A: In this economic climate, fewer and fewer companies setting a higher bar. If you had a chance to speak to Wall Street before the bubble burst, what would you have told them?
EV: Wall Street was just going full on—grabbing for success, taking huge risks. In mountaineering you have to make some tough choices based on success and non-successes. The most basic, is: Do I go forward or not? Some people are so driven to succeed that their instincts—and the rules they’ve learned along the way—go out the window. And you might get away with it once or twice in business or in the mountains, but sooner or later it’s going to catch up to you. And you can’t become complacent and say, I got away with it once, I’m going to try to get away with it again. That becomes pretty dangerous.
A: So Wall Street needed a good old-fashioned gut check?
EV: Right. I’ve talked to a lot of financial people. Instinctively, they know the right thing to do. But they have all these pressures from people expecting them to push and advance. Their clients are expecting them to do that. They are paid to produce. But I’ve said, if your clients are pushing you to make bad decisions, you should find different clients. You should be able to trust your experience and judgment.
A: I’m sure you’ve felt pressure from your climbing partners to push on when perhaps you shouldn’t.
EV: Sure. Annapurna 2002 is a good example. I was there with my partner Veikka Gustafsson, and we joined up with J.C. LaFaille and his partner. We were pushing for the summit when we got to this very steep, avalanche-prone slope, which we had to climb to get to the summit ridge. J.C. and his partner continued to climb, but I felt very hesitant. I stopped and waited for Veikka to catch up. I knew the slope was bad. There was a lot of exposure. It was ready to go. J.C. was up ahead climbing and called back, “Ed be very careful. This is very dangerous.” “Yeah,” I said, “I know that.” I tried to go up, but I just couldn’t do it. I talked to Veikka, and we decided not to go on. J.C. and his partner continued on, succeeded, and came down. But later, they admitted they were redlining it the whole way. I can’t say what they did was right, or we did was right. Everyone has their own level of acceptable risk.