Sherpas are famous for trekking to the summit of Mount Everest. But one entrepreneur says they have much to teach the business world.
Had it not been for Lee Nadler's fateful pro-bono marketing work for Outward Bound 15 years ago, his career path might have taken a completely different turn. The turning point came during a trek in the Annapurna foothills in Nepal.
The Sherpa Spirit
Nadler was introduced to the Sherpas, the native people who act as guides for people traversing the Himalayas. In the Sherpas Nadler saw qualities that inspired him. In fact, the experience was so transformative that last year he went back, this time to Mount Everest on a journey to its south base camp.
The trip involved trekking about 1,000 feet a day at an elevation of more than 18,000 feet. His goal: to learn more about the Sherpas whom he couldn't get out of his head, and figure out a way to incorporate their traits into his own life and look for them in the people around him.
In my desire for self-awareness and improvement as a business leader and person, I never lost touch with the spirit I found in Sherpas. And, I made note when collaborating with someone in the Western world who I believe has a special, Sherpa-like quality. Commitment to team. Sense of purpose. Positive energy. Calm during tense situations. Acceptance of mistakes. Perseverance. Selflessness. Compassion. Trustworthiness. And laser-like focus on achieving a goal. The principles by which Sherpas live and lead have become like guideposts for me.
At the time of his first visit to Nepal, he was the head of marketing for DoubleClick (which Google bought in 2008 for $3.1 billion). Since then, he built marketing agency Digital Pulp as CEO, and founded Sherpa Marketing, which he ran until last year. Currently Nadler is marketing communications manager for the automotive company MINI USA.
Sherpas in the Business World
As he's looked for examples of the Sherpa spirit in business, he's found a few entrepreneurs who emulate it well:
Danny Meyer. He's founder and CEO of Union Square Hospitality Group, which includes some of New York City's most prominent restaurants such as Union Square Café, Gramercy Tavern, Tabla, Blue Smoke, Jazz Standard, Shake Shack, and The Modern.
Nadler says Meyer is the epitome of service, because in addition to serving his customers he's all about serving his employees. "It's an interesting perspective," Nadler says. "It's like servant leadership where you're leading others but you're also serving them in a way [that] empower[s] them to do their best."
Maxine Clark. Empathy is her strong suit, Nadler says. As the founder of Build-A-Bear Workshop she has "...a real understanding of the desires and needs of her customers and sees them through their lens, even taking an approach of making sure that Build-a-Bear Workshop employees have almost a childlike aspect to them. They do simple things like greet their guests by getting down to their eye level, recognizing the child as being important and not talking down to them," he says.
Chip Foose. This hot rod designer and fabricator and star of the cable and satellite TV series Overhaulin' on Velocity has teamwork dialed in, Nadler says. Not only does he have an amazing ability to create automotive masterpieces that fuse output from his imagination with customer desires, "...what's fascinating if you watch the show is that within a very limited period of time he and his team members are able to make something happen time and time again. And each time there's some kind of challenge that requires flexibility and an adjustment and somehow they don't point fingers, they don't blame each other, they look to solve the problem and move forward."
Robert Hammond. It took more than 10 years (10 years, Nadler says with emphasis) to bring High Line Park, a 1.5-mile aerial greenway built on a former railroad line in the lower west side of Manhattan, to fruition. Hammond exhibits remarkable perseverance, an essential trait for success whether you're climbing a mountain or trying to get a business off the ground, Nadler says.
"He really didn't see [the project] as a struggle because he was focused with purpose," Nadler says. "I think a lot of us in our daily lives--given all the multitasking and technology--are living in the next moment or [dealing with] multiple stimulus at once. But to really ground yourself and be present and understand what you're trying to accomplish at that moment leads to a very focused approach."
Want to hear more about these entrepreneurs in their own words? Visit TheSherpaPath.com where Nadler has posted audio interviews with them.
CHRISTINA DESMARAIS is an Inc.com contributor who writes about the tech startup community, covering innovative ideas, news, and trends. Have a tip? Email her at christinadesmarais (at) live (dot) com. @salubriousdish