The Pepperfry team at Hampta pass.
The Pepperfry team at Hampta pass.

Trekking helps build a strong team

Taking inspiration from the founders' passion for hikes in the Himalayas, climbing has become a company activity at online furniture marketplace Pepperfry

It’s a company journey that began with one man’s test results. A few years ago, Ambareesh Murty, CEO and co-founder of Pepperfry, discovered he is a rare personality type. Classified as an “Introverted Intuitive Thinking Judging" person according to the MBTI (Myers-Briggs Type Indicator) test, Murty, 45, says, “It helped me recognize that I enjoyed seeking out places where few people go or are present." So, trekking seemed like a good idea.

In 2015, Murty and Pepperfry co-founder and chief operating officer (COO) Ashish Shah set off on a hike through Ladakh’s Zanskar Valley. “I took to it like fish to water," says Murty. “And now trekking has become kind of a religion at Pepperfry," almost synonymous with the online furniture marketplace and home décor platform’s company brand. Inspired by the founders’ adventures, 15-20 employees have been joining them on their annual Himalayan treks.

And they’re not the only ones. Formalizing the founders’ passion for trekking into an organizational initiative, the company has launched a training programme called #TrekToTheTop, a bi-monthly off-site programme under which groups of 20 employees go on two-day treks. “There’s an almost poetic similarity between trekking and the resilient organizational culture we wanted to build at Pepperfry," says Aditi Pareek, senior manager, human resources, adding that the programme “has been tailored to enable folks at Pepperfry to imbibe our company values of intensity, teamwork, learning agility, courage, communication, and ownership".

(From left) Naresh Thadani, Ashish Shah and Ambareesh Murty at Khardungla pass.
(From left) Naresh Thadani, Ashish Shah and Ambareesh Murty at Khardungla pass.

Over 300 employees of the 1,500-strong workforce have undergone this training. “Start-up life doesn’t allow you to take time out for yourself. But we realized that spending a week trekking rejuvenates you for the next six months. That’s why we have stuck to it," says Murty, who has trekked across Chadar, the Wari La pass and the Hampta pass. Next month, he will head back to Zanskar Valley.

Joining him will be Naresh Thadani, associate vice-president and business head for offline expansion at Pepperfry. Thadani, 46, was an early convert. “I’ve always been a nature lover, and trekked a little in my college years," he says. The need to depressure inspired him to take up hiking. “We are a like-minded bunch of explorers who are willing to take risks at work. Trekking matches our mindset perfectly," says Thadani, who has been on two high-altitude climbs with his work group.

Nikita Jain, senior manager, corporate communications, who took part in the short training programme held at Garudmaachi, on the outskirts of Pune, calls her first experience of rappelling down a mountain “memorable". “It was just a 700m descent, but I chickened out. I only made it because the rest of the team was rooting for me. And to think I barely knew any of them before going on the trip," says Jain, 36.

From discovering the benefits of teamwork to finding inner resilience, there are many ways that trekking can make you better at your job. “I may have been the only one descending, but seven people were mentally helping me climb down. It makes you realize that as a team, no goal is impossible," says Jain. When a friend broke his wrist on the Chadar trek, Murty recalls how they found a way to cover three days of hiking in just a day and a half. “You realize that even the best-laid plans can go awry," he says. “Whether you give up or put up a fight—those are things that define you on a trek, and in an organization."

The shared experience has helped the Pepperfry team forge a unique bond. “Communication between groups that have gone out together has improved significantly," says Murty. The company has even named its meeting rooms after locations (Chang La, Khardungla) and passes (Namikala, Hampta) that team members have trekked in. “We hope it inspires people to set goals and aim high," says Thadani.

High-stake decisions on Everest

On 16 May, during the final leg of their journey to summit Mount Everest, Ajeet Bajaj, managing director of tourism company Snow Leopard Adventures, and his daughter Deeya faced a difficult decision.

Ajeet and Deeya Bajaj
Ajeet and Deeya Bajaj

In an interview to NDTV, Ajeet said his oxygen mask malfunctioned and the duo decided Deeya would continue the climb. Ajeet, who was lucky enough to find an oxygen mask, reached the summit 15 minutes later. And, thus, they became the first father-daughter duo to reach the summit of Mount Everest. The Bajajs had spent a year training for the big climb. “We were to do it together. But stopping at that point would have ruined my chances as well. So I kept climbing," says Deeya. 

To draw a work parallel here, difficult circumstances can test your team to the limit, but close collaboration will help you achieve a common goal.

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