A man in the air with his hands up.

25,000 Feet Of Risk

Smart, innovative companies take risk and grow their business. Risk increases profits and shareholder value. But risk taking needs to be well thought through and managed. If not, taking the wrong risk can take down a company. More importantly, companies need to understand the risks that their organizations are facing even if they tend to be risk averse.

McKinsey study that looked at company risk determined that 36% of companies’ directors polled, didn’t understand the major risks facing their organization. An additional 24% didn’t believe they had good processes in place to manage this risk. And 19% of the surveyed directors said their company had no processes in place that could manage risk.

Some companies won’t let their senior executives engage in risky activities such as skiing, hang-gliding, bungee jumping or traveling to countries with high violence. Skydiving? Well you can forget about that all together.

On Saturday I watched in total fascination as 42-year old Luke Aikins jump out of a plane at 25,000 wearing nothing but his skydiving suit and a helmet. What I’m saying is that he jumped without a parachute!

What kind of an idiot would risk his life and the wellbeing of his wife and 4-year old son to achieve such a ludicrous feat? Well, as it turns out, Luke’s jump has been years in the making and I guess you could call it a well-calculated risk.

Luke is the owner of the company Skydive Kapowsin located near Tacoma, WA. His grandfather founded the company after WWII and Luke has been skydiving since the age of 12. Get this, he has jumped 18,000 times!

Saturday’s jump, named “Heaven Sent†was broadcast live in a one-hour Fox News special. You’ve got to see the video to believe it. Luke has been focused on this jump for the past two years. You can say that a lot of thought and effort went into reducing all possible risks of this jump.

A huge 10,000 square foot net (about 1/3 the size of a football field) was set up at Big Sky Ranch in the Simi Valley, California. Would a projectile falling at a rate of 150 miles per hour from a distance of 25,000 feet be able to calculate the wind correctly and “hit†the target?

Three parachute bearing friends jumped out of the plane with Aikins to film the event and take his oxygen tank when they reached an altitude of 18,000 feet. At 2,500 feet the three pulled their chutes and Aikins was on his own. I could feel my body tensing up as I watched the last seconds of the fall, wondering if this was really going to turn out ok. Seconds before reaching the net, Aikins turned on his back and was swallowed up by a massive white sheet. Even though he seemed life-less in the net, his team cheered for joy. They knew that he was fine even before the spectators saw him walk out of the net once it was lowered to the ground.

After learning more about Luke Aikins, his experience in sky diving, his company and the years of preparation that went into this outrageous undertaking, I realized that, yes, there was risk involved, lots of it. But it was well-calculated risk and the chances of something going wrong were slim.

Chances are that the risk that Aikins took will lead to a big payoff for the “Luke Aikins†brand and his sky diving company Kapowsin. But I doubt that’s why he did it. It was probably all about his passion for sky diving and reaching a dream.

Oh, I forgot to mention: Luke’s wife, Monica, has 2,000 jumps under her belt. When do you think 4-year old Logan will make his first jump?