November 8, 2012
Recently I was honored to speak in Geneva to Jaeger LeCoultre, the manufacturer of super high-end watches. How high end? They start at around $10,000 and can go up to $50,000 or more. The company is about to celebrate its 180th anniversary and remains committed to the utmost in quality.
I was totally blown away during our tour of the factory. Some of their mechanical watches have 1,000 parts and are assembled by hand with tweezers. I was particularly impressed by the Atmos 3000 mechanical clock, which winds itself by using the change in barometric pressure.
It was fun to share my perspective on how to build good teams, innovation, and breaking through barriers. With a history as long as theirs, sometimes tradition can get in the way of growing and evolving even in a niche market. In my book, The Adversity Advantage, I talk about how there are Quitters, Campers, and Climbers. And for a company like Jaeger LeCoultre, it’s all too easy to settle into being Campers and much harder to push to be Climbers.
Of course, since I was in Switzerland, I had to go climbing too! My partner, Rob Raker, and I met found two Swiss guides to take us up some classic routes in the Grindelwald area. As it happened, we lucked into four days of stellar weather, which almost never happens that time of year.
The first route we did was the Chouia Couloir on the Mönch but no long approaches for us. We took the Jungfrau train to the top of the mountain and then rappelled eight pitches down the route and climbed back up!
The next climb was a real treat since, like many alpinists, I have long been interested in the North Face of the Eiger. Someday I hope to do the whole thing but on this trip, we climbed the relatively easy lower third of the face to the Stollenloch window, the famous train tunnel that has been the site of many epics in mountaineering history (Google Toni Kurz if you aren’t familiar).
The climbing was a bit tricky for me since it involved a lot of traversing on loose, downward slopping rock. It was so warm we were climbing with bare hands, and never had to put on crampons, but water was pouring down the rock.
We were soaked by the time we reached the tunnel so I was happy to escape back to civilization. We just flashed our headlamps, the train stopped, and we were soon back down in town 20 minutes later! It’s a bit surreal stepped onto the train wearing all our ice gear and the tourists are all wearing fur coats and high-heeled shoes.
The last day, we climbed a fun seven-pitch rock wall near Grindelwald. Even though it was the end of October, we climbed all day in t-shirts. It was a stellar end to a great trip!
PS thanks to Rob Raker for the photos.