IN 2004, JEFF BUNKER became the first executive at San Diego-based multifamily development firm Wermers Cos. not to have the Wermers last name. As part of a succession strategy to broaden and enhance the company's leadership profile, Bunker was named president and immediately tasked with building a new corporate team structure. "I'm working with people that were previously my peers as other divisional and senior vice presidents, and in one case, there is someone who now works for me that was my boss along the way," Bunker recalls. "As you can imagine, there were challenges in getting to know each other in these new roles."
Bunker's solution to those challenges? Put his entire team on top of California's Mt. Whitney, a craggy peak in the Sierra Nevada mountain range that, at 14,505 feet, is the highest summit in the lower 48 states. "We took people from the accounting department, the CFO, a couple of senior VPs, and an up-and-coming project manager," Bunker says. "It was a group of people of different ages and different fitness levels, and the odds were that not everyone was going to make it based on their physical stature, conditioning, and, quite frankly, motivation levels."
With some mental short roping and friendly cajoling, the entire Wermers team made it to the summit. "It was amazing to me," Bunker says. "There are so many business metaphors that we draw from it: the preparation to get up there, the risk management, the adaptability of the team. But the power of the team was the deciding factor. When you are by yourself, you have to dig a lot deeper than when you have people helping to pull you forward."
Bunker should know. The team-building exercise was one of two successful trips (out of six attempts) to Whitney's summit, including a solo effort in September that ended short due to snow showers. "We've got a great group —a lot of longevity [and] still a big family culture," says Bunker, who's now hooked on corporate mountaineering. "You might get a little frostbite, but it's the best trip ever."