Monday, January 3, 2011

Deep sinkers. (executives who skin-dive for recreation)(Out-of-Pocket).

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Business writers can tell you how to swim with the land sharks without getting eaten alive, but business strategists who've negotiated great whites, large barracuda, and Mekong River sea snakes say the sharks they face in business are just wimp bait.

"Industry talks a lot about taking risks," says John Ringelberg, manager of outside development for International Paper Company in Mobile, Alabama. "But it's mostly to do with money in business so it's a different phylum of risk. The risks you take in diving are associated with injury, like the deep diving experimentation we did to achieve data."

Since 1957, Ringelberg's climbed in and out of enough wet suits to grow scales. His dives have taken him all over the world - from the Mekong Delta to the Suez Canal. He cleared the salvage of a submarine in Argentina. Rescued whales in Belize. Cut through 14 feet of ice in the Arctic to see crystal clear water. And, for fun, he likes the Cayman Islands.

"I started diving in the Navy and became commanding officer of the Navy experimental diving unit," explains Ringelberg. "We were the organization that did the early work in the '70s to support the seal team mission."

Under Ringelberg, a collection of navy doctors, divers, and engineers started putting men very deep, beyond 1,000 feet. The organization developed and tested all the diving equipment and decompression tables that divers use. "The average dive is less than 100 feet," says Ringelberg, whose Navy divers reached 1,800 feet during his tenure. "Once you get beyond 600 feet, it's cold."

Diving has introduced Ringelberg to Jacques Cousteau; George Bond, the father of saturation diving; and the only combination astronaut/aquanaut to walk this earth, Scott Carpenter. Carpenter and Ringelberg helped found the Institute of Diving Museum and Library in Panama City, Florida. The sport has also made an entrepreneur of him. He currently serves on the board of a company training 1,700 sea urchin divers in Maine. Four divers got killed last year in pursuit of this Japanese delicacy, which has fast become one of the biggest exports from northeast America. Still, Ringelberg considers it a fun business.

"Most successful strategists are risk takers," says Ringelberg, "because you never know how much you're pushing it until you fail."

Harvey Kinzelberg, now president of Sequel Capital Corporation in Deerfield, Illinois, agrees. During his tenure as chairman of the Meridian Group, a $250 million-a-year computer-leasing firm, the nation's third largest, he started a program he dubbed "Downward Bound."

"I wanted to have control of the planning format and environment for our business meetings," recalls Kinzelberg, who chartered a boat in the Caribbean, put his top executives on board, and led them in a five-day brainstorming expedition, complete with tanks, masks, and fins. "This intense type of planning session teaches them to rely on each other," continues the deep-diving CEO. "We'd switch buddies constantly, so you realize, in this underwater, life-threatening environment, you depend on each other for your life as well as your livelihood in business."

Sometimes as often as three times a day, the team broke from strategizing to strap on Serf-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus (SCUBA). All were certified divers, but none suspected the supreme test, which required completely trusting and relying on the chief. "What I did to promote this," says Kinzelberg, "was give each of my manager's underwater flashlights for the night dive. First of all, they enjoyed it, but most of all, it taught them to stretch their abilities in any environment and become comfortable with stretching themselves."

Kinzelberg is not new to deep dives or dark places. The one that he most often recalls took place on the edge of Truk Lagoon in Micronesia. "We dove down about 185 feet into a small, dark room and took photos of skulls of Japanese sailors. The room had three feet of silt on the bottom, and it was pitch black. I could not sense up or down. I lost total orientation. Plus, I only had three minutes to take pictures and come out before decompression mode."

The 60 ships sunk during World War II about 750 miles southeast of Guam form one of the world's most renown dive locations. "You see 50 years of crusted coral growth, fabulous fishes, sake bottles, machine guns, ammunition and even 18-inch gun shells, the largest gun shells every made," Kinzelberg says.

Other favorite dive locations for this strategist is the North Horn of Osprey, a reef in Australia. "You see fabulous swarms of sharks here, and they are very curious, which is not at all typical. Most reef sharks are timid and stay away, but these swim right by you."

Kinzelberg's office boasts a total of 80 underwater color shots. "When the pressure gets to me, it makes a nice change of pace. I can mentally phase out and think about being underwater again."

Jim Zumwalt, executive vice president of Rowe & Newberry, a St. Petersburg, Florida-based construction company, has taken diving one step farther: he became a competitive diver and began entering spear-fishing competitions. Along with his partner, Dean Young, a cartoonist who took over the Blondie cartoon strip from his dad in 1963, Zumwalt has topped the state championship list for 10 years and competed nationally as well. Spear fishing is free-diving - without tanks - in up to 120 feet of water. "We only spear the fish we can eat, like grouper and snapper here in Florida," says Young.

But Zumwalt and Young do more than plan their business schedules and strategies to win a few trophies; they carefully plan their dives, their practices and their workouts, and make sure they've carefully cased the diving location weeks before the scheduled competition. "Over the years, Dean and I would practice free diving together several times a month," explains Zumwalt. "The more you do it, the deeper you dive and the longer you're able to hold your breath."

For Zumwalt, diving is exhilarating. "I love the coral formations, the schools of fish, the way the fish react and the different formations of the different areas. In some locations there are rock piles, in others, reefs or ledges - each has its own character."

Zumwalt believes diving is good for team building, which is one reason he dives competitively with his sons. "You must help one another. In free diving, there is always a chance of blacking out in shallow water from holding your breath. That's why the buddy system is so important."

Zumwalt should know. He put the buddy system test to the max during a harrowing off-shore experience, "We were diving about 50 miles out when a violent electric storm come up. The waves were about 120 feet high. The boat was gone. My buddy and I couldn't hear or see each other," he recalls.

Convinced the two were going to spend the night floating in the sea, waiting to be rescued, Zumwalt was relieved when the storm broke after two hours. "Risk taking is part of diving, part of business, part of life. You have to be aware of everything and prepared for anything."

Rebecca J. Johnson is a freelance writer in Tampa, Florida.

Source Citation
Johnson, Rebecca J. "Deep sinkers." Journal of Business Strategy 16.3 (1995): 62+. General OneFile. Web. 3 Jan. 2011.
Document URL

Gale Document Number:A17158958

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