Surviving at High Altitude

At 29,035 feet, Mt Everest is the tallest mountain on earth. Since it was first explored by a geological expedition in the mid 19th century and established as the world’s highest peak, climbers have been drawn to the challenge of summiting this mountain located in Nepal. Not until May 29, 1953 was the summit successfully reached by Sir Edmund Hillary and his Sherpa guide Tenzing Norgay. Since then, 3,000 climbers have stood atop its peak.
220 people have perished on Everest. Most were killed descending the mountain after they had spent all the energy they had to get to the summit, ignored bad weather or reached the summit too late and ran out of oxygen. 150 bodies remain on Everest, a number of which are still visible to passing climbers.
Mountain climbing, as a metaphor for business and life, crystallized for me in 2011. Early in the year I read ‘High Altitude Leadership’ by Chris Warner and Don Schmincke , which compares the challenges and dangers of mountaineering with business, and how similar they are in terms of the leadership, vision, teamwork, and risk management necessary to survive and thrive in that environment.
Later in the year I also had the opportunity to meet the great Seattle mountaineer, Ed Viesturs and to hear him speak. Ed stood on the top of Everest seven times. His motto has always been that climbing has to be a round trip – ‘getting to the top is optional, getting down is mandatory’ – and he has a strict personal risk management philosophy. His book, ‘No Shortcuts to the Top’, along with Jon Krakauer’s, ‘Into Thin Air’, share many things in common with ‘High Altitude Leadership’ (HAL).
The authors of HAL explore factors common to mountaineering and business – fear of death (fear of failure), selfishness, arrogance, lone heroism, cowardice, tool seduction and comfort, many of the same conditions that Krakauer and Viesturs talk about in their books and how these endanger climbing expeditions as well as businesses. With every famous business failure – Enron, Lehman Brothers, Bernie Madoff, and in our own back yard, Meridian and of course Washington Mutual, we see many of these characteristics evidenced, and from time-to-time we can see some of them in our own companies and in ourselves.
Another concept prevalent in HAL is that of ‘compelling saga’. Why do we climb this mountain, what compels us to strive in our business and personal lives? The authors suggest that every organization have a compelling saga – a common goal or ambition that binds all together in a common journey.
As I have explored HAL, I’ve thought a lot about this, and personally, I think I have a good idea of what my mountain is, and probably what it’s been since I first started in business. As I have talked with friends, family and colleagues, I see that our goals, our compelling sagas, can be quite different, however. Some are more short term. Some are readily achievable and some are big dreams.
We all have different motivations and drivers, and I’m sure there are a variety of reasons why mountaineers do what they do. What seems consistent, however, among the best climbers and the best businesses, is that irrespective of the differences in their overarching goals, all the travelers are similar in one regard – how they go about their journey. There’s something there that’s not about what you do or what your business is, but why you are doing it and what it means to you. As is often said, the quality of the journey is just as important as the destination.
2012 marks the 75th anniversary of Parker, Smith & Feek. No organization could survive and thrive that long unless there was a compelling saga. Parker, Smith & Feek’s saga, I believe, is more about the journey than the destination, and is more defined by a shared culture and business philosophy than the fact that we are insurance brokers. It’s not what we do as much as it is how we do it and why. We are not unique in that. Many of our most successful clients have a strong culture that aligns their actions and business objectives and keeps them moving toward the top of their mountain.
In past entries I’ve explored some of the factors that define our culture, such as value creation and a commitment to community. In 2012 I plan to share more about our journey over the past 75 years and what we believe will take us into the next century.
Here’s to reaching your summit and doing it in a way that gives you pride and purpose.

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Parker, Smith & Feek Appoints New Director

Bellevue, Washington – January 03, 2012 – Parker, Smith & Feek is pleased to announce that Jeff Murphy has been appointed to the firm's Board of Directors for a one year term due to the retirement of Steve Wolf.

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Everyone Plays a Role…

Most all of us have interest in increasing the value of our own personal investments. Over the last several years there has been much concern with the economy, the market and how it affects our livelihood as it pertains to our investments. These same questions occur within Boards and management as they work to grow the value of the companies they manage and/or oversee.
One age old benchmark or metric that has been used by companies and individuals over the years is “Return on Investment” or ROI. A simple calculation of taking your year-end profits and dividing by the Stockholders Equity determines what your ROI was for the year (example: If you made $100,000 profit on an investment of $1,000,000 you would have a ROI of 10%. 100,000/1,000,000).
Within a company there are several ways to increase profits. The more successful a company is at driving these areas typically the better the ROI will be.

Increased Sales

Increased Gross Profit

Decreased Inventory

Decreased Receivables

Decreased Expenses

Marketing and Branding

Relationships, Service and Support

Now here is the challenge or opportunity for each and every employee within a company they work for. You as an individual or within a team can directly or indirectly have a positive effect on one of the processes above. Your own observation and/or creativity with effective communication can assist with being a “change agent” to improve the Return on Investment for your company. The results end up being a win/win situation with much gratification and feeling of accomplish for all!

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Looking Forward to 2012

With 2011 coming to an end, we have been busy; tying down loose ends and preparing for 2012. This time of year always sees us going through the customary budgeting process. This year it has been an even bigger challenge as we try to determine what the economy is going to do and how it will affect our clients.

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Happy Holidays from Parker, Smith & Feek

Employee Spotlight: Susan Brock – MS Society

For unknown reasons, the Pacific Northwest has one of the highest incidence rates of multiple sclerosis in the entire world. In Washington, 180 per 100,000 people are known to live with the disease.

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Commercial Agencies of the Year Share Success Secrets in Exclusive Roundtable – Video

Commercial Agencies of the Year Round Table article with video. Flash needed

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Supreme Court to Hear Arguments on Legal Challenges to the Affordable Care Act

On Monday, November 14th, the Supreme Court announced it will hear arguments on legal challenges to the Affordable Care Act.

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Commercial Agencies of the Year Share Success Secrets in Exclusive Roundtable

Award winners discuss going global, securing top talent and competing against publicly traded brokers

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We wish there was more we could do!

There are so many factors that affect employees outside of work. For the past couple of years, I have certainly noticed that a lot of my own family and friends have been impacted in some way by this worsening economy and our employees are also seeing the effects that this downturn brings.

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A Minor League Player Making King County A Better Place To Live and Work.

For the past two years, I have had the privilege to be a United Way King County (UWKC) Ambassador. Ambassadors are typically business people who believe in the work of UWKC and volunteer their time to speak at corporate campaigns.

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Focus On Risk Consulting, Tech Innovations Help Parker, Smith & Feek Shine

While some agencies have only recently come to embrace the idea of being a risk consultant for their clients, the concept is nothing new for the agency Parker, Smith & Feek…

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