October 17, 2008

Today's four-day I&T Daily coverage of Elite 8 podcasts ends, asymmetrically, with only one of our recorded interviews. We offer you I&T editor Nathan Conz's conversation with Progressive CIO Ray Voelker via podcast, but we share my written profile of CNA's John Golden rather than a podcast.

The profile itself had to be based on written answers to my questions because Mr. Golden was unable to come to the phone for a couple of weeks. His excuse topped any I've heard during my years of persistently knocking on CIO doors: he was climbing a mountain in the Himalayas. Giving new meaning to the term "Executive Summit," Golden is currently training for an attempt to reach the top of Mt. Everest next year both as a personal goal and to benefit wounded veterans.

JCNA CIO John Golden with Himalayan peak Ama Dablam in the background.
CNA CIO John Golden with Himalayan peak Ama Dablam in the background.

The story begins about two years ago, when fabled Seattle based climber Ed Viesturs spoke at a CNA leadership meeting. Perhaps the topic had special resonance for a flatlander in Chicago. For whatever reasons, Viesturs presentation fascinated Golden.

Golden had undergone knee surgery about a year earlier. He was still doing intensive therapy and saw mountain climbing as an exciting next step, but also an opportunity to do something for others.

"In my quest to learn about mountain climbing and [develop the] physical capabilities to reach the top of a mountain, I wanted to find a way to give something back," Golden says. "The procedure on my knee was leading-edge transplant surgery instead of an artifical knee. Working with my doctors, we came up with a charity to raise money with my climbing to provide Veterans with funding to have the same type of surgery when returning from combat."

Golden set a goal to climb Everest in spring of 2009 and developed a plan to study techniques, reach the necessary level of physical fitness and build confidence. As part of the plan, Golden summited several peaks, including Mount Rainier (twice), Mount Hood and Mount Shuksan, in the Pacific Northwest; and the 18,490 foot Pico de Orizaba volcano in Mexico. Golden shared these specifics while on his latest climb: Ama Dablam, in the Himalayas.

Ama Dablam does not rank among the highest mountains of the Himalayas, but at about 22,500 feet of elevation, few peaks outside that range surpass it. It is renowned for both its outstanding beauty and its technical difficulty. Impressively, for one who has been climbing for so short a time, Golden summited Ama Dablam earlier this month. Next spring, he will attempt the world's highest mountain.

We often talk about the courage of executives who boldly innovate, defy conventional wisdom or otherwise face greater risks than they have to in order advance their companies' fortunes (and, yes, their careers). We often resort to colorful metaphors to illuminate that courage, such as saying that a bold executive is doing a "balancing act," perhaps "without a safety net." Well, Golden won't have a safety net on Everest-though, he'll at least have the right mixture of belays, anchors and pickets to mitigate his risks. That requires a kind of courage that goes well beyond any boardroom bravado or careerist daring. Golden's endeavor is further ennobled by his embrace of the risks of Everest in order not only to improve himself, but to help others who have suffered for the selfless risks they took.

I don't know what challenges all of our Elite 8 honorees have lived through, so I won't presume to rank them by their heroism, if such a thing were even possible. One, at least, faced combat as the commander of an infantry rifle company. But we can safely say of John Golden that even among the distinguished company of Elite 8 honorees, he has reached new heights, both metaphorically and literally.CNA's John Golden was unable to come to the phone for a couple of weeks. His excuse topped any I've heard during my years of persistently knocking on CIO doors to secure interviews: he was climbing a mountain in the Himalayas. Giving new meaning to the term "Executive Summit," Golden is currently training for an attempt to reach the top of Mt. Everest next year both as a personal goal and to benefit wounded veterans.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Anthony O'Donnell has covered technology in the insurance industry since 2000, when he joined the editorial staff of Insurance & Technology. As an editor and reporter for I&T and the InformationWeek ...