The team (l-r): Ana Carolina Brönnimann, Ruedi Brönnimann, Aloys Mutisya, Dan Cooke, Oxana Grishinaoxana, and Chiwuike Amaechi
Strong bonds of friendship took a group of MBA students from Warwick Business School to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro this summer.
The four Executive MBA students, together with a Global Online MBA scholar, flew into Moshi in Tanzania’s Kilimanjaro National Park in a tiny Cessna propellor plane at the end of July, and embarked on a seven-day trek to the summit of Africa and back. Also with them was one executive’s spouse.
The mid-career professionals all met for the first time a couple of years ago at Warwick Business School and immediately struck up a bond.
“We are all very close,” said Dan Cooke, who was one of the four students who met on the Executive MBA intake of March 2021. As part of the 46th cohort, he is now writing his final dissertation.
“We have been together every six weeks for two years, over 12 modules, and over that time and in a small cohort of around 26 people we have built strong friendships; in fact, I would say everlasting bonds.”
“It’s precisely what you need when you’re 13,000ft up a mountain with rapidly depleting oxygen levels. This is the altitude when the world changes.”
Establishing the ground rules for success
As well as the emotional support they could give each other in this harsh environment, the group also had something else in their tool kit: a three-point mantra.
For Dan and his fellow Executive MBA cohorts Oxana Grishinaoxana, Aloys Mutisya and Ruedi Brönnimann, together with Global Online MBA student Chiwuike Amaechi, the first rule was ‘complete, not compete’. During the monthly planning meetings ahead of the expedition, the team decided firmly that their main focus was to complete the climb as a team, with everyone willing each other to succeed. This was despite going their separate ways for practice runs; Dan, Oxana and Aloys to Snowdonia National Park, for instance; Ruedi and his wife Ana Carolina to the Swiss Alps.
“Any sense of self-righteousness went completely out of the window,” Dan said.
The second rule was pole pole – an expression from Swahili which means ‘slowly, slowly’. From the third day onwards, as the air thinned substantially, the team knew that it would be essential to walk and climb slowly. Otherwise, in the battle to acclimatise there would be a danger of acute mountain sickness (AMS).
“Sometimes it felt we were too slow but we knew it was necessary for preserving our energy for the big day and for optimal acclimatisation," Oxana said.
Finally, there was the maxim of every climber the world over: ‘climb high, sleep low’. As the Warwick MBA expedition ascended Africa’s highest mountain via the Lemosho route, they followed an age-old tactic of scaling the heights to acclimatise before returning to camp at a lower level, allowing the body to produce higher concentrations of red blood cells to combat the depleting oxygen levels.
Sure enough, after the relative ease of trekking through the heather and the moorlands, progressing onwards through the alpine desert, the group finally approached the arctic zone, the point at which the going got tough, according to Dan, who struggled with an abnormally high heart rate due to low levels of oxygen when entering the Barafu Camp (4,673 metres).
“This felt like dangerous territory,” he said.
Pole Pole: In order to acclimatise, the climbers adopt the Swahili maxim of 'slowly slowly'
The group’s local guides were on hand with oxygen equipment and diamox tablets but there were also the challenges of the terrain. Even before reaching the Barafu Camp ready for the overnight ascent to the summit, there was the volcanic landscape of Kilimanjaro’s higher altitudes, and a difficult cliff to climb –the Barranco Wall.
Oxana recalled: “I felt like a real-life Indiana Jones.”
After resting at the Barafu Camp, the night ascent to the summit was eerie and scary, Dan said. “It was pitch black, and it was nothing but rock and dust, as if you were walking on the moon”.
Temperature dropped to -15 degrees and all team members were pushed to their mental limits. As the sun rose, the team members felt a slight boost in their energy levels, which was much needed as the physical exhaustion began to take its toll. After more than nine hours, the group reached the peak at 5,895 metres above sea level.
There were more challenges to come as the group embarked on its descent, with Chiwuike recording a highly dangerous blood oxygen level in the high 40s as he reached the Barafu Camp again, well below the usual 98 per cent at sea level.
The summit of Africa: the success of the expedition was partly down to the collaborative experience of WBS
But overall the mission had been a success. The team succeeded in its expedition because of the “harmony” of the group, Dan said.
“There was no agitation, no fallout. Just a good dynamic.”
Ana Carolina added: “The importance of good humour and positive thinking cannot be overstated.”
Why diversity is important for teamwork
The positive dynamic was partly down to their collective learning experience at WBS, according to Dan.
“Meeting up every six weeks for four consecutive days at the Warwick campus, we have worked in teams to complete case studies and group assignments,” he said.
One of the key strengths of his Executive MBA cohort at WBS was its diversity, he believes.
“That involves embracing people’s different backgrounds and working with them in an inclusive way.”
The WBS students who climbed the legendary mountain in Africa this summer reflected that diversity. Chiwuike is Nigerian, Dan is British and Aloys is a Kenyan living in The Netherlands. Oxana was born in Russia but now lives in the UK, while Ruedi was born in Peru but has lived in Switzerland since childhood.
The team gave themselves an official Swahili name in order to climb the mountain. This was Marafiki, which means ‘comrades’.
With all the marafiki having now returned to their respective home countries, they look forward to their first reunion in the near future. The WBS modules on their executive programme have come to an end, and all the climbers have either completed or are close to submitting their final dissertations.
Nevertheless, they are all convinced that they will remain lifelong marafiki.
If you are ready to expand your network, if you want the tools to transform the next step of your career, then the Executive MBA at Warwick Business School could be just what you are looking for.
Our Global Online MBA is ranked first in the UK and second in the world by the Financial Times' Online MBA ranking 2023.