Business Today

Adventure Inc.

Corporate executives are rediscovering life and work fundamentals in rock climbing, trekking and other outdoor activities. They realize that it is not possible to be very creative and innovative by just being in one place and doing the same mundane job day in and day out. BT’s Anusha Subramanian tells us how executives disconnect from daily tasks to develop efficiencies and different perspectives.

Anusha Subramanian        Print Edition: April 20, 2008

Deepak Kasthwal, 32, is an adventure-convert. Till 2002, this mechanical engineer from the Delhi College of Engineering and an MBA from IIM-A was unaware of the joys of outdoor adventure. “I was introduced to the outdoors in 2002 when I started volunteering for Magic Bus, an NGO that deals with children from slums, children of commercial sex workers and construction workers in Mumbai,” says Kasthwal. Magic Bus uses outdoor learning and sports to build life skills in children. “The more I got involved with Magic Bus, the more engrossed I became with the outdoors,” he adds. And then, he got hooked for good.

Scaling new heights: HSBC Bankís Iyer (extreme right) with his teammates atop the Chamsher Kangri Peak in Ladakh
HSBC Bankís Iyer (extreme right) with teammates
Kasthwal, Vice President (Finance), at Mumbai-based, an online travel portal, feels it is important for one to disconnect from daily tasks to develop efficiencies and different perspectives. “One cannot be very creative and innovative by just being in one place and doing the same mundane job day in and day out,” he explains.

It was during a trip to Kolad, a scenic place in the Western Ghats of Maharashtra, that he started developing the business revenue model for Cleartrip. com. Among the first three employees of, Kasthwal today manages a team of 30 and has lot more responsibilities. He has trekked all over the Sahyadris—in the Western Ghats of Maharashtra—and has also gone trekking and backpacking in the UK. Kasthwal is not alone; there are others like him who are— increasingly and happily—trading their laptops for life jackets and growth charts for ropes.

Just for kicks

Time for action: Cleartripís Kasthwal at the Bhivpuri Waterfalls in Maharashtra
Cleartripís Kasthwal
For Zenobia Driver, 33, Consultant, Monitor Group, trekking or being outdoors is all about having fun and letting herself loose. Mumbaibased Driver has done treks in Arunachal Pradesh and the Garhwal Himalayas and, closer home, in the Sahyadris. For her, outdoor activities are a means to refresh, rejuvenate and relax. “I go on treks because I love the hills and trekking makes me feel alive and refreshed,” says the IIT Mumbai and IIM-B graduate, adding: “Trekking in the Himalayas (Arunachal and Garhwal) has introduced me to different cultures and ways of life through visits to nearby villages. I will never forget the experience of staying in a gompa (a monastery) in Lubrang (Arunachal Pradesh), or of hearing the village women yodel a farewell to the men who were travelling with us as porters.” It is an experience that you will never find in a city or in an urban milieu, she adds. While she admits that she does not consciously try to “learn” on these trips or imbibe the learnings into her day-today work environment, she does not deny the fact that there is some learning like maintaining positive attitude, team work, etc., that one gathers on such trips effortlessly.

All about (learning) curves

For his part, Shlok Kapoor, 28, Associate Director, Barclays Capital, has an added qualification. He is a trained mountaineer from the Nehru Institute of Mountaineering (NIM), Uttarkashi. Kapoor is at the Derivatives and Risk Management Desk at Barclays Capital and his job entails coming up with optimal risk management solutions for clients within the given market constraints. “Work for me is all about teamwork and building good relationships with clients. I first learnt all of this on my outdoor treks and adventure activities,” says Kapoor.

Call of the mountains: Monitor Groupís Driver (standing, right) chilling out at Nandadevi Santuary
Monitor Groupís Driver (standing right) at Nandadevi Santuary
“The big learning I have had from NIM is never to give up and also, to push yourself as much as you can to achieve your goal,” he says, illustrating an example. “We once had to walk 20 km with a 25-kg backpack at an altitude of 16,000 ft and after 5 km, I felt that I just couldn’t do it any more. But as I pushed myself to move on, I finally completed the 20-km stretch satisfactorily.”

A graduate from the College of Business Studies with a major in Finance from Delhi University and an MBA from FMS, Delhi, Kapoor’s interest in trekking began when he was in school in Jaipur where trekking, rock climbing and rappelling were all part of the school curriculum. While in school, he went on to do a basic course from the Rajasthan Institute of Mountaineering. The learning continues till date.

The adventure element in work: TrainingCentralís Navalkar (centre) trekking in Siddagad, Maharashtra
TrainingCentralís Navalkar (centre) trekking in Siddagad
{“Outdoor and adventure treks teach you to be tough and use resources that are around you rather than follow the conventional wisdom that ‘I do not have this, so I cannot do this particular task’. Jobs are no different. The same principle applies in one’s daily work life as well,” says Kapoor.

Not just a trekker, Kapoor is also a marathon runner and has been running the full marathon (42 km) at the Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon since 2005. He was ranked 173rd in the 2008 Mumbai Marathon.

Up, close and personal

For some, there’s more beyond the learning curve. Manoj Navalkar, 39, has been trekking for 12-13 years. He has now gone a step ahead. Navalkar has combined his computer engineering skills and trekking passion into one. His entrepreneurial venture, TrainingCentral, is on one hand, into systems training, such as online learning, building knowledge bases for corporate houses; on the other, the company takes up outbound corporate training and outbound adventure. This is thanks to his trekking experience and his own personal interest in outdoor adventure. Navalkar, a computer engineer from Mumbai University and an IIM Bangalore alumnus, has worked with companies such as Polaris Software, CMC, Tech Mahindra and Iridium. He says: “One of the things that is common to work and outdoor adventure like trekking, is the capability to manage people, many of whom you don’t even know.”

Tough terrain: Barclays Capitalís Kapoor (right) in the Garhwal Himalayas
Barclays Capitalís Kapoor (right) in the Garhwal Himalayas
Sridhar Iyer, 37, Senior Vice President (Risk and Consumer Banking), HSBC, brings out another aspect of outdoor adventure. For him, trekking is a way of life—a passion that started when he was in school. An engineering graduate from Mumbai University and an MBA from Sydneham College, Mumbai, Iyer reasons: “As you start maturing, you start deriving more meaning out of this solitude. And by being in an environment that is absolutely pristine and different from your normal work environment, you actually bring out a facet of you that you wish to bring out at work as well. This could be being yourself, putting the team before self, helping the other one willingly,” he says. Iyer says that over his trekking years, he has completely transformed as a person, and finds much comfort in working with teams— something that does not come easily in a work environment. The ace trekker narrates his expedition last year to the Chamsher Kangri peak in Ladakh: “This was a very hostile environment. The temperature, the terrain and the sheer pressure of altitude sickness was depressing. But even in such an environment, you are able to remain calm, rationalise, reason out and trust your teammates and take advice from them.”

It is this passion and positivity that helped him scale heights—after two unsuccessful attempts, Iyer finally scaled the Chamsher Kangri Peak (an altitude of 6,502 metres) last year. That surely is the never-say-die spirit for the long haul that, these trekkers say, finds a manifestation in their professional lives as well.

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