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MBA Students Apply Business Skills to Extreme Polar Challenge

To celebrate the 100th anniversary of Roald Amundsen’s race to the South Pole in December this year, four business school students and their extreme sports enthusiast friend who has traveled to the South Pole before, are planning a trek of some 700 miles across the frozen continent. Their leader, Alan Lock, a former Royal Navy officer, is visually impaired, adding to his personal challenge.

Lock and the three other MBA students on the team are using their business studies to plan and complete the expedition. “The challenge of trying to achieve something of value against the backdrop of an unpredictable and unforgiving environment is very similar to today’s economic landscape,” Lock writes.

By Alan Lock

“The hardest part is getting to the start.” This was a phrase I have heard plenty of times from anyone related to Antarctic expeditions. When I first started the planning for our own expedition, I knew it would be a tremendous amount of work, but I never realized just how true this statement would be. Simply getting to the stage of being able to take the first step on Antarctica is a huge challenge in itself.

The Polar Vision expedition I am referring to is approaching fast.

In early December, 2011, I am aiming to lead a five-man expedition to cross Antarctica from the coast all the way to the South Pole, a distance of some 600 to 700 miles. It will involve hauling sleds weighing up to 120 lbs, battling temperatures down to 40 degrees Celsius below freezing, and trying not to get bored of each other’s jokes.

This would be a tremendous feat for anyone, but I have another challenge — I am visually impaired. If successful, I would be the first person in my situation to complete this particular endeavor.

The Beauty of Antarctica.jpg

The beauty of Antarctica.

Photo courtesy of Andrew Cooney

Why are my team and I doing this? Well, I guess there are two main reasons.

First, my situation has brought an awareness of the impact that any form of sight loss can have on people around the globe, and I have an understandable empathy towards this cause.

Polar Vision aims to highlight sight issues and, once we are underway, raise funds for a number of sight-related charities in the U.S. and around the world. This is a cause which my teammates can also relate to through friends and family who may have some form of vision impairment.

The second reason is more universal — this is a lifelong ambition for all of us. Undertaking a challenge comparable to summiting Everest while in the vast expanse and beauty of Antarctica is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

The vast expanse and beauty of Antarctica.jpg

The vast expanse of the icy continent.

Photo courtesy of Andrew Cooney

So how do you go about a project such as this?

The planning and preparation are everything, and that starts with the team itself. We comprise three Brits and two Americans (though one of these has some Norwegian blood, which should be a good thing!), brought together by a mutual love of the outdoors and endurance sports.

The team’s combined experience covers such fields as advanced skiing and mountaineering, ironman triathlons, ultra marathons and rowing across the Atlantic Ocean.

One of our team — Andrew Cooney — has successfully completed this expedition before, in 2003, and so brings a huge degree of experience. He won a Guinness Record for his feat, becoming the youngest person to reach the South Pole. This adds to my own Guinness Record for rowing across the Atlantic.

Perhaps most importantly of all, we all have a sense of humor too — something that may prove vital if we are snowbound in our tents by a lengthy blizzard.

In this video, watch one of the Polar Vision team members, Richard Smith, Tuck School of Business, talk about the expedition:


Four of the team are MBA students — from The Haas School of Business at UC, Berkeley, The Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth, and IMD business school in Switzerland — and the business education experience has proved highly effective in planning Polar Vision.

Expedition-related work has jostled with classes for our time and energy, but there have been some great synergies. Subjects such as marketing have proved invaluable in how we promote Polar Vision to supporters, the media and potential sponsors.

We’ve also been putting many technology-based subjects to good use to try and make Polar Vision unique and engaging. For example, we’ve worked with web developers to ensure we can link satellite tracking beacons to Google Earth, allowing people to track us in near real time, whilst we are also planning to send video diaries back to our website over the satellite phone.

Finally, the “softer” skills of team management and leadership communications will be essential in keeping a cohesive, effective team in Antarctica. Hauling a 120 lb sled in sub zero temperatures may seem a million miles from the business world, but the challenge of trying to achieve something of value against the backdrop of an unpredictable and unforgiving environment is very similar to today’s economic landscape.

The next major milestone for the team comes at the end of March, when we will fly up to Iqaluit in Canada’s Arctic Circle to train with renowned polar explorer Matty McNair. We’ll need to learn and practice everything from crossing crevasses in the ice, all through to how to brew a cup of tea in sub zero conditions without losing a finger.

Setting up camp in Antarctica.jpg

Setting up camp in Antarctica.

Photo courtesy of Andrew Cooney

Andrew Cooney in Antarctica during his previous expedition.jpg

Andrew Cooney in Antarctica during his previous expedition.

Photo courtesy of Andrew Cooney

Once we complete this training, we’ll refine our gym training back at home by doing more weight training, and in the spirit of all former polar explorers we will drag truck tires around a park to replicate the sled.

Since none of us live directly next to a park, I have a feeling we’ll be wheeling these tires up the road every day to train in the closest open space. It’s sure to get us a few more odd looks, but as we’ve explained this expedition to our family and friends, we’re used to it by now.

Alan Lock is a former Royal Navy officer and currently a student at the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley.


  1. Richard Smith
    United States
    May 15, 2011, 1:39 pm

    You should also check out this video, showing Polar Vision’s recent training efforts in Canada: