be talking about it since most of their adventure was well depicted by a photographer who was part of the expedition. Shackleton always led the group with handfist, he was a strong and dedicated leader.

We were not prepared for our ordeal, we didn´t have a strong formal leadership structure, we didn´t know where we were, we didn´t have any mountain experience, but as Shackleton´s people, we are very happy to have survived our ordeal, and we enjoy talking about it.

But I am sure that for every Shackleton and for every "Alive" experiences, there are plenty of other human ordeals of which their survivors don´t want to talk about it. Just think about war, on concentration camps, famine situations in Africa, or the most recent Colombian kidnaps, how many extreme episodes still do occur!! And those who survive them, do not talk about them, they just can´t open their heart and memories to others and simply look ahead.

Why is that? What makes our story so unique?

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Stanford, December 5th

When I went through my MBA at Stanford University I didn’t talk openly about my Andes ordeal. Although I have to admit that I stated it in my Application Form. But no one ever asked me about it, no one brought up the issue to me, and very seldom any one did later in my life.

When we came back from the 25th annual reunion, I sent an e mail to the Life Long Learning people telling them about my case. I told them that now I was willing to talk, that I wanted to conceptualize more what had happened to me 35 years before in order to find out the lessons that could be drawn from my ordeal. Their reaction was immediate; they asked me to be interviewed for the next GSB Magazine, they invited me to talk to students and alumni at the GSB and asked me to participate as a judge in the Executive Experience, organized by the Center for Leadership and Research, an activity within the new curricula for MBA students.

Everything went fine; my presentation was attended by a nice group of my class of 82, eager to know more about my story of which they had only heard rumors. The interview is expected to appear in the next March issue of the GSB Magazine and the Executive Experience was a great experience for me too.

In my presentation, I was asked a difficult question. Someone mentioned a quote in Jim Collins´ book, “Good to Great”, relating the attitude of soldiers in war to the fact that they might come back or not. Did the ones that came back from our mountain have a different attitude from those who didn’t come back? I think that that was not our case, because what I saw was that as long we were alive and we had hope to make it through we all fought to survive. Implying that those who didn’t come back did not have the right attitude was not true in our case, because some of the most optimistic and inspiring guys, boys that would have helped a lot because of their strength and willingness to survive, happened to be sitting in the wrong place the day we crashed in the mountains, happened to be sleeping in the wrong place the night of the avalanche, and they did not come back.

At Stanford, everything went well and my classmates were impressed by the fact that I didn’t talk about my ordeal for so long. They really appreciated the fact that I was opening my story to them. Upon my return home, the Stanford University invited me to participate in an Alumni meeting to be held next February in London. In this meeting I will be sharing my presentation with Prof. Charles O´Reilly, the top big shot in Human Resources at Stanford! What an honor. There we go, London!!!!

Dallas, December 2nd

Victor Arias and Johnny Williams were one of my closest friends at Stanford. We spent a good time there and also when we met at our GSB 25th alumni meeting. But I never imagined they were going to be so important for me when they encouraged me to start talking about my old ordeal. So, that is why I went to Dallas, to visit them. I spent a weekend with their families and gave a lecture at their Church. Again, I was very impressed by the religiosity and piousness of their lives. Both have lovely families, with nice wives and beautiful children. Johnny and Cecy, have 9 children!

The day I arrived they took me to an Alejandro Sanz´s concert. I felt very much at home. We really enjoyed it very much. The next day, I gave a lecture at their Church Group. Again, lots of families, a great audience that listened to my story with awe and impression.

Victor and Johnny were very helpful; they strongly recommended me to continue speaking, “touching people´s hearts”, improving the support of my presentation, and actually taking the audience to the place of the accident. I will consider many of their recommendations. Anyway, I feel the power of my message is myself as a ordinary guy, who has been able to live an ordinary life out of an extraordinary experience. They suggested me I move to Dallas, which I appreciate although I don´t think I will. They also recommended me to hire an Agent, which I might.

Harvard, November 28th

Bill George is a great professor at Harvard University; he has written a tremendous book named “True North, Discover your Authentic Leadership”. But basically he is a great and generous person. I like what he says about being ready to follow your own and authentic leadership, and that you will find your authentic leadership looking into your own story. It is when you are full of energy and vitality, your internal compass is heading towards your true north and therefore you are being authentic to your own leadership. And that helped me to understand my own leadership style, why I enjoyed so much working with people, taking care of them, empowering people and helping them to their success. Bill George says that one thing is to become a leader; another is to become a hero. Thinking about my corporate life, I have been a good leader, but not a hero. I just made groups work. When I was asked to do heroic things, I was not necessarily a good hero. Look, I didn’t leave the mountain walking, I didn’t put the group on my back and went for help. Roberto and Nando did it. I stayed with the rest of the group, trying to contribute with what I could, although I was prepared to leave walking in the next expedition should Nando and Roberto fail.

In some way, I´ve been in the mountain the kind of leader I´ve been later in my life.

Bill George invited me to address his class at Harvard, which was for me a great honor. The presentation was very good, a large attendance, students and staff from other schools and from an enormous variety of origins such as India, Pakistan, Iraq, Peru, England, Argentina and of course, some locals. There were over 150 people sitting in the formal and majestic Harvard setting. The Harvard Students listened to my story with rapt attention, and finally they closed the meeting with the biggest standing ovation I have ever had.

Later, Bill George sent me a feedback. He said his students were “spellbound” by my remarks and that they rated my presentation as the best in their semester, even better than those of very well known CEOs and professional speakers. What an accomplishment!!

New Jersey, November 26

Last June, Noelle and I went to Stanford to attend our MBA 25th year reunion. One of the most outstanding moments was when Mike O’Brien, who had survived the Twin Towers attack on September 11th, stood up in front of the entire class and with enormous courage told us all what he had been through since that date. When he finished his speech, I approached him and said. “I want to tell you my story”, which I did. I thought that sharing my story with him would help us both see life with hindsight. I was eager to show him that 35 years after my ordeal, I was totally recovered and that I had been able to live an “ordinary life”. I told him that when I came to Stanford for my MBA, that was too fresh for me, I just couldn’t share it the way he had just done it.

And when I got back home, I sent him an email saying that if he wanted, I would go to New York, and share my story with his people. I really wanted to do it. And that is why we got to New Jersey, where Mike and his great family live. And we learned so much from him and his family. When they say they have Jesus in the center of their life, they really mean it. I was impressed by their children, young teenagers, so mature and so honest with their religion.

I gave a lecture at his Church. There were about 150 men and women who came to listen to my story. They listened in silence, shocked and with enormous interest. When I finished, I started answering questions.Then Mike invited them to discuss my testimony in small groups and to share their thoughts. They were all very inspiring. I remember they were touched by my remark that “after climbing a mountain we had another one to climb, and that is what life is all about.”

I finally asked Mike to tell me what he had learned after his own ordeal, and he said to me: “that we are not here for ever”. I was expecting a very complex and sophisticated thought, but I loved his answer, it is so compelling, it says so much.