Outside the grind: Benjamin Gammell

He’s the heli-skiing CFO of Brex.
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Benjamin Gammell

· 4 min read

Outside the Grind is our occasional feature that spotlights the unique passion projects, side hustles, and hobbies of finance professionals outside of the office. Let us know if you know, or you are, a CFO or finance pro with an interesting, weird, or unusual side gig.

Benjamin Gammell, CFO of San Francisco-based spend platform Brex, took his passion for skiing to new heights when he started heli-skiing.

For the uninitiated (or “sane,” some may say), heli-skiing is nearly the same as snowboarding or skiing, with one high-flying exception: Participants hit the slopes not by ski lift, but by helicopter.

CFO Brew recently spoke to Gammell about his love of snowboarding and heli-skiing, and how it forces him to live in the moment.

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

How did you become interested in heli-skiing?

There’s a group of Australians that go every year that are probably more my dad’s generation and maybe a couple of decades younger—probably in their 40s—who go once a year. There just happened to be a spot that opened up on that trip, and they were looking for someone to come along. I sort of put my hand up as someone who wants to do so and have been hooked ever since.

How long have you been heli-skiing?

For the last seven years, so I’ve gone a fair amount. And it’s always a little bit of a challenge with work because when you’re out on the mountain you have zero phone reception; there’s no way to get in contact. So, for eight hours of the day, I’m unreachable. But we make it work. And, actually, one of the things I would say is part of my love of heli-skiing—the skiing component is just phenomenal, but also the helicopter component as well. I actually [am] getting my helicopter license because I have a general love of flying. And I think it’s incredible what the pilots can do in terms of landing on these tiny precipices at the top of a mountain.

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Are you going to volunteer then, once you get that license, to just do it all—just land the helicopter and go skiing?

I would definitely not trust myself. These are far more impressive veteran helicopter pilots. I just enjoy the experience. And I think generally speaking—this goes both to heli-skiing and also flying the helicopter—you can’t really focus on other things while you’re doing this thing. I can’t think about work when I’m flying a helicopter or when I’m heli-skiing because when you do, if you’re distracted, maybe bad things happen. And so, I like the ability to do these types of activities that very much require my focus, require my energy. That doesn’t necessarily mean I’m thinking about what to cook later that night or work that I have the following week.

Do you see any connection or shared aspects of snowboarding and heli-skiing with what you do in finance?

A lot of it relates to how you operate in finance and how you ski in general, which is, when you’re early in your career or early in your skiing career, you generally are very focused on making the next turn. It’s like, “OK, what do I have to do to make this change?” Whereas, as you progress both in your career but also as you get more adept at skiing—and definitely when you go heli-skiing—you need to be not just thinking about your next turn, but several turns thereafter. [You think,] “Yes, I’m making this turn now, but really, I should be thinking three, four, five turns down the run,” because that’s how you avoid tree wells, or that’s how you don’t go off a cliff.…I think the same applies to work. It’s really thinking through not what is it I need to do next week or even next month or next quarter, but how do I think about the next several quarters, layering up to an overall plan or an overall strategy?

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CFO Brew helps finance pros navigate their roles with insights into risk management, compliance, and strategy through our newsletter, virtual events, and digital guides.