Make Your Own Miracle
It is one of the most famous survival stories of all time. In October 1972, Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 crashed into the frozen Andes Mountains, leaving 16 people to survive for 72 days. After waking from a concussion, only to learn that his mother had died on impact and his sister was near death, Nando Parrado became obsessed with surviving. He and rugby teammate Roberto Canessa emerged as heroes when they walked for 10 days to find their salvation.
In this special Q&A, Octane sits down with the entrepreneur to talk about leadership, taking things one day at a time and making miracles of your own.
What did this unimaginable crisis teach you about yourself and life in general?
The most important things I learned are probably the simplest things. I learned to look forward and never backward because I can’t modify the past. So many times I’ve asked myself why someone should have to go through something so extreme. Why did I invite my mother and sister to go with me? They both died in the plane crash. I realized these questions will never be answered, no matter how hard I search.
The second thing I learned is that most of our lives will be dictated by our own decisions and actions. I followed my heart and my intuition when I was faced with the most horrible and hard circumstances I could imagine, and I still do that every day of my life.
What did your experiences in the andes teach you about leadership?
I have seen and experienced leadership on a different level. The teamwork that occurred in that extreme environment showed me that a different type of leadership is possible. Leaders emerged on the mountain because of their actions and work, not because they were appointed to leadership positions. These leaders were compassionate, and they inspired collaboration to a level where we were giving our lives for one another. I have tried to be the same type of leader in my companies, and it has worked. I give people my best, and they give me their best.
What business crises have you’ve faced, and how did you respond to them?
In 2001, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay went through a very complicated economic crisis. A lot of banks collapsed, which created a domino effect that sent huge waves of destruction over the business and industrial sectors of these countries. This crisis directly impacted my business, and I had to find a way around it. The situation was so overwhelming that we didn’t know what to do, only that we had to do something.
We started by cutting corners. I cut out all of the insurance on the company’s assets. If we were broke, what was the importance of insurance? At one point, we even stopped buying office supplies. I also re-negotiated salaries with all of my staff and employees. Really, we took it step by step, not knowing if we were going to survive the economic crisis. Thankfully, we were staying active. Many companies that were paralyzed by the economy did not survive. When I was faced with this business crisis, I asked myself: How much would I have given 30 years ago to be in a situation where I was refinancing with banks and making fast decisions that could make me go broke?
During that time [in the Andes], I would have signed any paper given to me by the devil to be alive and forced to weather a bad business storm, instead of being condemned to die a most horrible death. In the mountains, all of the answers were measured in terms of my own life or death. To make decisions where the outcome would only relate to business gave me perspective. And then I just took it one day at a time. Three years after the economic crisis, I was in the black again.
How do you deal with adversity in your businesses?
I like to think I deal with issues, not adversity. Sometimes things do not go in the direction that I want them to go, but I keep moving on regardless. I do not see failing as being unsuccessful. When adversity comes, I look at the situation and determine the best course of action. I try to sail through the storm, always going forward, one step at a time. I think the essential thing is to not stop, but to always move forward.
What advice do you have for entrepreneurs facing impossible odds?
I always say that I have redefined the meaning of the word ‘impossible.’ For me, the only insurmountable thing is death. All other challenges have options; people can go around obstacles, change their circumstances, leave a situation, push people or deadlines, go in different directions, switch jobs, etc. I like to tell people that if they face any insurmountable odds in a financial crisis, business crisis, relationship crisis, health crisis, etc., they can dive inside themselves and search for their own version of a miracle.