Brecon Beacons or the Himalayas…

One year on and Jack reflects on an amazing personal journey. Accompanied the British Army for part of their ascent of Mount Everest. He was there with one our clients, whose Multimats were used by the army for the expedition.

You went all the way to Everest. Not the usual round of golf or lunch with the client! What were you hoping to gain from the experience?
Several things – on a business level, to gain a better understanding of the client, the company, and the product, and on a more personal level, to realise a childhood dream.

…so was it what you expected?
It surpassed all of my expectations – it was one of the most awe-inspiring experiences of my entire life. It was incredibly moving – walking up to Tillman camp, I was in tears.

So you wanted to gain a better understanding of the product. To what extent did you manage to do this, and do you consider it to be an important part of your job?
I think it’s fundamental for someone doing my job. You need to immerse yourself in the product and to do whatever it takes to understand a client’s requirements. For the business relationship to have any longevity you need to understand how the client sees the product developing, and in order to design a meaningful identity, you really need to understand the essence of the product. If you don’t understand the client, the product, and the customer, you cannot convey accurate information to the creative who is designing the identity.

…and did the expedition enable you to do this?
Absolutely. Obviously I was sleeping on a Multimat, so was gaining first hand experience of the product, and once I got used to the altitude, I slept soundly in temperatures as low as minus 20 degrees. I also got great feedback from the rest of the people on the expedition, who were there for much longer than me. In such extreme and testing conditions, it is important to have comfort and warmth at the end of a hard day, and the Army guys confirmed that the mats functioned well. So as well as putting the product to the ultimate test, we also discovered that our marketing concept of ‘be comfortable, sleep warm’ was spot on!

Isn’t it true that Everest is not the challenge that it one was, and that any tourist can reach the summit these days if they have enough money?
It’s true that Everest is a lot more accessible than it used to be, but most people ascend from the Nepalese side. This expedition went up the West Ridge route from the Tibetan side. This is a much more difficult route – in fact no British team has reached the summit this way. I was astounded at how strategic climbing a mountain is. But even with two years’ planning, with state-of-the art mountaineering gear and incredibly experienced team members – including sherpas from Nepal, this doesn’t guarantee that you’ll reach the summit. The mountain is always in control and you really have to respect this.

What is the most valuable lesson you learned on the expedition?
My philosophy has always been to live life to the full, and the expedition really reinforced this. Life is a privilege and we don’t get to decide when we live and when life is taken away from us, so it is crucial to appreciate and cherish what you have at the moment.

So you agree with the Tibetan proverb that says ‘it’s better to live one day as a lion than a thousand as a sheep’?

Exactly. On Everest I felt so alive – living my one day as a lion! The higher up the mountain we went, the more alive I felt and the further away from the rituals of everyday life. But at the same time the air was getting thinner and the harder it was to breathe. Sometimes life is like that – you have to challenge yourself to reach difficult goals, like when you’re struggling higher up the mountain to see the most spectacular views and to push yourself further than you think you can go. But at the same time you can’t stay at the top of the mountain forever – you need to come back down to where it’s easier to breathe, to appreciate the normal things in life.

Has what you learned on the expedition changed the way you work?
Well after such a mind blowing experience it took a while to get back into work mode, but I’m lucky as I love my work and have never seen it as a chore. One important lesson in business that was applicable to the expedition and to my work at home was the need for trust. When you’re on Everest you have to trust your team. Potentially, your life is in their hands at the other end of a rope, and likewise their life is in your hands, so communication and trust is crucial. Obviously my work here is not a matter of life or death, but I am still responsible for people’s livelihoods, so trust and communication
is very important.

Last of all, Brecon Beacons or Himalayas?
That’s difficult one! Nothing compares to the Himalayas, and I’d go back tomorrow, but then again, I couldn’t live there! Going to Everest was a lifetime ambition, and it was a privilege to be there with the Army and also to meet the Tibetan people and experience their culture. But I have the beauty of Wales and the Beacons on my doorstep, and going to Everest has really reminded me how lucky I am, and to appreciate what I have at home.

Jack Bland is co-founder and account director of Black Sheep.

Interview by Kate Auchterlonie, formerly of Black Sheep

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