Case Study Analysis of Mount Everest-1996 MOUNTAINS ARE NOT MOLEHILLS Scot Crenshaw, Ph. D. Nicie Murphy, Ph. D. Michael Sturdivant Harding University Abstract If Mount Everest were an empire, its motto would undoubtedly be “I shall not be conquered”. However formidable, this giant which stands over 8000 meters above sea level into the sky, did not seem to intimidate the owners of the commercial guide companies, Adventure Consultants and Mountain Madness.
In fact, these two firms, which earned considerable profit guiding amateurs up the mountain’s notorious heights, felt comfortable enough to attempt the ascent against the comfort of several participants.
Both companies led their expeditions up toward the summit of the mountain amid problems and circumstances which have been continually questioned in retrospect. This paper seeks to analyze both the internal and external factors and conditions, as presented in the case study, that both companies contended with that fateful year, and to provide recommendations for going forward for future success.
Case Study Analysis of Mount Everest-1996 MOUNTAINS ARE NOT MOLEHILLS Introduction and History Rob Hall’s successful endeavor on all Seven Summits in 1990 paved the way for his company, Adventure Consultants, to be held in high regard.
He founded the company in 1992, and gained a lot of early success. By 1994, he managed to guide 39 clients to the summit of Everest (Roberto & Carioggia, 2002. p2). This fame allowed him the opportunity to collect fees larger than other guides worldwide, however in 1995, “he failed to guide any clients to the summit” (p2) although his brochure stated “100% success! (Boukreev & Dewalt as cited in Roberto & Carioggia). Mountain Madness was a company founded almost a decade earlier in 1984 by Scott Fisher. His company offered only climbing instruction and guided expeditions, but in 1996, after his first successful ascent in 1994, he organized his first commercial expedition on Everest (p3). He made history by achieving his 1994 feat without the use of supplemental oxygen, a task that is, without question, difficult for even the most trained to accomplish.
Both expeditions hired two guides with considerable experience to assist their clients. Hall hired two guides for the 1996 expedition, only one of which had ever scaled Everest. The same went for Fischer’s team; one guide had Everest experience while the other was not quite as familiar with the peak. In addition to the leader and their two hired guides, the eight clients on each team were also assisted by an additional seven Sherpas from Adventure Consultants, and eight from Mountain Madness.
Consequently, there was an abundance of expertise among them to help navigate the circumstances. Internal Strengths and Weaknesses Strengths Certain basic strengths of the companies involved are evident. First, Adventure Consultants and Mountain Madness provided a rare service of leading expeditions to the top of Mount Everest, the highest mountain in the world. These expeditions were led by individuals who were highly skilled and experienced in mountain climbing at high altitudes; both Hall and Fischer had climbed to the top of Mount Everest and led others to do the same.
Because of the technical nature of what is involved, not many companies possess the expertise to provide such a product; these organizations stand as two of a small number who could. Second, the leadership and human resources in terms of industry-specific technical expertise constitutes a strength of the companies. Hall and Fischer, as stated above, had the experience necessary to head their respective companies. In such a highly specialized industry having trained, experienced personnel is necessary for the business to be successful.
The nature of such a business calls for those in charge to possess skill sets which are not common. Adventure Consultants and Mountain Madness would have far less potential to be successful had they been led by individuals who did not understand the dynamics of the service provided. A third strength of the companies relates to their organizational structure. The companies are basically organized around its highly technical service – their guided mountain expeditions. This enabled the businesses to maintain focus, channel their resources, and streamline the framework of their companies.
Organizing around the dynamics of expeditions empowered the businesses to avoid unneeded bureaucratic structures which would entangle the functioning of the businesses. Weaknesses While Adventure Consultants and Mountain Madness possess definite strengths, several weaknesses are also evident. First, the decision-making process needed to be greatly improved. One glaring example would be that the leaders needed to set a specific time to turn around if their team members did not reach the summit and stick with it (Roberto, 2008).
If this guideline either is unclear or not followed, disastrous results could and did occur (Case analysis of Mount Everest, 2009). While such decisions should be centralized in the sense that the leaders make them, more input should be gathered into the making of such decisions. When a decision is made all should be required to follow the set guidelines, including the leaders. Neither Hall nor Fischer was specific enough with the time and neither followed the range mentioned (1:00 – 2:00 PM) to initiate the turn-around (p. 2). Although the decision to turn around at a certain time should be set, or static, the factors which go into decisions needing to be made on expeditions of this sort are dynamic. In the Mount Everest case, many red flags emerged in the unfolding of events which should have played more of a role in the decisions made. One example would be several observing team members and leaders who became ill at various stages of the expedition, some as early as at the first camp; this should have affected the decisions (pp. 6-7, 10, 12).
The dynamic nature of decisions involves leaders at various levels juggling the over-confidence / under-confidence of various climbers, the health conditions of the participants, and factors such as weather conditions (Roberto, 2002). A second weakness evident in the Mount Everest case would be deficiencies in the organizational control systems in place during the expedition. The fact that the hierarchical structure of both teams was clear presented both benefits and detriments. At several points those in the chain of command were hesitant or simply refused to speak up when they needed to do so for the sake of safety (Roberto, 2008).
One example was when Beidleman, considered to be the “third” guide in the pecking order, failed to interject when he saw the need to do so; what prevented him from speaking was his perception of the appropriateness of his input because of rank considerations (p. 12). Also when the leaders do not follow the control systems which are in place, others will not do so. Situations emerged in which those who were supposed to climb near the front of the group to help as needed (Jangbu) and those who were supposed to climb near the back to “sweep” (Fischer) were out of place and unable to perform these necessary functions (p. 1). The inability or refusal of leaders to delegate also became a contributing factor in the disaster (Roberto, 2008). Furthermore, there seemed to be an inability or unwillingness to “cut losses” in light of the money, time, and effort expended (Roberto, 2002); Krakauer pointed out that those who were willing to “cut losses” and turned around made the right choice (p. 11). Closely related to problems in the systems of control is the third weakness: problems in communication.
Communication between leaders, guides, Sherpas, and clients was greatly deficient and broke down completely at particular points during the expedition (Roberto, 2002). Contributing to the communication problems was the antiquated radio equipment and the limited number of radios used (p. 8). The control system problems described above hindered the free flowing of information needed at virtually all levels of the effort. Fourth, despite the expertise of the leaders, guides, and Sherpas, the human resources for Adventure Consultants and Mountain Madness became a weakness.
The weakness was exposed in the control systems they implemented breaking down and their inability to adapt appropriately to the crises which developed. As each crisis should have been foreseeable by experienced personnel of a mountain expedition team, this leads one to conclude that those who worked for the two businesses should have received more and better training in crisis management. A case could be made in addition that in matters related to health, medical experts should play more of a role and to have a voice in the decision making.
This should go beyond having a couple of doctors going on the expeditions as clients (p. 17). Beyond the employed personnel problems in handling crises, it seems that there were some clients who were simply not prepared to climb Mount Everest; Boukreev made this explicit observation (p. 5). A fifth weakness which stands out in the Mount Everest case study relates to a lack of team cohesiveness (pp. 5-6). In the challenge of climbing the highest mountain in the world, the focus should not be on a group of individuals striving to reach individual goals of getting to the top.
While the point was made regularly of the need for climbers to work together, it became obvious as the tragedy unfolded that the groups were not functioning as a unit (Roberto, 2008). More emphasis should have been given on the climbers getting to know each other and building trust between the people. Team-building exercises before they arrived at Mount Everest along with the technical training could have put the expedition on a totally different trajectory. Adventure Consultants and Mountain Madness could have even marketed their service along the lines of accomplishing this goal by being part of a team.
The management of the materials needed to make the expedition also constitutes a sixth weakness. The expedition got off to a bad start when Fischer had to deal with problems in getting the supplies in place needed for the climb (p. 5). Later, when the teams discovered that the Montenegrin expedition had not installed rope lines as previously thought for the remaining 500 meters of the climb, much valuable time was wasted for the problem to be remedied because of the control systems in place and communication problems (p. 11). This should not have been the case.
External Environment—Opportunities and Threats Opportunities So as to avoid disaster, those interested in conquering the world’s tallest mountains have lots of opportunities to consider in advance. Considering the external trends that exist with society, trends such as the importance that has placed on health and fitness will likely benefit these companies. These days, with a plethora of information so readily available, people are becoming more and more health conscious and an increase in the desire to stay fit and eat healthy foods should have a positive effect on the industry.
Another demographic that is likely to be a very key market for companies such as Adventure Consultants and Mountain Madness, would be those of rising affluence and higher income levels. Amongst those interested in highly rigorous and competitive expeditions such as these, it would most important for a client to consider the high cost associated with such events, and only those who have some level of discretionary income would be market to.
These trends leave open the possibility for the companies to focus their efforts so they can gear their market strategies toward these highly differentiated segments. Of course, although reliance on a climber’s physical and mental fortitude is an opportunity no guide should miss, as the goal is to outsmart Mother Nature after all—maybe man’s technological advances can help to level the playing field. Ed Viesturs, a world renowned rock climber recommends that small satellite phones the size of mobile phones can be taken on the slopes of Everest so that climbers can stay in touch (Cook, 2010).
Not only is wireless communication, such as satellite phones and access to the internet, allows those in remote locations to communicate as needed to other people, it allows for the opportunity to gain access to threatening weather conditions. Threats If one finds it important to exploit opportunities of an external environment, it is equally important to consider the threats as well. Although Everest offers its own lure, the mountain wouldn’t be a mountain without a hurdle or two to climb, and one of the most ominous threat imaginable is an unexpected storm or avalanche.
Weather is an unpredictable variable and on mountains like Everest, communication is one of the few ways to try to avoid bad weather on the mountain. By pairing technological opportunities to the threat of weather, it may be possible to offset these negative effects to an expedition. In addition, considering that the mountain climbing business is riddled with competition, it creates a buyer’s advantage for those interested in leveraging their notoriety or dollars for the chance on the team of their choice.
This threat can affect the industry as a whole and cause the business to focus on how to remain competitive throughout their marketing and attempts to recruit clients. Another threat that must be considered is how high altitude affects the human brain, especially since Mt. Everest is the tallest mountain in the world. When climbing at high altitudes, cognitive abilities like function and memory are affected and a study in the European Journal of Neurology has shown results in which repeated exposure leads to subtle, progressive brain damage (Parker-Pope, 2008).
As seen in the Mt. Everest case study, the affects of the high altitude, coupled with the remoteness of where they are positioned on the mountain, can lead to erroneous decision making, paving the way for calamity. One last environmental threat to this commercial industry is the fact that the population of the world seems to be aging. According to an article in the Futurist Magazine, the author predicts that “Between 2005 and 2050, half of the increase in the world population will be accounted for by a rise in the population aged 60 years or over” (Tucker, 2007).
Over time, if this industry would like to overcome the negative burden of this trend, the external opportunities will have be significantly exploited. SWOT Analysis As an overall observation, both companies Adventure Consultants and Mountain Madness suffered catastrophe on the tallest mountain in the world because of several weaknesses displayed throughout their ranks. They were unable to take advantage of many external opportunities available to them for lack of improper planning or perceived importance and they were also very much threatened by factors which played unknown variables throughout their expedition.
However, to their credit, their strengths enabled them to ensure that only 5 of the 35 people involved in the expeditions perished. It certainly could have had a far worse outcome. The hierarchical structure, as well as the lack of solidarity among the participants, was also very damaging to the expeditions. The leaders inspired and demanded both trust and reliance from the clients and employees, and when those who had been indoctrinated into this hierarchy instinctively noticed something awry, they swallowed their apprehension out of fear of repercussion or backlash.
This was a primary reason for Fisher’s deterioration going unnoticed and uncommented on for so long, as well as for the Guide Beidleman suppressing his very noteworthy concerns. Although the guides were extremely talented and renowned, their lack of consistency in following important guidelines did not serve them well; most notably their decision to not adhere to the loosely formed timeline for reaching the summit and returning to camp. This could be considered the single most ill-fated of their decisions during the expedition as it directly led to several of the players being unable to travel back to Camp IV in docile weather conditions.
In addition to this, they suffered from external environmental threats as they contended with severe weather changes that took place abruptly and the high altitudinal circumstances as well. Not only did the weather affect them, they suffered from the threat of not being able to get appropriate help as their location on the mountain was so remote. Be these weakness as they may, throughout the expedition, the guides and leaders all showed tremendous concern for their client’s well-being and were extremely well-skilled in their craft.
Rob Hall, leader of Adventure Consultants, did not find it acceptable to leave a fallen comrade when he could not get Hansen down off the mountain—he stayed with him to his own detriment. This can be likened to the adage that dictates a Captain should always go down with the ship—a very noble thing to accomplish in the wake of terror and threat of survival. Similarly, Scott Fisher, against reasoning and rationale, lead a client back down to base camp although this action increased the wear and tear on his physiological well-being, paving the way to his demise as well.
Although weaknesses in each of the companies abounded, and there were several external threats facing them, the fact remains that their zeal for scaling these extraordinary peaks was a palpable sentiment felt by all in the midst of their presence. Corporate-level strategy When considering the companies Mountain Madness and Adventure Consultants, there is not a great deal of difference between the corporate-level and business-level strategy. However, some distinctions can be made.
Given that both companies had a very narrow product/service scope, the need for much formalization was minimal; considering the disastrous results of the 1996 expedition of Everest, it is safe to assume that very little effort had been put into developing any strategy beyond: provide guided treks, make money. Mission and goals Adventure Consultants’ mission was very straightforward: “to generate profits by organizing and leading guided expeditions on the world’s highest peaks” (p. 2). Though a fledgling company, this was highly possible given Hall’s expertise.
For Mountain Madness, Everest was merely a diversification of their offerings. The company had been training climbers and provided guided treks for over a decade prior to 1996. Operational Scope The companies shared the same goal which was to train and guide people through an expedition of Everest. Granted, both were involved in other guided expeditions and climber training, but Everest was the crown jewel of their offerings, so obviously much of their time and effort would go into its expedition.
Robert Hall and Scott Fischer were highly skilled climbers who had reached Everest’s summit in the recent past. There is no question that they were in an appropriate line of business, but were they prepared to be the leaders of those companies? Business-level Strategy In actuality, given that Everest was the apex achievement for both Hall and Fischer, their focused strategy would have been an inflated version. Hall, charging $65,000. 00 per client, (which is still the going rate today), was obviously in it for the profit.
The companies also each courted the media and were both successful in acquiring a mouthpiece to tell their stories once the expedition concluded. Outside of profit and fame, there is very little that can be said of strategy for either company. Differentiation Both companies were in the growth stage of the business life cycle. In a market that was beginning to explode, it was important for these two businesses to set themselves apart from their competitors. The best way to do that was to tout their previous achievements.
No other company, at the time, had the level of success that both Hall and Fischer had. This made it easy for the men to differentiate their companies from the competition. With their experience, they could map out this expedition, (time for acclimatization, use of supplemental oxygen, Sherpas, etc), and clients would be more inclined to trust them, even if their systems were flawed. Diversification Mountain Madness had been in existence for over a decade prior to the ’96 expedition, so the company had operated, on some level, beyond Everest.
The Everest endeavor was an expansion of the company for Fischer. Hall’s Adventure Consultants was only created in 1992 and lost one of its founders within two years. Though other successful expeditions were led by Hall in the 4 years leading up to 1996, there had been a focus on Everest where he led 39 clients to its summit. Both companies were heavily focused on Everest and allowed it to drive their business decisions, so, while other profit centers existed for each company, like any other corporation, the men focused on the one service which would yield the most money and generate the most interest.
Strategic Alliances These two companies operated apart from each other, but alliances could not be avoided once the expeditions began; however, one has to wonder how much of their interaction during parallel expeditions was competitive? Climbing, though more man versus nature, is still a competitive sport. Also, Hall had something to prove because he had a failed expedition looming over his head from the previous year. Could a more trusting alliance between Hall and Fischer have served a higher, mutual benefit?
There is no direct, explicit evidence with which to answer this question, but given the outcome of the expedition, it is safe to argue that ego prevented these men from suppressing their competitive, aggressive natures. Structure and Control Structure for these two companies is identical in the Everest expedition. Both Hall and Fischer each hired two highly experienced guides to assist them, but both men asserted their control as leader and decision maker. This a strictly vertical structure with Hall and Fischer atop their respective teams, followed by their contracted guides.
There was no segmentation as Hall and Fischer were all things to their teams: planner, implementer, trainer, and money man. With this type of structure, decision making would typically be swift and autocratic, which is preferable for many reasons when considering these conditions. Control Systems The control systems for both Hall’s and Fischer’s teams were entirely too lenient and flexible. Both men seemed to approach the expedition with a flippancy borne of their previous successes which had, in turn, given way to over-confidence.
The situations that arose during the expedition, particularly on summit day, could have been avoided if a strict set of controls had been in place prior to ascent. When the clock strikes one…. or two One of the issues that critics must share is the lack of definition by either Fischer or Hall to determine and absolute turn-around time. From the case study, it can be summarized that the parties involved understood that the real challenge in reaching the summit was actually in returning from it.
If the leaders had bound every team member to the fact that if you did not reach a specific point by a specific time that, without question, you had to turn around, how many of those that perished, would not have? Contingency There is no mention in the case study of a predetermined set of contingency plans for things that inevitably went wrong. The set of obvious health problems that plagued many of the members of each team were obviously not something unexpected or unanticipated, so where were the tests that would measure each person’s readiness?
The supplemental oxygen’s hold up in customs coming from Russia should have been, at minimum, a cause for trepidation, so why not have a second shipment coming through a different route to ensure success? These are only two simple examples of each leader’s lack of forethought and prudence in the planning and execution of this expedition. Recommendations First, Adventure Consultants and Mountain Madness could create a comprehensive training program to prepare potential clients to climb Mount Everest.
The fact that some of the clients were not prepared for the climb is unacceptable; this is neither good for the clients in terms of safety or the business in terms of liability. The training provided prior to 1996 was obviously inadequate. The new training would include but not be limited to: mountain climbing skills; acclimatization simulations; physical endurance; agility; mental aptitude and problem-solving skills in the context of mountain climbing; and team-building skills. It is recommended that each potential client demonstrate a set level of proficiency before being allowed to participate in the expedition.
Second, the organizational control systems could be greatly improved which emphasize safety and effectiveness. The control systems in place each broke down at some point during the disastrous expeditions of 1996. It is recommended that a matrix of checklists be established during the expedition which establishes required guidelines which must be followed. Staff and clients would agree to follow these procedures no matter what. The staff and clients would commit to hold each other accountable to maintain a strict adherence at all costs. If the respective landmarks are not met the expedition would be postponed or cancelled.
The matrix would weigh safety, health, weather, material requirements, and miscellaneous factors. The guidelines would be specific; all ambiguity would be avoided. A definite time would be set, for example, for climbers to turn around if they had not reached the summit. Simply putting the time within a range and then not even falling within that span proved catastrophic in the case. Better control systems and following accompanying procedures could prevent catastrophe in future expeditions. Third, improving communication during the expedition is a must.
This could start by purchasing newer and higher quality radios, and to provide more of them on the expedition. The improvements needed in communication, however, go far beyond equipment needs. Leaders, guides, Sherpas, and clients alike are to be required and encouraged to communicate despite any hierarchical concerns. The hesitancy to voice dissent, offer feedback, and make suggestions contributed to the disaster of 1996. Fourth, the decision-making process within the expedition needs to be improved. A series of bad decisions were made at all levels when crises unfolded.
Responsible decision-making would occur within the new control systems established and followed (recommendation two above). This recommendation involves the leaders of Adventure Consultants and Mountain Madness receiving training in crisis management before leading groups on expeditions, preferably training which simulates as far as possible the conditions involved in climbing Mount Everest. The training would also involve the leaders working as a team to solve problems, maintain safety, and be effective in the tasks required in accomplishing the goals involved. References
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