Rory McHugh spent nearly 20 years in investment banking, travelling the world and dealing with senior executives in the boardrooms of corporations. Now, however, he’s decided that he is more comfortable at the top of a mountain.
McHugh left his job as a managing director at Royal Bank of Scotland late last year, and next week will be embarking on a expedition to climb Everest. Even after two decades of brutal investment banking hours, the training has proven tough.
“I’ve recently been training 19 days out of 20,” he says. “This can mean hitting the hills for a six to ten hour walk with a 30 kilo backpack, staying in the City and going running, or – more often than not – running up and down the stairs in my ten-story apartment block in Clapham with a weight vest on.”
McHugh was latterly head of alternative finance, specialist lenders and fintech solutions at RBS, but has now left banking for good. The plan, eventually, may be to start something in the alternative lender and fintech space, he says, but for now he’s focused on one thing – scaling Everest and leaving for Nepal next week.
“I started climbing mountains about ten years ago and I just knew that I wanted to be up a mountain more and more,” he says. “At some point a few years ago, I realised that I had the technical skill I needed to consider a challenge like this.”
Everest is the toughest mountain to climb in the Seven Summits Challenge, which also includes Denali in Alaska and Aconcagua in Argentina both of which he has climbed in preparation. McHugh is trying to raise £50k for Child Rescue Nepal in order to build up to four schools in the remote region of Makwanpur in Nepal, which was devastated in the 2015 earthquake and is also planning to blog throughout the trip on rorymchugh.com.
McHugh admits that mountain climbing is an expensive hobby, and is scaling Everest alongside an ex-equity analyst from BlackRock, a second mate on a US navy supply vessel and another climber who works in the oil industry.
“It’s fair to say that the kit is very specialised and expensive,” he says. “The kit alone for a trip like this easily costs £5-10k. You can spend £500-1,000 on specialist high altitude boots, and £800-1,000 on a down suit. Don’t even think of going up a mountain without these. You want to come back with your fingers and toes!.”
Despite investment bankers’ penchant for ultra-marathons and Ironman events, McHugh says he’s never encountered another mountaineer from the City to have successfully summited Everest. “It’s a classic trip of a life time. Nine weeks, pushing yourself to the limit – what’s not to like? Other people might consider this to be hell, though,” he says.
For the last two years of his investment banking career, McHugh added fintech companies to his list of clients. Considering the red-hot nature of the sector now, it seems like an odd time to hang up his boots.
“A few years ago, people had barely encountered fintech companies, and no on in investment banking really covered the space,” he says. “I put my hand up to add fintech coverage to my existing job, and the excitement around the sector has been infectious.”
The one advantage of working as an investment banker in the fintech sector, however, is that you learn what makes a successful start-up, which could prove useful for McHugh in the future.
“The key to success in fintech is having a combination of a strong management team who have a plan and who know how to execute and also have the right financial backers who support the firms growth trajectory,” he says. “It’s so competitive that you need to be clear on what your value proposition is and what niche you can better serve than anyone else.”
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