The Parable of the Sadhu

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The Parable of the Sadhu

by Bowen H. McCoy

Harvard Business Review
Reprint 97307

This document is authorized for use only in Harvard and Radcliffe 50th Reunion Class of 1962 by Malcolm Salter from May 2012 to November 2012.

HBR

CLASSIC

After encountering a dying pilgrim on a climbing trip in the Himalayas, a bus

by Bowen H. McCoy
Last year, as the first par ticipant
i n the new six-month sabbatical
p r ogram that Mor gan Stanley has
adopted, I enjoyed a rare oppor tunity to collect my thoughts as well as do some traveling. I spent the
first three months in Nepal, walking
600 miles through 200 villages in
the Himalayas and climbing some
120,000 vertical feet. My sole Wester n companion on the trip was an anthropologist who shed light on
the cultural patterns of the villages
that we passed through.
During the Nepal hike, something
occurred that has had a powerful impact on my thinking about corporate ethics. Although some might argue
that the experience has no relevance
to business, it was a situation in
which a basic ethical dilemma suddenly intr uded into the lives of a

group of individuals. How the group
responded holds a lesson for all organizations, no matter how defined.

The Sadhu
The Nepal experience was more
rugged than I had anticipated. Most
commercial treks last two or three
weeks and cover a quarter of the distance we traveled.
My friend Stephen, the anthropologist, and I wer e halfway thr ough the 60-day Himalayan par t of the
trip when we reached the high point,
an 18,000-foot pass over a crest that
we’d have to traverse to reach the
village of Muklinath, an ancient
holy place for pilgrims.
Six years earlier, I had suf fer ed
pulmonary edema, an acute form of
altitude sickness, at 16,500 feet in
the vicinity of Everest base camp – so

Copyright © 1997 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. All rights reserved.

we were understandably concerned
about what would happen at 18,000
feet. Moreover, the Himalayas were
having their wettest spring in 20
years; hip-deep powder and ice had
already driven us off one ridge. If we
failed to cross the pass, I feared that
the last half of our once-in-a-lifetime
trip would be ruined.
The night before we would try the
pass, we camped in a hut at 14,500
feet. In the photos taken at that
camp, my face appears wan. The last
village we’d passed through was a
sturdy two-day walk below us, and
I was tired.
Bowen H. McCoy retired from Morgan Stanley in 1990 after 28 years of service. He is now a real estate and
business counselor, a teacher, and a
philanthropist.
PHOTO: E. KOBLMUELLER/THE STOCK MARKET

This document is authorized for use only in Harvard and Radcliffe 50th Reunion Class of 1962 by Malcolm Salter from May 2012 to November 2012.

HBR

CLASSIC

inessman ponders the differences between individual and corporate ethics.

The Parable of the Sadhu

D uring the late after noon, four
backpackers fr om New Zealand
joined us, and we spent most of the
night awake, anticipating the climb.
Below, we could see the fires of two
other parties, which turned out to be
two Swiss couples and a Japanese
hiking club.
To get over the steep part of the
climb befor e the sun melted the
steps cut in the ice, we departed at
3:30 A.M. The New Zealanders left
first, followed by Stephen and myself, our por ters and Sherpas, and then the Swiss. The Japanese lingered in their camp. The sky was clear, and we were confident that no
spring stor m would erupt that day
to close the pass.
At 15,500 feet, it looked to me as
if Stephen were shuffling and staggering a bit, which are symptoms of HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW

altitude sickness. (The initial stage
of altitude sickness brings a headache and nausea. As the condition worsens, a climber may encounter
difficult breathing, disorientation,
aphasia, and paralysis.) I felt strong –
my adrenaline was flowing – but I
was very concerned...
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