The Profile: Alabama's only billionaire & the CEO driving for Uber
This edition of The Profile features Emma Tucker, Jimmy Rane, Dara Khosrowshahi, and more.
Good morning, friends!
When I travel to new places, I always look at the tourists and wonder about their reasons for being there. Sometimes, it’s simple — a bachelorette party, a friend’s birthday, a retreat. And other times, it’s much more nebulous. It’s self-discovery. An attempt to escape reality. A search for something that’s missing.
Three years ago, I went skiing in Lake Tahoe with some really good friends. (They skied ... I, on the other hand, ended up scared out of my mind at the top of a mountain frantically trying to figure out how I would get down because my two-hour lesson didn’t sufficiently prepare me for this course.) I saw people flying down the slopes, and I couldn’t help but think, “Why on God’s green earth would humans travel so far to voluntarily throw themselves off mountains?”
All of that was put into serious perspective after I read a must-read profile titled, Love and Lhotse. I understood that sometimes people do things for reasons nearly impossible to articulate.
For Hilaree Nelson and Jim Morrison, for example, skiing wasn’t a choice. It was the only option. In 2018, they made history after completing the first ski descent of the 27,940-foot Lhotse, the fourth-highest mountain in the world.
But what’s even crazier than the feat itself is the why behind it. Jim lost his family in a tragic, unexpected accident, and for him, there’s no return to normal. His wife and two children died in an airplane crash in 2011. He may spend the rest of his life trying to fill some void in hopes of creating permanence in an impermanent world. But what he’s truly searching for is a small semblance of peace.
And for Jim, that peace is found only in the mountains — even in the face of unimaginable risk, failure, and a probable death. The best way forward, he says, is to “find calm in the suffering.”
Four days after the crash, he said this at the funeral: “I don’t really have a purpose anymore. I can either take my own life or I can live life in their honor. I don’t think the first will make them proud of me. So I’ve decided to do the second.”
Jim realized that as long as he kept moving, he found, he could cope. In 2013, he climbed Ama Dablam in Nepal. Two years later he signed on with a group to try the first ski descent of Makalu, the fifth-highest mountain in the world.
That’s where he met fellow climber Hilaree Nelson. A deep friendship formed thanks to his openness about the accident and her warmth and willingness to listen. In 2017, the two became a couple and embarked on bigger and more daring adventures together — eventually making history after they descended Lhotse.
Together, they were unstoppable, becoming two of the world’s very best mountaineers. Hilaree became widely regarded as the most prolific ski mountaineer of her generation. She was the first female to link two 8000m peaks, Everest and Lhotse, in one 24-hour push. She was also the first female captain of the North Face athlete team. Most importantly, she was a mother to two sons, who both compete in alpine racing.
Yesterday, I began thinking about Jim and Hilaree and wondering what they were up to since I read their profile in 2020. When I typed “Hilaree Nelson” into Google, the first result to pop up was a New York Times article from September 2022 titled, “Hilaree Nelson, 49, a Top Ski Mountaineer, Is Dead in Avalanche.”
I froze. Surely, this couldn’t be right.
But it was true. Hilaree had died in an avalanche while skiing from the Himalayan summit of Manaslu, the world’s eighth-highest mountain. What’s even worse is that Jim was skiing alongside her that day. I felt shivers down my spine as I read this part of the article:
Ms. Nelson was soon swept from her feet by a small avalanche. Mr. Morrison was not caught by the growing slide, but he was helpless as he watched Ms. Nelson disappear down the mountain.
Twelve years after losing his family, Jim is now grieving the loss of his life partner Hilaree.
He wrote on Instagram: “I’m on a lifelong journey to work through the pain of losing these incredible people in my life.”
In another post, he shared the quote of spiritual leader Sogyal Rinpoche: “The realization of impermanence is paradoxically the only thing we can hold on to, perhaps our only lasting possession. It is like the sky, or the earth. No matter how much everything around us may change or collapse, they endure.”
I’ll leave you with this beautiful mini-documentary of Jim and Hilaree’s Lhotse expedition here:
— The editor on a mission to free an imprisoned reporter [**HIGHLY RECOMMEND**]
— Alabama’s only billionaire
— The CEO driving for Uber
— Golf’s next global superstar
— The birth control companies doomed to fail
— The group-travel company helping you make friends
PEOPLE TO KNOW.
The editor on a mission to free an imprisoned reporter: Emma Tucker had just settled into her role as the new editor-in-chief of The Wall Street Journal when one of the paper’s foreign correspondents was arrested in Russia. Tucker quickly became the public face of Evan Gershkovich’s imprisonment, appearing on television and encouraging Journal reporters to tweet about the situation. She also worked to keep Gershkovich's story in the news and to pressure the Russian government to release him. (New York Magazine)
“Her savviness and empathy are vital at a time of high emotion and inevitable uncertainty.”
Alabama’s only billionaire: Jimmy Rane is worth $1.2 billion, making him Alabama's only living billionaire. Rane is the founder and CEO of Great Southern Wood Preserving, a lumber treating company. But Rane is something of a marketing genius. He built a recognizable brand around his commodity product, YellaWood, and turned Great Southern into a $2 billion company with 1,900 employees and 15 treating facilities in 12 states. Rane's marketing efforts included sponsoring NCAA teams, hiring college football coaches as pitchmen, and portraying a crime-fighting cowboy called the "Yella Fella" in TV commercials. This one is fascinating. (Forbes)
“Harvard teaches that your best leadership is grown from within, and that’s so true, because we’ve had very little success hiring from the outside.”
The CEO driving for Uber: After five years as the CEO of Uber, Dara Khosrowshahi in September got behind the wheel himself. Using the alias “Dave K” and a gray Tesla Model Y that he purchased secondhand, he made dozens of trips as a ride-share driver. Along the way, he struggled to sign up as a driver, saw firsthand something called ‘tip baiting’ and was punished by the app for rejecting trips. Surprisingly hard to take was the rudeness of some Uber riders. Here’s how this experience has helped shape what has become one of the biggest makeovers of Uber’s business since its inception in 2009. (WSJ; reply to this email if you can’t access the article)
“I think that the industry as a whole, to some extent, has taken drivers for granted.”
Golf’s next global superstar: Tom Kim is a 20-year-old golfer who has quickly risen to fame in the sport. He has already won two PGA Tour events, and is being described as “the next global superstar.” Kim was born in South Korea, and his family went all in on Kim’s golfing dream early. He got to the point that at age 16, Kim was responsible for the family finances. “My parents stopped working to support me,” he says. “So it was just about me accomplishing my goals and pursuing my dreams.” (The Athletic)
“He wants to be the GOAT.”
COMPANIES TO WATCH.
The birth control companies doomed to fail: Despite a federal law requiring insurers to cover the full costs of women's contraception, most private health care plans are not fully covering about 50% of contraceptive products approved by the FDA after 2011. This has made it financially impossible for small contraceptive manufacturers to survive, leaving the development of new contraceptives to small, scrappy specialists. The profile delves into the rocky history of Evofem Biosciences, a women's health company with a sex-positive mission, and its contraceptive gel called Phexxi.
“Large companies aren’t interested in women’s health—and small companies have a hard time commercializing.”
The group-travel company helping you make friends: There is a nascent industry devoted to creating millennial-oriented travel package experiences of the type generally set aside for people much younger (e.g., Birthright Israel) or older (e.g., Rhine river cruises). Flash Pack, which aims to lure vacationers who would otherwise be traveling solo and marshal them into traveling bands of up to 14, is one such business. Here’s how its attracting its young clientele. (The New York Times)
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