Adam Cooper, Senior Vice President, Transformation and Shared Services joined Ideagen in late 2022. Adventurer, mountaineer, ex-marine, ex-rugby player – Adam wanted flexibility and a good work-life balance in a job so he could continue pursuing his passions. At Ideagen he found it. Here he talks about joining Ideagen and his recent trip to Antarctica:
Many companies talk about work-life balance and values but they don’t always practice what they preach. The ones that do, stand out. Ideagen is one of those.
I worked in the aerospace industry for 25 years. During that time I’d only really had one big break from work when I left Rolls Royce 15 years ago; I took the opportunity to ski to the North Pole. I’d always had the ambition to explore both poles, with travel and expeditions being huge passions of mine. I’d set-up my own consultancy business which would allow me the flexibility to have time away for expeditions and other travels. I was nine days into a consultancy job with Ideagen when I was asked by Emma Hayes, Chief Finance Officer, if I wanted to join the company on a permanent basis.
“I’d be very interested, but I want the flexibility to…”
“We can be flexible,” said Emma, “what do you want to do? If it’s important to you let’s see if we can work something out.”
So, I explained. I take time away from work each year to climb mountains. I already had something planned that was coming up very soon – taking a month off, three months into a new job might be a stretch.
“That’s fine, do it. It'll be a bit stop-start, but we can manage. Different people want flexibility for different reasons, and this is clearly a big thing for you.”
So Ideagen had taken away any excuses I might have about not working there and I started a couple of months before Christmas. I immersed myself in the role for two months and then it was time for my next expedition.
I had told the CEO, Ben Dorks, my plans and his instant response was: “Name a charity and we’ll give £5,000 to them if you make it.”
Awesome, I thought. A company that genuinely acts according to its values – in Ideagen’s case: ‘Ambition, Adventure and Community’. I chose Nottingham Street Aid to receive the donation. I choose when I want to sleep outside, they support homeless charities for the people who don’t have that choice.
I had the trip to Antarctica planned in early 2022 but the air crew got COVID, scuppering everything. Instead, I climbed Aconcagua in Argentina – and pushed the Antarctica trip back a year. The plan actually rolled two expeditions into one: skiing to the South Pole and climbing Mount Vinson, which at 16,050 feet is the highest mountain in Antarctica, just a little bit higher than Mont Blanc.
I went at Christmas for five weeks.
Antarctica is massive. I don’t think many people realise just how big it is. It’s twice the size of Australia. It's the highest, windiest, coldest and driest continent on the planet. Some of the weather there is pretty hostile.
We skied what’s known as the Last Degree – from 89 degrees to 90 degrees south which is about 130 kilometres (approximately 80 miles). We had a delayed start due to poor weather and then, just a day into it, one of our team got quite badly frostbitten, so they needed to be medevacked out. It’s not just skiing though – you must pull a sled with supplies, food, equipment and stuff which is pretty much the same as your body weight.
You burn a fair few calories each day and have main meals at the beginning and end of the day. Almost everything's pretty much dehydrated so your main focus is melting the snow down because you need about five litres of water each day to cover what you need to drink and for food. So, with three of you in a tent and the snow to water ratio at about ten to one, you need to melt about 150 litres of snow a day. It became a bit of a production line just keeping on top of it!
It took 11 nights and then it was back to Union Glacier Camp where we had to wait for a break in the weather to fly into Vinson Base Camp to do the mountain ascent. Normally that would be 11 days, but we planned to do it in seven and then tried it in four! We really went for it, going light and fast. We got to low camp and transferred everything to rucksacks before going up to high camp. But when we arrived conditions had worsened, and we had to sit it out in storm tents for six nights with only two days’ food supplies.
Of course, I got a bit hungry. But it was more the boredom – no music, no books, no nothing – just listening to 50-mile-an-hour winds for six nights. And then there were the 24 hours of sunlight each day – you can't sleep! And all I had to read was the ingredients list on a dehydrated food packet. I am quite an optimistic, positive person so I always feel it is my role to present that side to the rest of the team. But I thought we could be in trouble. Nobody had climbed Mount Vinson in the seven days previously and the people who manage the flights told us we needed to get off the mountain because the camps, and in fact the whole continent, would soon be closed.
Just before we had to leave, we decided to have a walk up to the start. The weather dropped a little and we pushed on for an hour and the clouds cleared and we had the most glorious summit. It was almost wind free – one of the best summits ever with blue skies. It was absolutely fantastic. We felt like we had probably earned it after the fiasco from last year, the pushback and the delays.
By that point, however, our bodies were not in the greatest condition. Because of the altitude, your body has basically been eating itself, wasting away through muscle atrophy. So taking on an 1100 metre ascent was even more of a challenge, but it was good. It was actually fun.
Lots of businesses talk about core values but Ideagen is a business that actually lives their values: ‘Ambition, Adventure and Community’. They celebrate, encourage and endorse those values among their people.
I’ve been asked a number of times, “Where next, what next?” I’m not sure yet. Certainly getting back into the swing of making a difference at Ideagen is my priority – comfortable, however, in the knowledge that when the time comes Ideagen will support me.