Jeremy Leadsom, our recently retired Head of UK Wholesale, and James Moore, Senior Digital Distribution Manager, share what happened when a team of Aviva Investors staff and family climbed the highest mountain in the Arab world to raise money for charity.

It’s the dead of night on a snowy mountainside. Nineteen people, more accustomed to seeing one another in an office, lie side-by-side in a small dormitory. The air is cold and tempers are short. Sleep is sound for only a few, thanks to the uncomfortably close bunks.

At 3.00am, the alarm clock goes off, and the climb continues.

On Sunday 19th May 2019, a group of Aviva Investors staff and family members ascended Mount Toubkal in Morocco. At 4,167 metres, it is the highest mountain in the Arab world.

This may seem like an unlikely adventure for asset management professionals. However, this incredible feat of strength, endurance and teamwork was undertaken to raise money for causes close to their hearts. As Jeremy Leadsom, UK Wholesale, explains, “We didn’t do it to improve the image of the asset management business. People got involved for far more personal reasons.”

This climb was especially significant for the team. At the beginning of 2019, James Tothill, another member of the UK Wholesale team, lost his daughter Maisie to epilepsy. Maisie lived with the condition for three years, but tragically died in her sleep on Friday 25th January 2019. She was 22.

The group had already completed one climb in Italy’s Dolomites mountain range. This was in support of CASCAID, the fundraising charity designed to bring leaders from the asset management community together.

For the second climb up Mount Toubkal, the team decided to split all donations raised 50/50 between CASCAID’s chosen cause, Great Ormond Street Hospital, and SUDEP Action, the epilepsy charity James and his family chose to support in memory of Maisie.

Taking on the mountain

The first day of the climb began relatively easy. James Moore, Senior Digital Distribution Manager, tells the story...

First day hike
First day hike

“The first day of climbing on the Sunday can perhaps be best described as a misleadingly pleasant hike. It was a warm, dry day with the temperature ranging from 25-30°C. The group started walking out from a guest house in Imlil, Morocco, carrying water and other essentials for the day in their backpacks.”

After lunch in a small makeshift restaurant with their local guides, the group continued upwards towards more challenging terrain. James continues, “Our tight knit group was determined to stick together to the summit, ploughing on up past 3,000 metres where snow began to appear on the mountainside and clouds formed below the level at which we had climbed to.”

Spirits remained high up until the first night on the mountain. With a 14-hour climb ahead of them and the effects of the high altitude beginning to show, teamwork was more important than ever.

As they approached the peak, James says, “Climbing the final 200 metres felt like double the effort of the previous 2,000. At one point, Jeremy declared ‘I’m staying here and not moving anymore’. His brother reminded him that his article in Investment Week spoke about him leading a team to the top; he spiritedly managed to get going again!”

For the climb of Mount Toubkal, Jeremy was actually joined by three family members – his brother Simon, and sons Johnny and Paddy. Having his sons there proved to be the perfect motivation for Jeremy, as he explains, “They were quite happy to spur their father on, as you can imagine. There’s nothing better than having your children around to make sure you get things done!”

A moment of reflection

Every member of the team ascended the peak of Toubkal, but the challenge wasn’t over just yet. As James explains, “As we turned back down the mountain, the enormity of the returning 25km hike became apparent and the mood turned glum again.”

At the summit
At the summit of Mount Toubkal

Altitude sickness was taking its toll at this point, with some members of the group unable to face food when they reached the refuge centre. “After lunch, a further four hours of gruelling descent on utterly battered legs ensued.”

Once everyone had finally returned safely to the bottom of the mountain, the team reflected on the climb (and the physical feat they had just achieved) during a celebratory meal.

But the trip had one last surprise. James explains, “It was at this stage that we were stunned and awed in realising that our local guides were observing Ramadan and therefore had been nil by mouth (including water) for the entire climb. Our efforts and continued moans were certainly put into perspective at that moment.”

Looking ahead

Both the Mount Toubkal challenge and the previous climb in the Dolomites show what can be achieved when a group of people join forces to overcome a challenge. As Jeremy puts it, “It’s immensely powerful. It’s another way for people to work together in a totally different way.”

This integrated approach has an impact long after the hiking clothes have been swapped back for suits. “It was a fantastic opportunity for everyone to get to know their colleagues better,” says Jeremy.

“And that’s one of the benefits for the business – getting a group of people that don’t normally work together to go and achieve something collectively. You can imagine the positive effects of that, because when you’re back in the office, you now know ten more people than you did before. You’re going to be more helpful, more collaborative.”

At Aviva Investors, we’re proud to support charitable initiatives like CASCAID. As of October 2019, we have raised over £41,000 for GOSH and SUDEP Action. But this amazing total wouldn’t have been reached without the help of friends, family, colleagues and everyone from across the industry. Together, we’re working towards a better world for everyone.

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