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Yoram Kraus: How did mountain climbing make me a better manager

Yoram Kraus is the founder, and CEO of SMS project management company. Today he is managing dozens of projects a year in Israel and abroad. with all his business activity, Kraus manages to find time for mountain climbing, an exciting challenging, and extremely dangerous hobby

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In this article, Kraus is sharing the correspondence and he discovered between mountain climbing, real estate, and Hi-Tech project initiation and management - the values and principles that made him a better manager and got him to the highest mountain peaks.

 

Yoram Kraus (52), is the founder and CEO of SMS, a project management co. that specializes in project development and management in the construction field. Apart from that, he is an entrepreneur that is behind a few unicorn companies. Kraus is a husband, father of three children, and a mountain climber for over 17 years. He climbed mountain peaks around the world and is an extreme sports enthusiast.

 

The mountain disciplines you

"Mountain climbing is one of the most extreme and dangerous sports, and it requires simultaneous use of multiple skills. Many of the characteristics and values essential for establishing and managing an engineering project or a Hi-Tech company are equivalent to the climbing world. Not everyone shares those qualities, therefor climbing is for leaders and conquers. the still mountain that has not moved for billions of years discipline, evolve, and inculcates you. I am a child of holocaust survivors, and my parent's education was based on the foundations of determination, persistence, curiousness, leadership, exploration, and creation. My parents instilled me with the importance of the constant attempt to make the world a better place, exploring and wondering, setting goals, and achieving them. those are the values that got me into the business world and the mountain climbing world. And in both worlds, there are endless lessons and challenges."

 

"Mountain climbing teaches you to aspire for triumphant, taking the lead and conquer. The mountain is relentless as life. Climbing helps us comprehend the value of life and teaches us about muddling through. While you climb the mountain, you experience difficulties and enjoyments and also acquiring knowledge, but the main goal is summiting the peak. You learn to manage and achieve your goals. these principles apply also to my management methods and personal life. business triumphant depends on how you manage and achieve the goals you set for yourself, without being intimidated by the difficulties that may appear."

 

"While climbing a mountain, not only do you get to see amazing views, but you also gain a different perspective of life and realize how the world is perceived to the entire mankind. You get a sense of the vastness of nature and how small we are. From my point of view, our role in this world is to create amazing things, and keep trying to change, create new values and aspire for constant innovation."

 

"We live in a world of constant change and we must accommodate ourselves to these changes. Without our ability to adapt we would become stagnate and won't be able to understand the change that is going on around us and fail. Climbing teaches you how to adapt to a constantly changing reality given that complications constantly appear. the situation is always changing, and you need to adjust yourself and always be prepared for the danger and death that is lurking at the edge of the mountain. The same rule applies to the business world, if you won't anticipate the upcoming changes, or adjust yourself to the circumstances, you will fail. Mountain climbing and extreme sports teach you creative thinking and acquire the ability to manage and adjust to every situation. You learn how to address the situation with determination, persistence, and creativity in order to solve the problem and make headway."

 

Two decades ago, Yoram Kraus founded the SMS company that went on to become one of the leading companies in the field of managing and monitoring complex engineering projects. the company specializes in planning, monitoring, and executing projects in Israel and abroad. they work for some of the top companies and organizations from both private and business sectors such as Google, SAP, Bezeq, Mellanox, SENTINEL act. In time Kraus became one of the best in his field and he ensures to integrate his mountain climbing guidelines into his management system.

 

"managing an engineering project is a creational experience. You take an old structure or buy an empty lot and changing the skyline, making something out of thin air. It is a feeling of creation, it's a real art. You add great value to the tenants and the passerby. It is mind-altering. We built hundreds of residential projects and offices on a scale of tens of thousands of square meters in Tel Aviv for some of the most successful companies in the world. We create something you can touch and feel, and that creation is changing people's perspective. There are only a few professions that can influence people so dramatically. You initiate and manage professionals and systems throughout the building process until people are living or working inside something you built. It's very exciting to build something that you directed and planned and executed. The same goes for establishing and initiating Hi-Tec companies, my idea is based on a vision and I create a product that later affects billion of people around the world."

 

The way to the top is never clear and is always dangerous

"When climbing a mountain, you're walking in an unknown path. I know the route I prepared for but there are always other risks and unexpected events. While understanding that nature is mightier than me, I keep climbing to conquer the mountain. on your way to the peak and back, you must cope with constant changes, despite that, you keep climbing. I climbed several times to the same peak and each time was a completely different experience and felt like the first time. On the first attempt we encountered a storm, the next time there was a rockslide, and every time I embarked on the journey with a different team. You must know how to withstand, adapt, and be creative as a part of dealing with these changes. I learned the importance of teamwork and that you must learn to trust your team because without it you will probably get injured or die. I learned how to lead my team to the peak, when to push them or let go, how to bring the best out of every teammate and how to unify them. it reflects mostly on the higher peaks such as McKinley mountain in Alaska or the Matterhorn in Europe same as other peaks that reach up to 7,000 meters and are considered the most dangerous in mountaineering. In those situations, you understand that people follow and trust you and it is essential that you trust them back so that you will survive and make it to the peak. mountain climbing and management are based on the balance between leadership, creating sherd values, addressing the obstacles along the way, and knowing how to overcome, that is what makes us true leaders."

 

"As a manager and a mountain climber, I quickly learned the importance of my ability to gather people how to know how to work in a synchronized manner and form them a sherd narrative. It doesn’t matter how smart you are, if you don’t know how to lead, gather good people, delegate authorities, impart values and teach people how to work together, you won't be able to accomplish your goal. It is highly important to show the people around you that they can exceed their expectations, and work as a unit. remind them that we all share the same goal. Building a shared narrative provides an unstoppable force. Without these components, you will not succeed. One of the most important things while climbing is the person beside you and it goes the same for the business world."

 

"The choice of risking your life to climb a mountain for the purpose of conquering it is a free will choice that builds and shapes your character. After you comprehend that, you know that the obstacles on the way may be hard, but they will lead you to your goal of conquering the peak of the mountain."

"After a few days or weeks of climbing, when you come back to your country and your workplace you start to understand the tremendousness of the experience and you take these values on to your management approach. You learn how to be a better manager, how to lead the company and the managers, how to handle complex situations, adapt, be creative, and mostly how to conduct better. You understand that down here, at sea level, everything is fixable. every problem has a solution, you just have to learn to look at things from a different perspective. mountain climbing teaches you very well how to do that."

 

Yoram Kraus is a mountain climber for almost 20 years and has climbed the Mont Blanc, Matterhorn, Mount McKinley peak in Alaska, Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa, Aconcagua in Argentina, Mount Elbrus (the highest mountain in Europe), the Himalayas, and many others. the major goal is to finish the 7 summits track that includes among others the Everest peak, which he plans to climb in the near future. This track is considered the "matriculation track" for mountaineers around the world and it includes mountain peaks from all 7 continents. in the beginning, after summiting the Kilimanjaro, Yoram Kraus started applying the principles he learned during climbing, as a significant part of SMS work mythology. At the peak of every climbing journey, he makes sure to hoist the company's and the Israeli flag on each the snowy peak he summits.

"down here at sea level, everything is fixable" "down here at sea level, everything is fixable"

 

physical and mental struggles that increase as you climb

"climbing a mountain can take a few days, weeks, or even longer. you carry heavy equipment that can weigh up to 50 kg (25 kg on your back and 25 kg with a sleigh) You sleep in a tent by yourself at 4,000 meters altitude, the air is thin, your pulse rate is 120 at rest (instead of 50 at normal conditions), you suffer from severe physical and mental stress, the Oxygen percentage keeps dropping as you climb up, and the stress is increasing.

 

At 3,500 meters of altitude, there is a risk of getting altitude sickness that may cause Pulmonary and Cerebral edema. Unfortunately, I have seen and dealt with these cases and sometimes I had to make hard decisions. When you're up there it is a true survival war that you chose to experience. That is where your character and values are manifested. In other words, if you are not a true vanquisher it would be extremely difficult for you to keep climbing and summiting the peak."

 

The way to the peak is filled with valleys

"When you climb a mountain, you climb up and down all day long. You climb to the camp and then go back down to carry your equipment up to the camp, and it's the same with every path you take in the business world. You learn how to manage a company and the risks along the way. you are aware of the difficulties you will have to contract with and the small victories on the way up. You are climbing up and going down until you get to the peak, to success. You know that even thou failed today, you will succeed tomorrow or the next time. Mountain climbing provided me with a better understanding of how important it is to never quit on the way to success. Otherwise, as soon as the first obstacle appears I will back down and will not summit the peak.

 

"It is important to talk about the difference between failure and success. If you tried but did not make it, is it considered a failure? Or is it an integral part of the learning experience? A lesson in long term view will get you to higher places/ success. As a manager, I can say that all obstacles improved me and got me to a better place. In my opinion, a certain failure is a part of the learning curve and that makes you better at tackling situations, you learn how to do things better. You understand that difficulties are a part of success. success is built on the difficulties that help you understand at the end of the process that you succeeded. Some managers are afraid of taking action because they are too scared to fail and struggle on their way. They are afraid of what people might say and be judged by society. In my opinion, to climb a mountain you must acknowledge that you may fail, you must have the desire to lead, to conquer new destinations. you must accept the fact that there will be struggles along the way and face them. You must be prepared to be tested time after time until you summit and learn how to climb the next peak. Mountain climbing teaches you to face your fears, manage fame, and how to conduct yourself. You learn how to control your ego, develop a logical perception of life, and gain tools that help you put things in the right perspective. mountain climbing gives you tools that guide you through life."

 

The goal is not only reaching the destination but doing it properly

"When we climbed the Mont Blanc, about 200 meters before we got to the peak we caught in a heavy storm and the temperature dropped to 24 degrees below zero. we reached a narrow path with an abyss from both sides and had to decide whether to keep climbing and risk our lives or to give up and try again at another time. finally, we decided to go back and less than two months later we climbed it again and reached its peak. on the second try, we climbed to the peak with nice weather and astounding visibility. We had time to look at the horizon and understand that this successful climb is a result of an entire process and thanks to it we gained that unforgettable feeling of accomplishment and a chance to see amazing views."

 

"I climbed the Aconcagua mountain in Argentina twice. on the first try, we got close to the peak and then my climbing partner got sick. at this altitude, any illness can deteriorate quickly and can even be deadly. We had to decide whether to keep climbing or evacuate with a helicopter. Planning this trip took us two months, the climb took another two weeks and we got very close to the peak. Once again, we decided to go back down. A year later we climbed that mountain and reached its peak."

 

"You learn to deal with the unexpected, adapt to extreme situations, and improvise temporary and constant solutions. You absorb experiences and learn from them. As I said, the mountain teaches you to be a better man and manager. Some CEOs develop fixation, they are scared of initiating because they don’t want to fail, scared of losing public affection. They don’t look at success and failure as situations you can handle and often, they prefer to take the easy way for success rather than make a real change and create vales. When I climb a mountain, I am constantly facing death and endure extreme physical and mental stress, in those situations my values and skills as a manager and a leader give me an advantage. they guide me to walk the right path to the peak and return home safely with my team. The peak is only a part of the journey. These experiences sharpen my skills as a climber and help me to manage business challenges in a much better way."

 

Climbing to the McKinley peak Climbing to the McKinley peak

 

Learning from the experience, going through a process, and enjoying it

"One of my hobbies is also running marathons, I participate in a few marathons a year. Every morning I go out for a run, regardless of the weather, even in the middle of the winter, when it is raining or hailing. it develops physical and mental endurance. going out of our comfort zone increases creativity and helps deal with variable situations. In climbing as well as running, the physical and mental challenges are an integral part of sports. mental endurance determines if you will get to the finish line. when climbing, you sleep inside a sleeping bag at a temperature of 26 degrees Celsius, at dawn, you need to get out to a freezing -24 degrees outside, it is an extremely hard transition that your body makes every morning, but when the goal stands before you and you can change your thinking process and fixate on the goal, you can deal with any struggle that may appear."

 

"People ask me if I enjoy mountain climbing and the answer is that while I climb, I enjoy specific places and moments. Usually, I do not realize the magnitude of the experience, even when we get to the peak of the mountain. The realization comes at the end of the process, only after you summit. It is almost like a mystical experience. The values on which I grew up and gained through the climb leads me to my destination. The same goes for managing a massive engineering project. while executing a project, during the process you can't always see its end of it. You are focusing on managing people, budgets, crisis, and only at the end of the project, you realize its immensity."

 

"The time it takes to run a marathon is irrelevant, the process and reaching your destination the way you wanted is what matters most. Accomplish your goal, learn from the experience, enjoy and finish as a winner. These values guide me through life and assist me in establishing companies, initiate, and build projects that can change the world."

 

The importance of research and advanced planning

"A very important part of project management and mountain climbing planning your course properly. Before every climb, I put in a lot of time and effort into planning, much like navigating in the army. While I served as an army officer in an operational unit, I learned through navigating about the importance of planning ahead for coping with all scenarios. You must consider the road safety level, the base camps, challenges, and alternative solutions for every situation. You need to pack your equipment in precision because at 4,000 meters altitude, where the air is thin, and fear starts creeping in, unexpected challenges will appear. If you don't prepper your climbing gear ahead (clothing and the necessary amount of food) you won't make it to the peak. The same rule applies to project management, proper planning of your work process assures better execution so You can meet your budget and deadline.

 

I don’t mind dedicating an extra month or two for planning, because that’s how can guarantee faster and less expensive execution." 

 

"Establishing a Hi-Tec company starts with a vision, then you plan the next steps and go along with the process. that is how you create amazing things. Sometimes you need to put a lot of time into research. Entrepreneurs don’t always understand that the research department is the most valuable part of the organization. during the research phase, It is difficult to see the end result. you encounter difficulties as the people around you don’t always capture the essence of your vision and expect immediate results. but conducting proper research (which can take years) is a solid ground for a high-quality product. A great product is a result of careful planning, research, and proper execution. Those are the fundamentals of creating a product that will change the world."

 

Thinking skills, execution, and interpersonal skills

Yoram Kraus refers to three managing skills equivalents to climbing.

 

Thinking skills: your ability to learn, absorb information, and process it. your ability to think creatively, envision, and plan your steps for achieving the goal.

Execution skills: "am I systematic? When I come across a problem, can I reevaluate the situation and change my course of action? Can I adapt to changes? Can I lead a team to its destination on the right track? These are important questions you must ask yourself as a manager and a mountain climber.

 

interpersonal skills:

That is your ability to maintain mutual respect within the team and earn their appreciation, especially in tough times. There are always crises while working as a team, it happens in climbing as well. Therefore It is essential to create an understanding and accepting environment within the team.

 

to sum up, those three skills are established on the values I mentioned throughout this article: determination, persistence, adaptation, and constant creativity."

 

Determination and persistence

"I always wear an engraved silver bracelet around my right-hand wrist with the values that guide me as a manager, climber, entrepreneur, and a family man:

Determination and persistence

Honor between the braves

Those how dare, win

 

"I always try to remind myself and those around me at the office, at home, or on the mountain: 'be brave! Dare to try'. even though success is not always guaranteed, people will follow you as long as you'll know how to lead them and create a sherd narrative."

 

"The most important conditions for success are: setting a clear goal, make sure your colleagues know where they are headed, they must be as brave as you, knowing how to address potential obstacles and strive for triumphant."

 

"take time to plan your strategy, gather a group of decent and trustworthy people, know how to lead them, learn from your experiences, and remember that every problem has a solution. In business, it’s a matter of success and struggles through the process, and in mountain climbing it's a matter of life and death, applying those principles would allow you to conquer your mountain.".