Corporate meetings typically start with a yawn -- a slightly tired group shuffles into a tidy, if drab, room. The line forms at the coffee dispenser. Grab a donut.
Things were a little more exciting the first day of Katadyn's annual strategy meeting, which began just south of the Arctic Circle in Kulusuk, Greenland. After landing on a dirt runway in early June, 19 Katadyn employees piled off the plane, expecting to take helicopters to the town of Tasiilaq. But when you mix adventure and business, the itinerary is always subject to change.
"We learned that things in Greenland run on a different time schedule," said Shawn Hostetter, vice president of Katadyn North America. "The helicopters had broken down, and boats hadn't been able to reach the area due to ice. So this guy in the airport says, 'You're not going anywhere today.'"
But four hours later, three adventurous Inuit men arrived, quite unexpectedly, in little boats. They had been the first people that season to make it through the ice, and they were excited to provide passage for the Katadyn crew, which included executives from around the world, as well as members of the marketing and production teams. They piled into the little boats and shoved off into a sea of floating ice. Not a coffee dispenser or gooey donut in site. And no one cared.
"This boat ride was unbelievable," said Hostetter. "These tiny boats going through this immense ice pack. Sometimes, two chunks of ice would be stuck together, and they would put the nose of the boat between them and push them apart."
Hostetter said he and his colleagues rode for hours in near silence, stunned by the beauty of the brilliant world of water and ice. It was a journey Hostetter said he will never forget, but it's not the first adventure he's had during travels for a Katadyn meeting. Each year, the company's executives from the United States and around the world choose an adventurous location for the company's annual strategy session. From June 8-14 this year, the team visited Greenland, but there have also been trips to the French Alps and Singapore. Though these business trips do involve moments of sitting around a table to discuss issues, much time is also devoted to outdoor activities such as mountain biking, hiking, exploring canyons and learning about local cultures.
Hostetter said that there are tangible benefits when company gatherings include adventure travel to intriguing destinations. "When we go to these places, you're inspired, and normally you'd go to these places on a vacation, so it's unique to be inspired together as a company," he said. "It brings a totally different feeling to the team and the way you approach your business."
One common element of each trip has been a certain amount of adversity, which has brought the team together. While mountain biking in the French Alps, the group's guides got lost, and their scheduled downhill ride turned into a challenging day with 80 percent climbing. The more fit and experienced members of the Katadyn team realized it would be best for the weaker and less experienced riders to determine their course based on how comfortable they felt. "We learned that you should never overextend people, and preserving people's safety is the most important thing," he said. The grueling ride and other adventures have also strengthened bonds among the team members.
As you would expect, Katadyn employees also test products during the trips. "As we plan our business, it's important to grow closer together as a team and have an opportunity to discuss our business while we're using our products," said Hostetter.
While in Greenland, the team carried Katadyn bottle filters, which actually proved to be necessary gear. Hostetter said that when he asked a trip host about local water treatment procedures, the host responded, 'Well, there's a pipe that goes up the hill into a lake, and that's where we get our water.' He also pointed to a pipe that ran downhill to the ocean, where all the sewage was deposited. Water treatment was pretty nonexistent, and for foreign visitors, it was an intestinal disaster waiting to happen. "We used our bottle purifiers all the time, and have our water systems on every trip," said Hostetter.
Business meetings in far-flung locations do have their challenges, and you'd think that one of the concerns would be the high price of travel. But Hostetter said the trip costs are not really an obstacle. "When we go to these places, we don't stay in five-star hotels," he said, noting that in Tasiilaq they stayed in the Red House hotel, which is comfortable (with a sauna and Internet service) but not overly fancy. "Plus, the main thing we look at is it's an investment in the company's future and an investment in individuals." When people contemplate leaving the company they realize they're giving up boat rides beneath an Arctic sun for a conference table and fluorescent light.