Masha Gordon: The Explorer's Grand Slam & Conquering Personal Mountains

Apr 2023

After a successful investing career at Goldman Sachs and PIMCO, at the age of 42, Masha Gordon embarked on an extraordinary journey to become the fastest woman to complete the Explorer's Grand Slam, an endurance challenge that entails ascending to the highest peak in each continent and skiing the last degree on both the North and South Pole.

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"One of the key things is to understand there are no limits to your knowledge (and) understanding what you can do.”
Masha Gordon: The Explorer's Grand Slam & Conquering Personal Mountains
“It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves.”
by Edmund Hillary, a New Zealand mountaineer explorer and philanthropist, best known for being the first climber confirmed to have reached the top of Everest in 1953 along with his sherpa Tenzing Norgay

About The Episode

In today's complex and multi-dimensional world, success can seem elusive and unattainable. However, there are individuals who have managed to achieve remarkable success in multiple domains, defying the odds and inspiring others to follow in their footsteps.

In this episode of Founder Spirit, we are delighted to bring you the story of one such individual - Masha Gordon., who at the age of 42, became the fastest woman to complete the Explorer's Grand Slam in just 7 months and 19 days, ascending to the highest peak in each continent, as well as skiing the last degree on both the North and South Pole.

Not only does she hold two Guinness World Records as the fastest woman to scale the Seven Summits and to complete the Three Poles Challenge, she also had an impressive career on Wall Street and has consistently demonstrated the spirit of determination and resilience in her professional life and mountaineering accomplishments. In this candid conversation, Masha shares her insights on a range of topics, from investing and the importance of mentorship to self-reinvention and navigating turbulent times.

So TUNE IN, and get ready to be inspired as we delve into the multi-dimensional world of Masha Gordon, a fascinating character!


Masha Gordon is a seasoned investor, an avid mountaineer, endurance athlete extraordinaire, and founder of Grit&Rock, a UK-based charity  championing female advancement in alpinism. At the age of 42, Masha became the fastest woman to complete the Explorer's Grand Slam in just 7 months and 19 days, ascending to the highest peak in each continent, as well as skiing the last degree on both the North and South Pole. She also holds the Guinness World Records as the fastest woman to scale the Seven Summits and to complete the Three Poles Challenge.

Before getting into climbing in her mid-30s, Masha had a very successful career in finance, navigating the world's capital markets in New York and London. She started her career on Wall Street at Goldman Sachs and was named Managing Director eight years later as the leading emerging markets fund manager with a portfolio of $10 billion. She then joined PIMCO, the world's largest fixed income fund manager, as the head of Emerging Market Equity Strategies. Masha was also named Fund Manager of the Year on multiple occasions by Lipper and Morningstar, and recognized by the Financial News as a “Top 40 under 40 in Asset Management” and a “Rising Stars in Finance”. 

Today, Masha continues to pursue her passion in mountaineering and a career as a professional board director. She currently serves as the chairwoman of Constellation Oil Company in Brazil and as an independent Board Director of Capricorn Energy, a public company listed on the London Stock Exchange. She is also a trustee and head of investment committee at Girls Day School Trust in the UK. 

Masha studied journalism at the Moscow State University and holds a Bachelor's in Political Science from the University of Wisconsin, as well as a Master's in Law and Diplomacy from the Fletcher School at the Tufts University, where she is also a member of the Board of Advisors. 

Episode Transcript


[00:04] Jennifer Wu: Hi everyone. Thanks for listening to the Founder Spirit podcast. I'm your host, Jennifer Wu. In this podcast series, I interview exceptional individuals from all over the world with the Founder Spirit ranging from social entrepreneurs, and tech founders, to philanthropists, elite athletes, and more. Together we'll uncover not only how they manage to succeed in face of multiple challenges but also who they are as people and their human story. 

Our guest today is Masha Gordon, a seasoned investor, an avid mountaineer, endurance athlete extraordinaire, and founder of Grit&Rock, a UK-based charity  championing female advancement in alpinism. At the age of 42, Masha became the fastest woman to complete the Explorer's Grand Slam in just 7 months and 19 days, ascending to the highest peak in each continent, as well as skiing the last degree on both the North and South Pole. She also holds the Guinness World Records as the fastest woman to scale the Seven Summits and to complete the Three Poles Challenge.

Before getting into climbing in her mid-30s, Masha had a very successful career in finance, navigating the world's capital markets in New York and London. She started her career on Wall Street at Goldman Sachs and was named Managing Director eight years later as the leading emerging markets fund manager with a portfolio of $10 billion. She then joined PIMCO, the world's largest fixed income fund manager, as the head of Emerging Market Equity Strategies. Masha was also named Fund Manager of the Year on multiple occasions by Lipper and Morningstar, and recognized by the Financial News as a “Top 40 under 40 in Asset Management” and a “Rising Stars in Finance”. 

Today, Masha continues to pursue her passion in mountaineering and a career as a professional board director. She currently serves as the chairwoman of Constellation Oil Company in Brazil and as an independent Board Director of Capricorn Energy, a public company listed on the London Stock Exchange. She is also a trustee and head of investment committee at Girls Day School Trust in the UK. 

Masha studied journalism at the Moscow State University and holds a Bachelor's in Political Science from the University of Wisconsin, as well as a Master's in Law and Diplomacy from the Fletcher School at the Tufts University, where she is also a member of the Board of Advisors. 

Hi, Masha. Welcome to the Founder Spirit podcast. It's wonderful to have you with us today and thank you for taking the time.

[02:46] Masha Gordon: My pleasure and my honor.

[02:48] Jennifer Wu: Masha, you were born and raised in the former Soviet Union on the border of Georgia. Can you tell us what life was like growing up in North Ossetia?

[02:58] Masha Gordon: Well, it was a very simple life, happy life as they go in authoritarian countries. But when you're a child, you have a life where you live in a society of seemingly equal people. I remember growing up, my parents were engineers and they had those circles of friends and we would go a lot to the mountains and almost handmade resorts where I learned to ski with the drag lift being made by my father and his friends, staying in tiny little rail wagons that were repurposed as refuges. 

So it was a very happy life, because as a child, you don't comprehend (the) political environment or the context because you're not in conflict with society. I actually grew up being a member of the Communist League, which now, obviously, given the Wall Street career and directorships I have, seems rather bizarre, but I think it shows you the journeys we have as individuals. For me, my leadership school started with the Communist League. 

So, yeah, happy times, surrounded by mountains. Apart from trekking and skiing, I wasn't doing anything particularly technical. Growing up in an enchanted place, in retrospect, obviously, was also a place with lots of hidden issues and hidden conflicts. But that came to, I guess, to my understanding, later on in life.

[04:21] Jennifer Wu: Is it also true that you learned to shoot?

[04:24] Masha Gordon: Yes, good research, Jennifer. Not only did I learn to shoot, but it's bizarre, right? You're bringing it up because president of that country has brought that back. 

During the Cold War, we grew up with the notion that the Russians didn't want the war; we were very convinced that (the) US will come and capture us. There will be an advance of some big military force and we will be called to arms. Quite ironic, if not incredibly tragic, that's back at the fore 40 years on.

But I learned to shoot - we were taught with very rusty Kalashnikovs, no AK 47s. We had to disassemble them with eyes closed, I learned to shoot from the guy who served in my grandfather's battalion. My grandfather commanded an artillery battalion, and then one of his younger soldiers then became the teacher in charge of military preparations. 

And growing up during puberty, so much changes that you don't question when the country falls apart in front of your eyes. I finished school in 1991, and I gained acceptance to Moscow State University to study journalism. For me, I suppose it was a way of seeing the world, understanding the world. I was very curious as a kid, and still am very curious about life. And investing, I think, is one of the ways to understand better life around you. I arrived to Moscow on the day when the August 1991 Coup happened. 

It was very symbolic that I was transitioning from being a child, a teenager in a tiny part of the world, not really being aware of political events around me, and then being thrown into Moscow that was rapidly changing, still a very hungry place. This was the time of great shortages, and I was exceptionally lucky. I spoke English well because I went to a school with advanced teaching of English; we have those in (the) USSR.

I found a job as a stringer (freelance journalist) and translator for various Western reporters; ultimately, I ended up at the Washington Post. And seeing the world through the eyes of Post reporters and some of them are remarkable people - for example, David Remnick is an editor of the New Yorker, these were the people I worked with. They helped shape my understanding of what was happening in the world around me.

[06:41] Jennifer Wu: So, just so that people know, the August Coup was a failed attempt by hardliners inside the Soviet Communist Party to remove Mikhail Gorbachev, who was then the Soviet president and the general secretary of the Communist Party. And this lasted, I think, (for) three days between the 19th and the 22nd August in 1991.

[07:02] Masha Gordon: I said imagine how my mother would have felt sending her only daughter to Moscow - we had the Swan Lake playing on TV. Swan Lake is when we've had various either dead leaders in the Communist times or the coups, when there was uncertainty and they didn't know what to say on TV, they would put Swan Lake, (a) very trusted authority of calming population.

Basically my mother was sending me into Moscow into the unknown, but that was obviously happily changed in three days and Russia went on to become a different country.

[07:33] Jennifer Wu: That's right, because the USSR broke up at the end of December 1991, just a few months after the August Coup. You mentioned the years following the coup as formative, in what way was it formative for you?

[07:47] Masha Gordon: It's understanding complexity of the world. Look, I was studying in the journalism school, and this was a school that was meant to mint reporters and journalists, albeit Soviet style. We had plenty of professors who were, one could say, teaching political science and social science. They were literally watching the adults not being able to understand the world around them and explain and then seeking that explanation elsewhere.

To give you an example, in ‘93, President Yeltsin had a standoff with democratic-elected parliament, and he resolved that standoff by bringing tanks that started doing the mortar shelling of the parliament building. Imagine being a kid, I was at (that) time 18, and watching this, thinking like, what is happening? We are building democratic country. Hey, what is this guy doing here? He's the guy who did, one could say, the right thing and challenged Soviet authority and became the first president of Russia and shelling democratically elected parliament.

I remember standing the night of the office of the Washington Post, which was directly across the parliament and watching in awe and horror the military action in front of my eyes. I think in terms of why it was formative because you had to understand that the world is so multi-dimensional and complex. I felt actually very hungry for having that knowledge to be able to analyze and come to terms with that. 

It was also very formative because Russia at the time had no limits. That's to your maybe founder spirit, one of the key things is to understand there are no limits to your knowledge (and) understanding what you can do. Again, I was lucky, but maybe also not just lucky, I was seeking out opportunities to go and study abroad, not because I wanted to flee Russia, but because I wanted to understand more about the world.

And I received a Musky fellowship, which was designed by US Government. The US government was very generous in that time, sending lots and lots of young Russians to the United States with a very good purpose of helping people equip themselves with the knowledge of how to build a better country. 

That set me off to US and study political science and understand, again, complexity of the world and become, in a way, maybe a global citizen. It's a horrible word, but when I think now where I'm from, I'm obviously of Russian origin, but I'm certainly not defined by that. That being a global person and seeing the world as interconnected rather than parochial is what has been very formative for me.

[10:25] Jennifer Wu: And It must have been such a big culture shock for you to move from Moscow to the Midwest. Do you recall how you felt in the first few months in Wisconsin?

[10:36] Masha Gordon: Sure, so look, I was sent to actually tiny college town Eau Claire, and I was coming from a place that was large, and Moscow at the time was very exciting in early 90s, you have top reporters and top business people and the global stage, and then you get plunged in a small town America. 

What I think came with that was an extraordinary appreciation of quality of people, of spirit. It was a town with not so many social issues on the surface, and you got a sense of, I think, to the contrast of what the vision of America we grew up with, which was the homeless people on the streets and junkies. Understanding what an average American with a mortgage is like, they're nice people on average, they are curious about the world, though probably terribly naive in that time in small towns.

And I've been taught by amazing people, American Political History by a former Vietnam veteran, a brilliant guy. There was a surplus of fantastically educated people who were coming to very small colleges and teaching great courses, so I learned a ton. 

I benefited hugely from actually having that very gentle introduction to America. Clearly, I had no idea who Green Bay Packers were or anything of that sort. I don't think I had an average college experience, I was maybe more of a bookworm - that was my kind of cultural journey.

[11:57] Jennifer Wu: You also did a Master's Degree in Law and Diplomacy after that, why did you decide to go into finance?

[12:05] Masha Gordon: Great question. You know what? If you were to tell me when I was 19 or 20 that I would be interested in something as menial as discounted free cash flow, I would totally snub you because I would think, gosh, it's so parochial and so much with a view to enrich yourself. 

It had to be a journey of curiosity. At Fletcher, which is a brilliant school, I took, out of interest, a class on corporate finance and fell in love with the logic of investing, with the logic of thinking about how companies evolve. and I found beauty in numbers. I was very numerical as maybe a Soviet kid would be, as we were all prepared to build rockets. 

I felt that there were many perils to actually being a journalist because you look for stories and you want to be on the story first, except for that clearly you need to quantify the story, you want to have your own sources, sources that no one else has. 

When you think about the aimings of investing, you have your tenets as to what makes a good investment, what makes a good story, and then you need to know how to ask questions to get answers. Good investors know how to think out-of-the-box and get to the truth of the story. 

And so I spent a summer between my first and second year in Brazil working for a mini-Goldman Sachs in Sao Paulo and I loved it. I loved looking at companies and being in another emerging market because you saw so many parallels to the world. I grew up in Russia - though the climate is different, issues are the same.

I felt it was a great journey of curiosity and an interesting application and I was very lucky to be recruiting in 1997, I had 15 offers, but offers from you would be smiling when I'll be telling you who I got the offers from - Enron, Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers (all financial institutions that have collapsed). Luckily, there was Goldman Sachs and Capital Group, so I tossed and turned and chose at the end to join Goldman in New York. 

I joined Goldman on the day of Russian devaluation in 1998 and I was joining as a Russia analyst in the investment group. Day one, I concluded that my career was over. But as you know in investing, any crisis brings an opportunity. I actually was very lucky to end up where I did at the time I did, because emerging markets were deeply out of vogue. 

And I was given responsibility of managing portfolio very early on because, frankly, my boss was a brilliant woman. But she was so tired of the ups and downs of the EM (emerging markets) that she shifted into global equities. I got this poison chalice of managing the portfolio. It was in 2003, just before the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) took off, and it was a brilliant opportunity.

[14:44] Jennifer Wu: I want to mention your first year when you joined in summer ‘98, that was when Russia defaulted on its sovereign debt, it's also a year before Goldman went public. So what was your first year like between the Russian financial crisis and Goldman's IPO?

[15:01] Masha Gordon: Look, Goldman was still quite a small place. We knew all the partners and all the partners were very involved in building people culture. I think Goldman was worried at that time as an institution of making sure that it doesn't lose that culture of close touch, of moral authority that partners carried. I had a brilliant time having exposure to very senior people that were those IPO partners. 

Now there are very few left in the institution, and the firm has its ten commandments. The commandment number one, business rule number one, client comes first, and this was a creed. And I think that was what saved that institution through many cycles, because that notion that these are the principles that keep us awake at night and keep us engaged in business. I'm sure certain members of the firm at times deviated from that - those members were cast out at the end of the day. 

So I had a great upbringing; I was a part of investment management division which was new - in retrospect when I think about it, would I have been better served joining an institution like Capital Group with very strong investment culture? Perhaps. So for me, maybe a journey investing was more of a trial-and-error on my own part, trying to understand what works, what doesn't, rather than working with very strong investment professionals that grew up in one culture. 

For example, when I came to PIMCO, the difference was striking because there everyone was hired by Bill Gross 40-some years ago and the firm had this very strong, very specific culture that led to exceptional results that were quite uniform across the board. Goldman was a collection of boutiques, and I have to count blessings for being in a place for 12 years that made me a professional.

Those qualities are invaluable when you step out of this storied institutions because you can take that franchise of being a professional and turn it into your personal brand and that helps you ultimately in other undertakings.

[17:04] Jennifer: According to Google, it takes an associate average 12-13 years to become a managing director at Goldman but you made it in 8. So what is your secret, Masha?

[17:14] Masha: I've been thrown in the zone of insecurity - it was in 2003, my father was just diagnosed with cancer. I remember getting a call from my boss on the slope, I took a brief ski holiday with my family and it felt like a poison chalice because it was the bottom of emerging markets. At that time, everyone wanted to be in VC (venture capital) or in private equity, certainly not in emerging markets. 

When you're in an institution where bonuses drive part of the self-worth and net worth of people, I guess the secret was having right mentors, I remember this amazing moment when the guy ran asset management globally was based in London, a gentleman called David Blood who later went on to set up Generation Asset Management. He understood that I was petrified because I was young, I was 29 years old, and I probably felt that being given a fund less than $100 million in an institution that values assets under management, i.e., this is not very much. 

He said, you know what, I'm going to help you, I'm going to come to every meeting that you have and I will make sure that people understand how important this is for me. In the meantime, clearly he could observe how I performed. He was a really lovely guy and remained a mentor, he could give me points on how to be assertive. That was well before the era of sponsorship, mentorship, alliance-ship or whatever the trendy words are now, in trying to bring diversity, inclusion into organizations - he was doing it in 2003 and that (was) 20 years ago. 

That was extraordinary help and I think it gave me that confidence and feeling, I can do it. I was working with brilliant people that enabled me. So I had a fantastic team and one of the very young people who came to join me, a fresh college graduate from Notre Dame called Catherine Koch or Katie Koch, who now is the President of TCW. 

She came in and she was 23 years old and said, I can go to every private wealth office in Goldman Sachs and tell the story of emerging markets and BRICS and how exciting it is and how great your team is. She did it, and she helped us raise the assets under management from $100 million to $8 billion; with market appreciation, it all ended up being $10 billion.

It's having this trust in people around you; when you're thrown an opportunity - embracing it, though it may be really scary, because at the end of the day, you can do it - you have a toolbox being a professional. It's all about just breathing deeply and having allies, so having a team, you can never do stuff like that on your own. I cherish those times, and obviously I cherish friendships that those times brought from that very formative experience.

[20:00] Jennifer: I think having the right mentor and having a very supportive team is really important all throughout your career, especially when you're just starting out. 

As you mentioned, you end up managing a massive portfolio of $10 billion, I also understand in 2006, I think it was the IPO roadshow of Rosneft, which is the largest state-owned oil company in Russia, you openly asked a question to the CFO, I would say a burning question that nobody dared to ask related to its acquisition of assets from another former oil company. Can you tell us what that question was and the story behind it?

[20:39] Masha: Yeah, So this was a banker from Morgan Stanley, Peter O'Brien, who then went on to serve at various boards. He was selling the assets of Yukos, which was a company that we owned in the portfolio previously that was clearly robbed of us in a holdup state action against a former oligarch, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who then became obviously cause célèbre, was imprisoned for ten years and now is a vocal opponent of the current President of Russia. 

My question to him was, how can you come here with a straight face, being clearly Western person having been growing up with the principles that we all share, and the former MD (Managing Director) of Morgan Stanley, how could you be selling this to me because these are stolen assets. And no one likes confrontation, I've had a number of those confrontations in the years to come. 

And it's interesting, because they are followed at times by periods of exceptional performance, and clearly Rosneft was bailed out of its, I would say, reputational doldrums initially by the merger of the Russian division with BP. But then at the end of the day, that lack of spine comes to haunt us, the bad guys turn out to be the bad guys.

[21:51] Jennifer:  And when you were managing those $10 billion portfolio, what were your daily habits?

[21:57] Masha: In retrospect, they weren't probably very healthy habits because at that point I have not had that passion that now consumes a big part of my life, which is climbing, mountaineering. 

I was a young mother, my daily habits would be waking up at six in the morning and checking nervously what happened in Asian markets at the time, calculating in my mind, I knew my portfolio by heart, and I could tell what my performance will be that day against the market, reading a lot of news and taking gazillion meetings. 

I think if I were doing it now, I would be a lot more economical with my time and would have many more filters, and I would go away and spend a lot of time away from the world to think and not be influenced. We are humans, right? We get deeply influenced by information, by data, by behavior of other individuals that confirm our biases and make us feel comfortable, and ultimately skew the decisions and make them less rational. So I think I would change my daily habits hugely. 

But with that, I had an amazing life in terms of feeding that curiosity and having access to amazing deal makers and thought leaders and corporate executives and forming again a very beautiful tapestry of what was happening in the world. It made me also, as a result, a person that can converse about chips wars in Taiwan and US, or why Kweichow Moutai is an amazing enterprise and a great drink and a chosen drink of the Chinese elite. 

That time at Goldman and PIMCO gave me an incredible gift of traveling to many, many countries and learning about the world. That's such a gift of lifetime that I only hope my kids could have, because it gives you the sense how extraordinary big the world is and how to live fully. 

[23:45] Jennifer: So, having had that hindsight of your 12-year career at Goldman as an investor, what do you think are the critical skills that one needs to be a successful investor today?

[23:58] Masha: I think you need to be able to focus on the secular, i.e. focus on big trends because there is so much noise that various issues bring that clearly influence the price movement in the near-term but ultimately doesn't shift the needle. 

You need to be very numerical, because I live through many bubbles in my investment career. 

For example, Tinkoff Credit Services, TCS, once one of the most successful fintechs in Europe, I remember sitting in the boardroom and debating with the executives as to why, what are the perils of crypto and why we shouldn't be investing huge amount of capital in the crypto exchange going down the road, because I understood the innings the bubbles, clearly you can make money short-term but then long-term it could blow up your franchise.

I think that investing, being able to be slightly removed from the world. Now, I have seen this displayed in human qualities that could say that you are slightly on the neural spectrum that you really deeply don't care, you build a way that you can shield yourself from the desire to be liked or heard and that helps. Because you are then as a machine, you could be a perfect engine of that price discovery. 

But it's difficult, we are humans, that's why maybe machines at some point will be better at optimizing the information flow, optimizing for judgment and crowding of the market and may come up with better portfolios. 

Just think of Charlie Munger or Warren Buffett, they sit in the middle of nowhere, they see very few people, yet they have their tenets and those tenets, i.e. why they invest, what type of companies they invest, how long they stay, what would prompt them to change their mind is what makes them successful long-term.

Very difficult thing to do. If you look at performance record of managers, being human hurts you and 80% of managers under-perform benchmark over short- and long-term period, it's tough game.

[25:59] Jennifer:  I would agree with that; at one point in my life I traded FX (foreign exchange), looking for the macro trends and being able to distinguish from the noise is very important. Having also gone through quite a few of market cycles, when my intern she started buying Bitcoin, this is 2017, I knew that there was a crash coming. So absolutely, I think if you haven't lived through those investment cycles, you don't really recognize them. 

In China, the investment cycle has been a 30-year cycle, you could say, or a 40-year trajectory going up. I remember when I lived in China and I was trying to explain to a local person that why banks fail, she didn't understand this concept - banks don't fail and the economy always goes up because that was part of their experience, so it was interesting. 

In 2010, you left Goldman to join PIMCO, what prompted you to leave the golden cage?

[26:59] Masha: I was approached, I was on maternity leave with my second child - I came actually to Chamonix (France), that's where my love affair with the mountain started. And I got a call from a friend who was a headhunter saying that PIMCO has looked at many managers over the past year, failed to find one, would I consider speaking to them. 

It was another call I got on the ski slope and I said, yeah, well, why not? I went out to California and met Mohamed El-Erian and Bill Gross and really enjoyed that sense of very strong culture - Mohamed is a brilliant man, Bill obviously doesn't need any introduction. And I felt that I would grow; I grew up in one investment culture, I had to find my investment culture. I wanted to belong to an institution that had that very much at its core.

I was able to assemble my own team, it felt like an opportunity to build a smaller, nimbler team, but in a place that had strong investment culture, had its own macro ideas, and it was a very good experience. It lasted 4 years, but I enjoyed it tremendously.

[28:05] Jennifer: During the four years when you were at PIMCO, there were some quite public drama unfolding between its founder, Bill Gross, as you mentioned, and its CEO, Mohamed El-Erian. Can you tell us what you saw was happening from the inside of the company?

[28:22] Masha: Sure, the public drama really just unfolded in 2014. In the first three years, these were years of great performance of the investment franchise, uniform performance. It was, again, a very strong culture and a small organization, the firm managed to $2 trillion, the investment professionals totaled no more than 150 - so tiny organization with the culture being that all great ideas get pitched to the whole organization. 

It was done in cyclical and secular forms four times a year, you would produce this book of top three ideas and everyone from an analyst, Dan Ivascyn, who now runs the firm, would produce their top three ideas and you would have to quantify it. It was very stringent, no more than one page long for all three, and they will be bound into a book and everyone will have that investment ideas book.

I remember one of my first impressions around PIMCO is like, you would walk in an elevator and people, instead of saying, how is the weather today? They would ask, what are your top three ideas? You would think like, are you mad? Because at Goldman this would never be a conversation, this was not a culture, not that people didn't have their three best ideas. 

It was super driven on performance and on pitching ideas to the big portfolio Total Return Fund or to the investment committee. Investment committee was brutal with its dissection of ideas and I think that's where actually the success lies. Goldman's culture was the culture of collaboration and no direct confrontation. If you take thatto an investment division, you could be actually penalized in your 360-degree reviews for asking direct questions. Whereas at PIMCO that would be the contrary - incidentally those years, the firm didn't do any performance reviews whatsoever. Your performance was your review - so again, diametrically opposed cultured. 

In 2010 to ‘13, the firm had fantastic years, everyone was a hero. In ‘14, maybe at the tail end of ‘14, Bill got one of his calls wrong and his portfolio was not performing for a quarter. Yet obviously, the firm had this daily perch at CNBC, never paid. He was public, though his portfolio consisted of lots of little bets, not one of his huge bets, but literally something didn't work that quarter. 

As a result, at the age of 70, having been the best fixed income manager of 40 years, not just a decade, 40 years by Morningstar, he started looking for the reasons why that was the case and he turned onto his investment committee and onto Mohamed, who was the CEO at the time, and he identified that the reason why we were not performing was that people were too nice to each other. 

And Mohamad was this amazing CEO, he would return your email within ten minutes after you send him it with thoughtful comments. This is, by the way, the best way of engender loyalty, because you communicate how important a person two floors below you is, but Bill decided to extinguish Muhammad because he was the evil. 

I remember that horrendous, secular forum in March where Mohamed was relegated to the broom cupboard in one of the buildings, he was still there for the clients to explain why he was gracefully retiring. All these people were incredibly wealthy because the firm was so profitable and so large, but he wasn't allowed to come to the forum. And we were all sitting in this fairly small hall, Bill came out and gave this speech where he said that the worst decision of his career was re-hiring Mohamed back from Harvard University, where he ran an endowment, having been, prior to that, at PIMCO. 

He was so ungraceful at bashing and identifying this culture, and then he said that he's going to have a witch hunt and root out all the Mohamedists in the audience. The scary thing was, it was like a picture from 1930s Germany. After he finished this ranting speech, which is completely inappropriate, probably now, if you were in a public company, this would be a firing offense. 

Someone stood up and started clapping, and then you looked around the room and everyone stood up and was clapping. It was very difficult not to stand up and clap because he was defending the culture. You kind of felt like, gosh, this is horrible. And that slowly unfolded, I left the firm in July of that year, and I think Bill was ousted that fall. 

But for me, I think one of the reasons I decided to move forward I had a difficult performance year in ‘14, if you recall, the President Putin invaded Crimea - I had a few Russian stocks. By the way, the worst decisions I've ever made in my life were with regards to Russian companies because you think that they could never be so dumb to do this. Surely enough, this is the emotional thing, they do the dumpling, just like with a horrible war that is happening today. 

I looked at him (Bill) and I thought, gosh, if he at the age of 70, cannot handle this performance pressure, is it worth it? What chance do I stand? I mean, he's clearly much more experienced and arguably much more talented than I am. 

I started thinking proactively, what can I do with my life? I just turned 40 and I felt I couldn't handle that because I didn't sleep for two or three months. And you feel also terrible about yourself; your sense of self-worth is so tied to that daily performance that we shouldn't, you should look at the longer-term record. I made a clean break and went to a fellowship in my grad school and taught a class on practitioners perspectives on investment and actively searched for the next thing. 

I looked at the impact investing, understood that I probably wouldn't want to be a principal, maybe a steward in the board role. I was approached by former competitors in the industry to take board seat in a largest, partially state-owned company in Russia called Alrosa, the diamond miner, though returning back to Russia after 20-some years was not necessarily the first port of call, I took the challenge and had very interesting seven years that followed.

[34:26] Jennifer: I think being approached by a former competitor to serve on the board of one of their company speaks actually volumes about you. 

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[36:11] Jennifer: Moving on, you also left PIMCO to pursue one of your passions, which is mountaineering, or maybe it's the passion. Can you tell us for someone who failed PE at age 11, and how did you get into climbing?

[36:25] Masha: It was that blasting of free time, it's very important, I think everyone should take sabbatical and think gosh, what can I do? What should I do? And then try something new. 

I ended up coming with my kids to the Alps, to Chamonix, and I was a casual recreational skier. I had a lovely guide an older man who was very not economical with compliments, I think very important, the encouragement early on. He took me on some of the easy climbs around, and I loved that sense of adventure. 

I remember going to a first overnight climb when you go and you spend a night in the refuge. You sleep in the room after sleeping in Four Seasons (Hotels) in your professional life, you sleep in the room with 20 strangers that snore, that have smelly socks, and you wake up at two in the morning, you eat some dry bread - it's all points of discomfort. 

You walk out and it's a beautiful starry night and you are on a glacier, and you put on your headlamp and your crampons, and you go in silence towards a ridge and you watch with an awe, like a child. You watch this sunrise, which obviously in the Alps and good weather days are extraordinary and I felt so alive and so revitalized by that sense of adventure and being a child again. It's all these things that I didn't do being a child maybe. 

That's what I enjoyed, how it made me feel. Obviously, if you are encouraged and if you are serious and you put whatever 10,000 hours, which I did in subsequent ten plus years, you become better, although you don't become a natural athlete as one would be like maybe my son might be in a few years because he started young.

You watch this progression from point zero to five out of ten and it feels amazing, and it feeds then your passion even more. I started spending most of my weekends in the Alps and then when I ended up with this endowment of free time, I went on the first expedition and I absolutely loved it. 

I had very low self-esteem in terms of physical abilities and I was an expedition to Aconcagua, not a very difficult peak whatsoever, but it's a 7,000 meters peak. I was surrounded by lovely people, but they all had some tri-athletic background. I didn't and I was the only one who summited for various reasons. 

Mountains are very uncomfortable places and maybe this was childhood and the journey, I could deal with that discomfort and I enjoyed it. I enjoyed that feeling, overcoming that due point in you that tells you can't do it and then you can do it. That's an incredible sense of standing on the summit, sense of accomplishment. So, yeah, so that's how it all started and one thing led to another, found myself with this great idea of potentially climbing Everest and that came about in a very strange way.

I think at the time at PIMCO, I was invited to a cocktail party and someone introduced me to a former colleague. I didn't know him, but he was a partner at Goldman and he was a super tall guy, he was a rugby champion. The guy asked me, towering over me, what do you climb? I gave him Matterhorn and Mont Blanc and he had some other amazing other accomplishments within Alps. He said, well, what's your next thing? And I didn't know what to say, and I blurted out, well, I'd like to climb Everest one day - very unoriginal. But the guy said, well, you better start soon. 

I was thinking, gosh, this is what? a reflection of me being a woman? Do I look that bad that I'm sporty? That night, I remember actually going home and it sounds all ridiculous, watching YouTube videos of what does it take to climb Everest and what are the physical dangers. I looked at the death record and it was, I think, 1.9%.

I thought, okay, well, that's manageable. Although a friend of mine later on asked me, would you ever undergo an elective medical procedure if the death rate was so high? Clearly the answer would be no, but it's not about elective medical procedures. So I started training, Aconcagua was one, and then the other. 

As I was going into this whole Everest, route, I understood with giddy joy, that if I redid the two mountains I've already climbed, I had a way of getting, potentially, a female Guinness record. And it was so giddy and amazing. I said, well, why not? Scary but… so I ended up announcing it and going for it. 

These were, I think, some of the most remarkable seven months of my life because of the places I've been to and hardship and ups and downs and highs and lows. But it was a beautiful time, very formative time as well.

[40:56] Jennifer: This is the perfect segue, actually, to talk about the Explorer's Grand Slam, an endurance challenge that you started in October 2015 and then finished 7 months 19 days later. Can you give us a sense of what it entails?

[41:15] Masha: It entails climbing highest peak on every continent and skin to two poles. It also entails being squeezed in a very narrow window of seasons because every mountain has a season. Maybe not Kilimanjaro, but stuff like North Pole has 30 days when the Barneo station is open on ice and you can fly and ski. Antarctica has a season from late November to, let's say, early February. Everest certainly has a season with maybe only three or four summit days in May. 

Squeezing all of it and solving for that, particularly if you start retroactively. Again I decided to go for it when I was in Antarctica in December, but I already climbed Kilimanjaro, so it started back. It’s challenging, but I had time and means because it entails also being able to fund. I didn't need to fundraise, though I was sponsored at the end and ultimately placed that money into the foundation.

It entails having a very patient family and very good support at home. My kids, their dad and our nanny who was a very strong supporter of the record were there and enthusiastic endorses of my crazy pursuit. I am incredibly grateful for their understanding of this was something important for me. 

Yes, absolutely, it requires constant traveling. If you think about what happened after Antarctica I came home and great wisdom of going ice climbing in between going to re-climb Aconcagua and then heading onto this busy chain of events of going to Indonesian Papua and (Mount) Elbrus and then to Barneo, Longyearbyen, Norway, etc. 

In the infinite wisdom in December I went ice climbing and I ended up with a broken wrist, and that was like 25 days before anticipated summit of Aconcagua and I was clearly broken. I was sitting in a gurney, I was heli’ed out of the mountainside in Italy into some regional hospital surrounded by women in black who were there for their own ailments. I was sitting in the gurney crying my eyes out and they thought that I was in pain. I was full of shame. I've just announced that I was going for this record, and three days later I broke my arm. 

And then I thought, gosh, I've already climbed Aconcagua in the past. What did it entail? So visual pictures really help, visualization. I remember American veterans, people who had lost limbs in the warfare, doing it for their own personal journeys and to inspire others. I thought, well, if they can do it's not that bad. It's much harder for them. 

Still when I arrived at Aconcagua 3 weeks later, when the base camp doctor said that, gosh, no, you cannot go with the cast up. He cut my cast and I was crying my eyes out like a crocodile. But I was with a great friend, why are you crying? That mountain requires walking, not climbing with your hands. It's a trekking peak, but very high altitude trekking peak. 

I said, well, I'm afraid that on the scree, on the way down, I will fall because it's totally feasible and you fall on the scree. It's not mortal, but I will re-break my arm and then I can't go to Everest. I had this schedule where I needed my arm very much so and he said, well, don't worry, I'll short rope you. All of a sudden that was solved. It's keeping that visualizing what it'll be like and finding kind people to surround yourself with was the answer to that problem. 

I had a lot of luck of climbing with beautiful people. My last climb was the climb of one of the wildest ridges on Denali, I climbed Denali prior to that a normal route so I knew that entails just dragging your sled many times over, a very heavy sled. If you climb in the ridge it's different. You have to climb in a very committed route it takes 3,000 meters pace and once you climb the first day you cannot go down and you probably cannot be saved because typically get in trouble because of bad weather and in bad weather they cannot fly out. So the park rangers typically tell you by the time you call for help, consider yourself dead and it's a very stark way. It’s like you there, make sure you don't overestimate your capability. 

I did it with two great friends, very strong Ecuadorian climbers, and made in the hindsight a mistake of wanting to climb Alpine style, i.e., not fixing ropes, not having sherpas, carrying everything yourself, not using the jumar like you do in Everest, not having oxygen obviously. You have to go very light because you're trying to take away all the weight to climb light and fast, and you try to economize. Just enough clothes on yourself, you go with the lightest sleeping bag and also you try to economize on food. So we thought we could do the route in two days, and we did it in four because were the first team in two years to do the route.

There was horrible sugar snow, and our progress was slow because of conditions and in mountains, conditions determine so much. And I remember being so hungry, we all were very hungry. We were sharing one Cliff bar that we had last day amongst three of us and I'm internally indebted to the friendship of these people because we were a true team. One was not feeling great and was almost delirious whether it was me or Josh, the others would come and give a big hug and shake it up and take the turn to lead the route - that's such a beautiful lesson. 

I remember for me the end of this journey, this record, was seeing the yellow pee stains on the close to Denali summit, where the normal route converges with Cassin (Ridge), and realizing that, this will happen. I was crying because I understood that we will make it to the summit. I've been there, it's where the normal root converges and also that there will be food because you come down to camps and people are usually very happy to give you food because they bring for the times of famine. 

That was my record and beautiful time, very formative, and the beginning of a different Alpine journey. So that climb Alpine style, outside of commercial expeditions, was something that reignited a passion. I now practice climbing in that style.

[47:23] Jennifer: Besides that tough physical challenge at Denali, what was the toughest mental challenge that you had encountered in this adventure?

[47:33] Masha: There were a couple. First of all, we had a difficulty of the journey because the ice station on Barneo (North Pole) was not fixed because of actual geopolitical issue. The Barneo station was run by the Russians this year, actually we were not allowed to run the station, but it's the only way to get on ice. President Putin at that time, this was in 2016, decided that he would like to do the military exercises over the Arctic. 

Svalbard, where this place is, is a demilitarized zone governed by its own Versailles Treaty. The Norwegian government wasn't allowing the planes to fly to Barneo. When we arrived to Barneo, when this was actually allowed, this was on the 12th of April, and by that time the Everest season was way underway. 

It was really surreal experience. We touched ice and we got out and I saw flag with the Twitter handle of the President of Chechnya. It was so out of the world; it turns out that Putin brought Chechen fighters to do this Arctic exercise. Watching these warriors, and I am from there, I was born in the Caucasus, dressed in this Arctic paramilitary gear, white but still paramilitary. I mean, it was ridiculous, the portrait of Kadyrov father and Kadyrov son on the tent on ice with the Kalashnikov outside, as if it was the memorial to Unknown Soldier. It was super, super surreal. 

Asking in the canteen, the guy said, oh, gosh, it must have been really hard for you to prepare this runway. The word hard doesn't exist in Chechen language. So walking away and thinking how small the world is, you get to the North Pole and you're still dealing with issues from your childhood. Anyway, we flew to the ice, did the last degree, which is a very interesting thing.

Unlike the South Pole, where you are on the continent, you're skiing on ice that constantly moves and when you sleep, the tent potentially moves in the wrong direction, so it's called polar treadmill. You have to be with very experienced people that know how to move and where to move, not to be thrown back. 

It was an interesting journey and I was with one of the best polar explorers, Eric Larson, who said that Arctic is there to kill you. It’s place where nothing dries, because you are constantly over the water, you're cold. Unlike Antarctica, there is no UV lights and there are polar bears. You have to make the encirclement around your camp at night with the wires so that the bear trips. I don't know what you would do, but obviously the guide has a gun, but you should never ever use it.

It was again a surreal experience and you could fall in the water, which is what happened to Eric. The lesson learned, which I have now, is if you hold water and you are in a snowy environment, you just need to get out, roll in the snow and continue walking because that's the only way to prevent hypothermia. I learned a lot of life  lessons.

On the emotional side, I was doing part of the Explorer's Grand Slam with a partner who was a triathlete. Now he's a famous explorer and he wasn't very supportive because I suppose I was different and started this friendship and then we were tied together in the same Everest team and being doubted and being told I cannot do something by a partner is a difficult one. At the end I had to separate myself off that and figure out how I'm going to do it on my own.

So that's tough, that’s tough when you are in a pursuit and the other person out of insecurity puts you down, even though you may have all your accomplishments being Managing Director, managed X, Y and Z. This situation will arise, and they arise in boardrooms and they arise in professional life when another person is there to destroy your confidence because of his own insecurity, not because he doesn't like you, but because their own internal fears. 

It was again a valuable lesson of how to be able to shut it out, how to regain comfort. Actually I found that on Everest, one of the best ways was through expressing empathy for the others that makes you feel better, feel good. Again, another very valuable leadership lesson. When you're sitting in an organization that is going through rocky times, showing empathy to your people and uniting that empathy is one of the ways of actually getting through what is probably a pretty unpleasant experience.

[51:42] Jennifer: I understand you were also stuck on a tiny ice bridge in Everest for 4 hours. Can you share with us that experience? 

[51:53] Masha: It was a start of thing that unraveled my climbing partnership. We arrived at Everest base camp very late because of the Arctic. We arrived, I think, on the 29th (of April) and I summited on the 19th of May, so you have literally no time to acclimatize, though both of us have climbed various 7000 meters peaks before, so we were pre-acclimatized. 

You're coming from the sea level, so you have this pressure of having to do things in a much more compressed timescale. We've done one rotation, and in Everest, the way you climb the mountain is basically have to break yourself down, you go up and down, up and down, forcing your body to adapt to the environment with less oxygen, or a miniscule amount of oxygen, at the end relative to the sea level. 

You sleep in a camp and high camp, and then you come down, you rest, you eat; (it’s) very important to rest and eat, recover, and then go up, and then you feel better. Your body in the meantime grows lots and lots of red blood cells. Bodies are amazing in their ability to help us cope. 

We've done this super long rotation in Camp Two, which typically people don't do. I was sat there, I think something like five or six days came down, clearly broken as it should be, not because we were broken, uncapable. There is always in base camps this paranoia that you're going to miss a good weather window and then you're going to miss something else, just like in investing. Fear of missing out, that drives bad decision making.

We, I think, rested like for 36 hours. My partner said, oh, gosh, I want to go,  are you up for that? Are you strong enough? I wasn't strong enough to tell him no. Again, very important mountains where so much is at stake, and death is no joke, it happens around you. I should have said no and you want to go, you go. And I said stupidly yes, and we went out.

This ice bridge was in Khumbu Icefall, so this horrendous feature, I think it's 700-800 meters high, but it's obviously very large area, it takes you 5 or 6 hours to transit in good times. You go through ice ladders and ice bridges, but you travel at night because during the day, Everest is a place of contrast, it's very cold at night and very very hot, like a skillet hot, during the day because you have all the reflection from ice, UV lights that fry you.

We obviously left midnight and we go to the place where the ladders have collapsed and when they collapse, the only people who can fix it, again it's a protocol, ice doctors. We had Everest doctors who arrived 2 hours later. So we were stuck in this tiny bridge in the middle of the night, super cold, dancing. We had this little disco party because you have to keep literally standing up 2-square meters amongst the crevasses.

Ladders were fixed but we got up of the top during the day. By that point, basically, I was clearly still acclimatizing, and I was tired and very exhausted through this extraordinary heat. It took us very long time to get to Camp Two, at which point my partner said, well, you should go down and you should do that. I told him, I know what I will do - you will go and you will climb on your own now, and I will rest. 

I ate and drank and slept, and ate and drank and slept. And three days later, I was better. I remember walking out, to the story of empathy, that's the way to continue climbing Everest. I went for a walk and I watched this very big American guy coming down, totally broken. And I said, oh, what happened? Did you summit? Because there were summits that day. And he said, no, I failed. He went on and was weeping, and I gave him a hug, and I said, well, no, you didn't fail, you were good. That point I felt like, okay, I'm probably okay if I can comfort another human being given that I've just been told myself I'm a piece of something, not capable of stuff.

I ended up summiting four or five days later on my own terms, at my own speed, faster, actually, than my climbing partner. I guess the story was to not to allow the others to shake your confidence and to take time. I learned super valuable lesson for mountains - never to be on anyone's else schedule, because that could have all ended really badly, and you have to be honest with yourself, so that honesty very difficult one when you are pushed and you have this great ambition that drives you and drives all the mountaineers to go, and you’re there to summit, but the stakes in the game are too high.

[56:10] Jennifer: What was the experience like reaching the top of Everest? Because this is your dream, at least what you told someone a few years ago.

[56:17] Masha: Sure, it was a very long day, and just like in Denali, I understood that I am going to summit. For me, the summit moment was probably an hour before the summit. 

So we were sitting in South Col, South Col is the Camp Four before you get up. In the South Col, we got the news that the weather was mixed and that probably winds would be too high to summit. And you're there, you cannot stay in South Col because it's 8,000 meters and you're going to consume all the oxygen you have if you go down, you lose probably 3-4-5-6 days, and you may never get the summit window. 

This is kind of it, and I was alone by that time. I had a sherpa, but I didn't have anyone, I was a part of an expedition where logistics was provided by Adventure Consultants, the same people in the Everest movie from many years back. I met a beautiful woman who became a lifelong friend, Lydia Bradey. She was a guide whose client decided not to climb, she was climbing Everest for the fourth time. She was the first woman to climb Everest without oxygen many years back in 1988, just a beautiful human being. 

And she told me, look, I'm climbing, we can pair up. I remember the Everest moment, I said, one thing I can promise you, if you tell me to turn, I will turn, because obviously another Adventure Consultant guy died because his client really wanted it.

That whole night as we were climbing and we were overtaking people, because in Everest, initially, you can overtake by unclipping from the fixed drop and going around. She was obviously trying to make up time not to hit that bad weather in the afternoon. I thought that we will have to turn. I remember at some point, you get stuck. There is Hillary Step, and there is also Tenzing Step. 

Unfortunately, Everest attracts people who probably have never climbed, and there was a roadblock and people not being able to bypass. We were standing there, and she was looking at our sherpas, and they didn't have clothes as good as ours, and she was worried about them getting cold. I was thinking, because she's going to tell us now that we were going to turn around.

And I was paranoid, you kind of feel like, this is it, no record. You understand the reasons, and you, more than anything, value the promise. Then the line moved, and we moved, and you walked, and then it's sunrise, and you see this beautiful pyramid, because Everest casts its shadow, and it looks like an Egyptian pyramid down in the valley. 

I was taken by the awe, and then I saw another big rocky outcrop, I turned to her and said, is it Hillary Step? And she said yes. I started weeping again because I understood that we were very close to the summit and we were going to make it. And I was overjoyed. To be honest, the summit for me was Hillary Step. 

You get on the summit, and the only thing you want to do is turn around as soon as you can because you see this line that you need to overtake and you know that 80% of accidents happen on the way down. You keep going and keep going and there you go, and then it was done.

[59:02] Jennifer: Masha, thank you so much for sharing your inner journey with us. I think the inner journey sometimes is more important than the outer journey. On the outer journey, you did run up to the peak of Kilimanjaro in 24 hours. You spent over four months sleeping in a tent and three weeks on skis and being exposed to -40 degrees Celsius at the pole.

But in the end you managed to beat the former women's world record that was held by Vanessa O'Brien by three months. Incidentally, Vanessa was also a former banker in London. Do you think this was a pure coincidence? Or if not, what skills did you think you brought with you from your years in finance?

[59:48] Masha: Look, I brought clearly ability to be organized, to plan. It requires stacking the seasons and getting your logistics up to the T, ability to show up on time and wake up and be disciplined and drive yourself, because the professional life forces you to show up on time whether you want it or not. 

It's the same relentless(ness) being able to hold that long-term goal in front of you when actually you’re puking or you have other discomforts, or you are stuck with someone who is not very nice to you because you could be stuck on a deal team with someone who is absolutely dreadful, but you have to persevere. 

So it's grit, that grit was honed, for sure, by 16 years of working in some of the most performance-driven institutions you can find. It's ultimately that performance drive gets rewarded endurance challenges that I undertook.

[60:43] Jennifer: Perhaps some of that grit came from your mother, being raised by a very strong woman.

[60:49] Masha: Yes, that could be the case. Absolutely, my mother is the person I'm scared of the most.

[60:53] Jennifer: It's hard to imagine that you're scared of anything or anyone, really, given what you have accomplished. 

Moving on to present day, you have been a professional board member since you left PIMCO, as you had mentioned, in early 2022. About a year ago, you were sitting on boards of five companies, all of which were Russian, including the Moscow Stock Exchange. Some of them you had served, like you said, for seven years, so since 2015. With the invasion of Ukraine, this all came to a grinding halt. 

On top of that, I think parts of your family actually come from what is present day Ukraine. Can you tell us how you felt at that time?

[61:36] Masha: Well, it was the worst year of my life. Luckily now in the second year, in a much better year, but February 24th is where the day when everything collapsed and where human tragedy literally came onto the forefront. 

I understood very quickly that you have to take sides, you cannot not take a side. I had to say goodbye very quickly to some babies. If you sit on the board of a company where you dedicated seven years of your life to making it better. In case of Alrosa, that was the case of seeing it go from firmly state-owned company to a company that was properly governed, that was paying all its free cash flows to shareholders, which included the market holders, where you formed a very strong bond with a management team. And we were able to accomplish that together with the board.

The board was 15 people and I was one of them through your thought leadership and daily toil. It's hard, it’s hard to resign. I had to resign to the Russia's Minister of Finance because he was my chair of the board, but leave with a way that doesn't make people feel terrible about themselves in that capacity. I resigned on day 2 from companies with state-owned ownership, and a few days later from remarkable private-owned companies because it became untenable. 

Clearly you had to take a side - scary and amazing days of being in boardrooms where people had to make this very difficult decisions, where the loyalty was divided. You had the loyalty to people of the companies, but also you had a loyalty to very strong human principles. Clearly I am of Russian origin, though I have left the country 30 years ago and understanding also my family comes from Ukraine on both sides, the Jewish side of my mother and the Russian side of my father, that this is very complex issue and it's a history that will be very difficult to untangle.

Obviously watch in the subsequent months how everything we built over the past 30 years since the time when I was a junior reporter at the Washington Post, i.e., some semblance of democratic institutions and definitely principles of governance that in Russia actually, on the surface, we were very strong indeed. How that was all disassembled by the regime that showed its true face.  

And then feeling obviously very sad about the course of history that is likely to take years before it turns the other way around, saying goodbye, it felt like almost being on that boat that sailed, in 1920s Russian immigration; sad and horrible, but you had to choose sides. And then being, frankly, casually discriminated in the coming year for being a person of Russian origin or for having served on those boards. 

Now forgotten, but it was a very difficult thing. I've been told not to look for board jobs for some time, to take two years off. I felt, gosh, I have absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. But hey, you become collateral damage of a big world event and you have to deal with that and you have to have that perseverance and tell yourself actually, every morning, today will better. 

Again, I was very lucky to be approached by PIMCO, obviously my former employer, to come and help them manage a board of a company where they became shareholders. I chair now an amazing company in Brazil and I've been recently elected to the FTSE company, but it's been a tough journey.

Every seven years you are forced to do the reinvention, my seven years have come up and I had to reinvent myself, not in a very drastic way, how to tell your narrative, but more than anything every morning, you give yourself motivation to wake up and carry on, when you know that 80% of the feedback might be negative that has absolutely nothing to do with you, it has to do with the context of environment or exogenous events.

[65:15] Jennifer: I want to circle back on this concept of self-reinvention. You've constantly reinvented yourself, going from being a journalist to very successful investor and to a world record holder in mountaineering and now serving on professional boards. 

What is your thinking around this concept of reinvention? Because there are people that do the same thing, have the same job, stay in the same place all their lives. Why does this concept of constant reinvention so appealing for you?

[65:50] Masha: I think I probably enjoy being in the zone of insecurity, as strange as it sounds. I think maybe that's why I enjoy being in the mountains. I enjoy that sense that you can bring things to order, but before that they have to be in disorder. 

Clearly the intellectual journey that we all make and in my case, obviously I lived in a very fast paced world, where political systems were changing. Deep understanding, conviction that nothing stays the same, therefore you need to evolve to remain relevant. I guess I want to be relevant, whatever that may be. 

I live now a quieter life in the mountains and maybe relevance means here something else. Now I spend more time some of the philanthropic pursuits trying to plant seeds of accomplishment of other people. That’s sense of wanting to be relevant and wanting to be a part of the dialogue, and understanding that the world changes and being curious about that and feeling okay not to know 100%.

[66:45] Jennifer: One question I forgot to ask you earlier is how do you think this inner journey of the endurance challenge of having completed the Explorer's Grand Challenge in record time, how do you think this journey changed you as a person?

[67:02] Masha: Well, I'm not afraid of any authority anymore. I remember sitting in the boardroom with, a chair who is a Minister of Finance yelling and I was thinking gosh, I am not afraid of you or I'm not scared of your authority. 

I have, at times, (been) a recipient of misogynist behavior, treatment and not comments, and I stand up to that and confront. Because I've endured, I've been many times because of mountaineering in this gray zone of being and not being, I think that gives you actually physical courage of saying, I'm not afraid. 

Because relative to that, losing your job, losing a board, losing an argument is actually such a small thing. I think it's that perspective that it gave me and very physical palpable sense of what it is like to be scared. You shouldn't be scared of authority because it's not a thunderstorm that could kill you or it's an avalanche that could bury you. So I think it's that.

[67:58] Jennifer: And being to able to successfully navigate the uncertainties around you when you're up in the mountains. So what is next for you, Masha?

[68:07] Masha: Quieter life, maybe. Look, I am a proud mother of two kids, I enjoy very much the companionship of my daughter and my son. I climb with my son so I enjoy being a part of his journey of discovering the great outdoors and being with him and doing engaging as risk-based activities and I enjoy the time that we actually most rewarding experience what a parent can have is sharing a passion, sharing a rope in our case. So I love that. 

I hope I will be in good health to climb big hills with my son, provided he still wants to do it in a few years time. I enjoy very much my stewardship work, governance works. Today I have a portfolio that could handle more. I enjoy getting, no matter how small or big the situation is, getting my head around it and trying to help deploy the network or do the earnest hard work in helping to quantify or qualify success.

And then climbing, having those journeys and those awe moments, feeling like a child in places that may not mean anything else to other people. I enjoy climbing unclimbed peaks that take you to far flung corners of Pakistan, that's where you meet amazing people and you encounter kindness, but also unknown. Those peaks won't tell anything, they're not Everest, they're not K2; they are your own personal mountains, they're meaningful to you. 

I love having come to that point where I don't need to prove that I can climb K2, I know I can, I just choose not to. I choose instead to go, I don't know, to Hunza Valley (in Pakistan) and climb a new line on a peak no one heard of.

[69:45] Jennifer: And who is your favorite climber? Do you have a favorite climber?

[69:49] Masha: Yes, I think for me, this would be (Woytek) Kurtyka. He was a Polish mountaineer, one of the first to do all fourteen 8000 meters peaks, but he was known for doing it his way, never being flashy, always climbing new routes, and he ultimately perished on one of them. It's having that sense on what mountaineering, a real mountaineering, is this journey for yourself. 

One of my favorite Soviet mountaineers is Boukreev, who perished in Annapurna by accident, but he is featured in the movie Everest because he's the guy who goes out and saves people. He said, mountains are not my stadiums of ambition, they are places where I come to worship. I think that is what it became for me. 

I (am) very much alive with the spirit - it’s not trying to do everything. Therefore, my record, actually in retrospect, is apprenticeship. I'm proud of what I've done, but it's not the thing in life that I'm most proudest of.

[70:44] Jennifer: We're soon coming to the end of this episode. Can you tell us where people can find you, and also Grit&Rock, your charity based in the UK?

[70:52] Masha: Sure, absolutely. I have a website,, or for more updates, it's Instagram, so its handle is @GritAndRock.

[71:01] Jennifer: Great. Last but not least, a question that I ask everyone. What does the Founder Spirit mean to you?

[71:07] Masha: I think it's quest and thirst for reinvention. It's never been contented with where you are, that search for what is next. That reinvention that is fed by curiosity, by unflappable drive, the ability to be a cat that lands on the feet and says that tomorrow will better. 

But again, it's the reinvention, because that was what keeps the longevity of the organizations, and I think that's what keeps us relevant and alive.

[71:36] Jennifer: Thank you. I can't wait to see how you're going to reinvent yourself next. 

We're now coming to the end of our interview, and as we end every episode with a quote. For this episode, we have a quote from Edmund Hillary, a New Zealand mountaineer explorer and philanthropist, best known for being the first climber confirmed to have reached the top of Everest in 1953 along with his sherpa Tenzing Norgay. 

“It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves.”

Masha, thank you so much for joining us today and taking us across all the summits in your life.

[72:13] Masha: Thank you, Jennifer - it’s been a huge pleasure.

[72:25] END OF AUDIO

Show Notes

(02:48) Masha’s  Childhood Growing Up in North Ossetia

(07:33) August Coup and Life as a Washington Post Report in Moscow

(17:04) How Masha Became Managing Director at Goldman Sachs

(20:00) The Story Behind the Burning Question (to the Rosneft CFO)

(23:58) Critical Skills that One Needs to Succeed as an Investor Today

(26:53) Why did Masha leave Goldman to join PIMCO

(28:05) PIMCO: a Culture of Performance, Bill Gross vs. Mohamed El-Erian

(36:25) How did Masha Become a Passionate Mountaineer 

(51:53) The Everest Climb and Summiting with Lydia Bradey

(61:36) The Impact of the Invasion of Ukraine on Her Board Memberships

(65:50) Importance of Reinvention and Staying Relevant

(71:00) What Founder Spirit Means to Masha

Social Media Links:

LinkedIn: Masha Gordon

Website: GRIT&ROCK 

Facebook: GRIT&ROCK

Instagram: Masha Gordon (@gritandrock)

Twitter: gritandrock - Masha Gordon

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