The protagonist of one of the most extraordinary, extreme and alarming tragedies in recent history, and despite being told a thousand and one times, his rough story trembles after 33 years that has occupied pages of newspapers, books and the internet and is the subject of a Hollywood movie –50 in 2022– since those events happened.
Fernando Parrado was born 54 years ago in Uruguay, but came back to life at the age of 21, in the middle of the Andes, on the Argentina-Chile border. There, a Uruguayan Air Force plane crashed while the rugby team Old Christians of Montevideo were traveling to play a match in Santiago de Chile. His mother and younger sister also accompanied him on that flight. Days later, he would bury their bodies in the ice of a glacier with his bare hands.
As is popularly known, ‘Nando’s new life began on October 13, 1972, the day his plane crashed at 4,500 meters above sea level in the Valley of Tears, an unavoidable landscape of snow and stones. The range has today been transformed into a place of pilgrimage for tourists and spectators.
Five crew members and 40 passengers were traveling on the plane: 13 died in the crash and 16 more died in a row, victims of injuries and the extreme conditions they were exposed to in temperatures below 40 degrees below zero. The 16 survivors of the disaster managed to save their lives after 72 desperate days and nights in isolation between the peaks. On the ninth day of unsuccessful waiting, those who were still alive, consuming the food they found among the remains of the trunk and trunk, made a decision to save their lives, and it shocked the whole world to learn that and did not stop. shake: eating meat from the corpses of deceased friends. A day later, they learned from the radio received from the plane that the rescue operation had been unsuccessfully stopped.
After 62 days at the edge of human capabilities, ‘Nando’ Parrado and teammate Roberto Canessa took the initiative to leave the hull’s hideout and seek a way out of their nightmare. Their aid-seeking journey took ten days, and they had to travel the 80 kilometers that separated them from civilization. Its only source: the remains of those who could not stand it. His desperate act saved the lives of 14 people waiting in the Valley of Tears.
‘Nando’ Parrado, who holds a degree in Public Accounting and Economics, is a businessman today busy managing four of his companies and traveling the world teaching entrepreneurs his experience in universities and private forums so that they know how to make the right decisions in situations of uncertainty. Tomorrow, Friday, he will talk about his vision for the rich life and business at Casa del Cordón as part of the Entrepreneurs Meetings organized by the FAE and Caja de Burgos. A few days before this appointment, I received a call from Diario de Burgos to his office in Montevideo.
Let me tell you that his story is universal, deeply human, and serves both managers and workers.
Exactly the same. The conditions for getting ahead from any position are theoretically the same for everyone.
What economic lessons can be drawn from the 72 days lost in the Andes?
My story is about excelling in teamwork, leadership, handling moments of crisis, facing change and making decisions… We were only twenty and we didn’t We had no experience before. . Universities and companies are now asking us to explain how, at such a young age, we have succeeded in the most important company, life. The business world is changing, looking for more emotional managers when making decisions.
Your business’s daily problems will now be the smallest…
Many things that are seemingly important in theory need to be unraveled. Reality shows you that everything works differently. You should make quick decisions and not be afraid of making mistakes. There is a fear of making decisions in companies, but if we do not make mistakes, we do nothing…
Can many managers pass the test you stand and organize to survive?
There are many business leaders who have been trained in a very technical way and by many rules, and when they have to break them they don’t dare. When it comes to survival, you have to break the rules. This analysis paralysis works against the company. In the Andes, we had to make instant decisions about many things just for the sake of living or dying. Nowadays, a businessman, framed by absolute rules, is not the most suitable person to survive in extreme situations.
We’ve never been better people than in a place where there’s no politics, no money, no struggle for advancement.”
What is the most important and decisive human quality in the face of extreme difficulties?
Compassion is above hardness and courage. A leader must be compassionate, understanding, and helpful.
Is a compassionate entrepreneur competitive?
I try to give my hundred percent, put all the cards on the table, the best I’ve ever had, and with no lies, and demand the same from those who work with me. I am the manager of four companies and I demand from my employees because they know that I give them the best. I learned above that the most important job is not to make money but to make a living, and we can only achieve this if each of us does our best. We have never been better men from a place where there is no politics, no money, no struggle for promotion. We had to fight for life, and we did it with compassion, giving the best of each of us and without resorting to coercive measures.
His experience also shows success in the toughest decisions, such as eating the deceased’s remains.
You have to take the best from the worst. We should take advantage of bad conditions and cheer up, break taboos, break the rules… We would die if we didn’t… A company must also go off the rails to survive.
Can you sense how a person might react to extreme situations?
In moments of limit, everyone discovers himself. There are people who believe they have a finite moment, and it’s just a step, a step, or a temporary process, a piece of a puzzle… In a truly finite situation, good decisions and leaders are seen.
Have you seen your theories applied in the real life of companies?
Increasingly. I apply this to mine because I want to be a good businessman and a good director. With honesty, love and understanding… And they work. Many universities around the world call me to listen to my ideas and apply them to the business world. In the United States, there are managers who have had very difficult experiences, especially in the military, and their decision-making is very different from that of a technician trained in a business school.
Compassion is the most important human quality above toughness and courage. A leader must be compassionate”
Is what you experienced in 1972 an indelible stain on you or does it give you another perspective on life?
It is very difficult to understand the impact of this tragedy. Maybe those around me know what changed me and how I am. I have never looked back, always forward and I can assure you that I have never had a problem in my life since then. I am always grateful to be alive.
Do you believe in destiny? in God?
I think there are things that happen even if they are not written. Just choosing the seat on that plane determined who would live and who would die, it defined my life. The plane split in two and all those in the back died. Why did they choose those seats and not us? Is it fate or luck? I can not say.
He didn’t ask himself: why me and the others?
No. I’m moving forward, I don’t ask why many things: They have no answers and things get complicated when you try to find them.
Accident, as you say, allowed him to achieve perfection at a young age. Have you managed to maintain this level of demand over the years?
I have a great family life. I have been married for 26 years and have two daughters. My work life is fueled by much of what I learned in the Andes. That experience was so strong and the level of excellence was so perfect that I try to do the same in my companies, but I couldn’t reach that one hundred percent level.
* This interview was published in the print edition of Diario de Burgos, 17 November 2005.
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