Danny Popescu faced some trials and tribulations on his recent South American expedition
The Harbourfront Wealth Management president and CEO has climbed two of the world’s Seven Summits
Danny Popescu attempted a 15-years-later revival of one of his life highlights this past January, and like Sylvester Stallone slipping back into Rocky Balboa’s trunks or Bruce Willis finding John McClane’s grin again, there were some growing pains.
Having had a great experience climbing Mount Kilimanjaro for a BC Children’s Hospital charity effort at the age of 30, Popescu thought he’d tackle the Western Hemisphere’s highest peak: Mount Aconcagua in Argentina.
It wasn’t the first time he’d considered it. About three years earlier, he’d put together an expedition with a few friends. “Unfortunately, it fell apart,” Popescu remembers. “Everybody who thought they might come decided against it, so it was just me who was left. I had flights booked, the whole thing. So I cancelled them.”
But the topic resurfaced among his buddies again around December 2018. And just over a year later, one day before he turned 45, he was on a plane to Argentina.
The stakes were considerably, um, higher, this time. Not only was Popescu 15 years older, he had also pledged to match the charitable donations he raised for Harbourfront Gives, the charity created by his investment firm, Harbourfront Wealth Management. That ended up being about $35,000, which Popescu happily matched.
So he trained for about a year in advance of the two-week journey, everything from running to mountain biking to lifting weights at the gym and doing long hikes with 30 pounds of water jugs in his backpack. But Popescu didn’t find the fitness aspect an issue as much as the acclimatization, or lack thereof.
“In hindsight, I think the strategy could have differed a bit,” he admits. “We ended up spending more time at base camp, because there was some fear that there would be higher winds, which would prevent us from summiting.”
That meant that Popescu and his team of five missed two of the three scheduled acclimatization hikes, which are designed to ease climbers into the abrupt change in atmosphere.
“We made it to the last camp before the summit, and the next morning, most of us felt sick right off the bat,” he recalls. “And I sort of felt like I was in and out of consciousness; I was pretty out of it. Four of the five of us ended up turning around.”
In the end, Popescu got up to 21,200 feet above sea level. Aconcagua’s highest peak? About 1,600 feet higher. “I slept all afternoon and felt good the next morning, which would have been a good one to go back up,” he says, his voice tinged with regret. “But unfortunately we ran out of time—couldn’t give it a second go.”
Though not a regular climber, Popescu does consider himself something of an adventure junkie. That can be attributed at least partly to coming to Vancouver in 2001 from his native Toronto. In B.C., he joined Wellington West Capital, becoming a partner and reaping some of the benefits of its $333-million sale in 2011.
Two years later, he jumped back in the fray, starting Harbourfront, where he now serves as president and CEO. He also took up hobbies like mountain biking, skiing and water sports, which he notes are “pretty common in Vancouver.”
As for trying two intimidating mountain treks without much prior experience? Popescu attributes some of that to being “biased to children’s charitable initiatives,” thanks to his young kids.
But also: “It’s just cool to accomplish a goal and be on top of one of these mountains, two of the Seven Summits,” he says, referring to the highest mountains on each of the seven continents. “Just thought it would be a bucket-list thing.”
We can’t wait for the threequel in another 15 years. Stay tuned for Climb Hard: Everest.
Danny Popescu founded Vancouver-based Harbourfront Wealth Management in 2013 and is president and CEO of the privately held firm, which has about 150 employees spread over 19 branches across Canada. Popescu credits Harbourfront’s ability to scale up to its partnership model, which encourages collaboration. “Most investment advisers are unfortunately quite unhappy where they are–that’s the nature of the industry right now,” he says. “We have a very refreshing culture, we’re agile, we make decisions quickly, and we’re adviser-owned. Advisers at our firm get a seat at the table, help shape the company and get equity.”
He also maintains that Harbourfront specializes in alternative investments that give advisers the freedom to act in their clients’ best interests: “We embrace it, whereas some of the big banks are afraid of the unknown.”