Thursday, October 7, 2010

Nando Parrado: Survival is a Choice

Nando Parrado blew us away on Wednesday at the World Business Forum. His speech caught most everybody by surprise – amidst talks on leadership and management from some of the world’s brightest luminaries, Nando’s incredible story of survival (as captured in the movie Alive (1993)) and powerful lessons on humanity, put the entire Forum in context.

“I’ve run companies,” he said, with a seasoned levity, “but there are no challenges in business – only issues.” The audience responded with enlightened chuckles. “This,” he continued, referring to his 72 days in the Andes – hungry, freezing, and left for dead – “was a challenge.”

On Friday the 13th, October 1972, a plane - carrying Nando, his rugby team, and loved ones - crashed into the Andes mountains – 14,000 feet high, deep in snow. Nando survived the initial impact – he was in row 9, the last row still attached to the plane. His mom, his sister, and his three best friends were sitting behind him - they did not survive. Over the next 72 days, the survivors rationed food (in one three day period, each survivor had only one chocolate-covered peanut to keep them from starving); they heard on a radio that the search for them had been called off; and they lived through an avalanche that took more lives. Temperatures would reach as low as 35 degrees below zero.

Two months into the 72 day ordeal, Nando could no longer sit still. “I’m not going to die here,” he would say. He knew it would be up to them (really, him) to get out alive. He wanted to summit the mountain they crashed into, in the hopes he would see the green fields of Chile on the other side, and find a path to rescue. He took a friend with him. In three days they reached the top. From the summit, they saw nothing but snow-covered mountain ranges in all directions. His friend cried: “We’re going to die, Nando.” Again, Nando said, “I’m not going to die here.” He then “took the biggest decision of (his) life” – he decided to just walk, walk until he took his last breath in search of rescue. Nando and his friend proceeded to trek 65 miles over 10 days. Nando lost 90 pounds. Finally, they ran into a man near a river, who took them in and helped facilitate the rescue of the others. In all, 29 would die; 16 would survive.

What is it about Nando that drove him to trek 65 miles across the Andes mountains in 10 days, losing 90 pounds along the way, after having already spend two months stranded and starving and freezing, without hope of rescue, hovered in the small space of the fuselage of the crashed plane that his mom, sister, and three best friends perished in? Simply put, what drove Nando to survive?

In a word: commitment. A commitment to survive; a refusal to die. “I’m not dying here,” Nando would say, “Not now.” When others lost hope, he chose to keep going until death or rescue. His fellow survivors have said that it was Nando’s confidence in their survival that kept them alive.

This experience helped Nando understand what was truly important in life – the love of those around him. As he told the audience: Never lose connections. Embrace those around you. Love is the reason for living.

He ended with: “Life is not measured by number of breath you take, but the moments that take your breath away… and those moments are connected to love.”

He walked off stage to a roaring standing ovation – the only one in our two years at the Forum.

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