On 3rd February, a brave team of trekkers embarked on their journey to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro to raise money for the Electrical Industries Charity. Leading the team was the charity’s managing director, Tessa Ogle, who spoke to ECN’s Russell Drury during the preparations for this epic challenge.
Tessa Ogle is in esteemed company. We haven’t done too many personal profiles in ECN over the years – it was about four years ago that I sat down with the greatest living explorer, Sir Ranulph Fiennes, to quiz him on his latest exploits. Now Tessa is leading her own brave group of adventurers to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro. Was she ready?
“I did Everest in August so that was my big training exercise,’ says Tessa. ‘It was 14 days of solid trekking and I got to the 8,000m mark, which is really high. That’s probably the hardest thing I’ve done so far but I hear Kilimanjaro sometimes can be harder.”
The aim of the trek is to help the Electrical Industries Charity (EIC) raise £100,000 to support the Hendrie family and help rebuild their lives. Christopher Hendrie, aged 32, was a well respected electrician, a loving husband and a father of two. On 25th August 2014 Christopher and his wife Gillian found out that they were expecting their third child, but their happiness was short lived as Christopher was diagnosed with an extremely rare form of cancer shortly after. Nine weeks later, after having intensive radiation and chemotherapy treatments, Christopher sadly passed away on 31st October 2014, with his wife by his side and without seeing the birth of his third child. Christopher was not eligible for life insurance due to an existing genetic auto-immune disease, and his family has been left with nowhere to turn.
Tessa explains: “Because there are so many sad stories, there’s so much need to promote and be at events all the time. But there’s this element of how to balance all of that with your own sanity, and the aim of the climb is to do some pretty intense physical activity and continue that as a means to exploring the world.”
Tessa continued her training over Christmas, which she spent in Beunos Aires, before undertaking a six day hike through Patagonia. “That’s been on my bucket list for quite some time.”
Originally from Australia, Tessa became managing director of the EIC in July 2015. She had been working for multi-national engineering firm Parsons Brinkerhoff, starting in 2005 as a market analyst and working her way up to the position of national general manager, before taking redundancy in March 2015 with grand plans to travel around Europe for a couple of years. Before she could get settled on the beach a friend recommended the EIC job, suggesting it was the perfect job for her.
Expanding on her friend’s insight, Tessa comments: “I had done a programme management role for Habitat for Humanity, building houses in Cambodia, and I got a feel for what I thought was missing in the charity sector, that commercial nous and strong project management background. I thought, rather than complaining about it, why don’t I invest, midway through my career, some time in the charity sector? So that’s what I’m doing.”
Tessa was back to work within a couple of months, but in a very different role to what she had done before. How has she found the change?
“I’ve looked at it like a business, rather than a charity. The HR issues are exactly the same as what you would have in a normal business. You’ve got legal issues, insurance issues, everything you would have running a project, whilst running a charity, and the rules are pretty similar in most countries. From a practical perspective it’s exactly the same skill sets you would use, but you have more of a human interest side.”
Working for a charity, though, must bring with it a different type of pressure, because of what’s at stake?
“I used to attend events in the commercial sector and I used to enjoy them. Now I find them stressful because it’s all about making sure the charity generates funds through these events, and so you feel this enormous amount of pressure because it actually affects someone’s life. That’s the difference, knowing that if you don’t reach a certain amount, you’re not going to be able to help someone.”
Tessa has witnessed many cases personally through the charity to really bring to attention the people it strives to help.
“One of the most prominent cases that really struck a chord with me was Billy, a young apprentice who was diagnosed with bone cancer and had to get his leg amputated at the hip. Under the NHS system he’s not viable for a prosthetic, just a wheelchair – that’s it. That would mean he wouldn’t be able to finish his apprenticeship. So we fundraised about £85,000 for that case. He walked for the first time about 10 months ago – and that’s because of the industry. They are the stories that I look at and go, ‘wow, what an amazing sector!’, to have a charity that can do that for people.”
It is certainly a very different career path to the one Tessa set out on, as she surprisingly reveals: “From the age of about three I wanted to be a dentist. I studied dentistry at university and absolutely hated it. I just realised it was not a creative profession for me.”
However, it did lead to a chance encounter resulting in her change of direction.
“I ended up meeting my first boss at the dental practice I was working at.
He was working on a big mining project and I was picking his brains about the resource allocations on some of these new mining projects. He said, ‘I’ve never met anyone like you – do you want a job?’ And that’s how I ended up working for Parsons Brinkerhoff.”
Life in the UK
While many Brits emigrate to the warmer climes of Australia, with visions of barbecues on the beach and surfing after work, I wonder how Tessa is finding life having made the move in the opposite direction. It’s safe to say she is captivated by life in Britain.
“You have so many options here. I don’t think people realise how much beauty and history they have at their fingertips. I can look at a pub here and it’s older than most of Australia.”
Many of Tessa’s weekends therefore consist of absorbing as much of our culture as she can.
“I’ve listed all of the museums and arts shows that I want to go to. I like the idea of being an explorer. I like to learn about areas – there’s just so many beautiful places around here.
“Because I get to go away for so many events I try to make a weekend of it and explore different locations. I was in Exeter recently for an ECA function so I decided to explore Exeter and then went to Bath before returning to London, so I’m trying to explore as much of the UK as possible. I just love the old style building designs.”
We hope that the memories of Britain’s beauty, combined with the emotional story behind the Kilimanjaro expedition, will inspire Tessa and her team to reach the summit and return safely.
Tessa concludes: “It’s the first fundraising for a cause that the charity has ever done and that was a big push for me, to show people the cases, to get involved with them and develop that emotional connection to our industry, and you only get that by telling the story.”