Wendy’s/Arby’s Group President and CEO Roland Smith grew up fishing and camping in Alaska. The former West Point cadet went on to become a pilot in the U.S. Army and traverse glaciers. An avid motorcyclist, Smith rode and camped his way 3,800 miles through Canada and Alaska.

And to top it all off, in 2008 this fast-food leader climbed most of Mount Everest with his youngest son, Justin. 

After coming back from Everest, Smith addressed the entire Wendy’s franchisee community at a convention. As he tells The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “we had just completed the Wendy’s merger and I wanted to connect with them and explain my plan to revitalize the Wendy’s brand. To do so, I put my plan in terms of mountain climbing.”

Smith has long been applying his climbing analogies to business. As Smith says, “climbing reminds me that we’re able to do so much more than we think, if we are willing to take a little bit of a risk, plan for it and then just do it!” He further explains that if you look at the elements necessary to achieve any goal, planning and preparation are critical. 

According to Smith, there are certain fundamentals necessary to successfully climb a mountain. Smith says you must have a clear goal, focusing first on planning and preparation and then turning your attention to leadership, teamwork, innovation, execution, perseverance and trust.

Smith and his son started training for Everest seriously about a year and a half before their trip. They practiced for the hike over the family pool. As Smith told the AJC, “we went down to Home Depot and bought a bunch of ladders and lashed them together and put them over the pool, because falling off the ladders into the pool wasn’t the worst thing that ever happened — we’d just get wet!”

Smith feels that the extreme challenge of climbing Mt. Everest can be like the challenges faced in today’s business world. He says people are always finding reasons why they can’t accomplish things. As Smith says, “We talk ourselves out of hard things. It’s too hard. I’m too old. I didn’t go to the right school. There are thousands of excuses. Long after you say I’m done and I can’t do any more, you’ve still got plenty more in your tank, which is what you learn on the side of a mountain.”

In the end, climbing a mountain and succeeding in business are accomplished by facing your fears. As Smith told the AJC, “Ever since college, I’ve looked for ways on a regular basis to challenge my own capabilities, to look fear in the face and take a little bit of a risk. Because only people who are willing to take risks are truly free.”

Wendy's CEO Roland Smith tackles Mt. Everest
The fast-food king brings passion for outdoors into the boardroom.