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Climbing Kilimanjaro – challenges and team building rewards

Alan Smith, CEO of Capital Asset Management, tells Fiona Bond about his recent Mount Kilimanjaro climb – the challenges and team building rewards of the once-in-a-lifetime adventure  

In January, CEO Alan Smith and his co-director Charles Riches stepped out of their comfort zone to climb Africa’s highest mountain, Kilimanjaro, raising over £5,500 for charity in the process.

The decision to climb all 19,341 gruelling feet was spurred by Smith’s desire to “do something special” for his 50th birthday.

He says: “Reaching a milestone birthday earlier this year had prompted me to think about doing something out of the ordinary to mark the occasion. I’d had no experience of climbing mountains but Kilimanjaro is one of those ‘bucket list’ items which appealed to me.”

Smith emailed several fellow financial advisers who had previously expressed an interest in doing the climb and on 18th January this year, a group of 11 set off for Tanzania, accompanied by adventure travel specialists Action Challenge.

A self-confessed climbing novice, Smith admits the sheer physicality of the challenge was daunting, so he and some of his comrades made the decision to climb Mount Snowden last October in preparation.

He says: “Some of the group were very fit, having taken part in Iron Man challenges, but for those of us who live a more sedate lifestyle, the challenge of climbing Kilimanjaro was definitely a very physical push!”

Challenges and camaraderie

Smith admits the biggest challenge, however, was enduring the uncomfortable living conditions.

“You’re sleeping in a small two-man tent on the side of a mountain and encountering different climates from very warm at the base, to torrential rain to much cold conditions as your approach the summit,” he recalls. “You go through a lot and it’s certainly a grind.”

Fortunately, no one suffered altitude sickness and Smith says as a group of alpha males, they took a competitive approach, always hoping to set better records than previous groups. The climb took seven days in total, five and a half days to climb up and one and a half days to return to base.

The group arrived at the summit together, which Smith describes as a “magical” experience.

“The hardest part is summit night certainly,” he says. “On the last day of the climb you reach your camp at around 5pm and are told to go to bed as you set off for the summit at midnight. It’s dark, freezing cold, windy and you feel very exposed. You lose track of time and how far you’ve walked but suddenly all that changes as you approach the summit in the early hours and are faced with the most beautiful African sunrise.

“The sense of camaraderie throughout is huge and you really bond over what I can only describe as a magical and rather emotional moment.”

Smith and Riches made the decision to raise money for charities NSPCC and Sands, raising over £5,500, while other team members chose their own charities. Collectively, the group raised in excess of £40,000.

Making a team stronger

Smith says the decision to take on the challenge with his co-director was a “positive experience” and that although business came up as part of their conversations over the course of the trip, they avoided touching upon anything too technical.

It is an experience he would recommend to other financial advisers.

“You forge a very close relationship sharing an experience like that, so it’s certainly good for team spirit and company culture. Socialising down the pub is one thing but sharing a physical challenge together can really make a team stronger,” he says.

Capital Asset Management enter a 10k race every year as a company, and Smith says even those staff members who don’t run come along to support their colleagues.

“It’s a lovely thing to be able to do an event together outside of work,” he says. “You encourage and push each other and in my view, that’s incredibly helpful in creating a healthy and successful team.”

Looking ahead, Smith says the company is looking to take part in other events and challenges as a firm… so perhaps Everest will be next?

Fiona Bond is a freelance financial services writer.

Reaching the top Smith and Riches

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