Over the weekend, we lost our beloved Erik Bengtsson in a rock climbing accident in Red Rocks, NV. Since the news has been shared, I’ve heard from many people within the Torch community about Erik. Your tears and your stories only confirm what I knew of Erik and his often magical impact on the world around him. The details surrounding his death are unclear. But none of that context would do much to fill the giant hole in our hearts or the emptiness we feel.
My friendship with Erik began well before he became a Torch executive. I was drawn to his intelligence and his ambition, as much as his highly cultivated sense of presence. When he came to our young company, he put the weight of us upon his shoulders and hefted us up a mountainside. He did it without ego or self-absorption. We were caught up in the grind of running a startup company – the wins, the losses, the hustle of it all. And during that time our trust in one another grew.
But it was not until I heard the news of his accident that I realized exactly how much I loved him. My heart is shattered to pieces and I have no idea how to put it back together. Yet somehow, I must, because I have a wife and children, and a whole community of people who share the same heartbreak as mine.
The insight for me is this: we work side by side with people, with our eyes on a common mission. If you’re rowing in the same direction with someone, day in and day out, and you count on that person, and they on you, if there’s empathy and mutual respect, you’re going to develop trust. The trust that builds over time is a form of love, and you just don’t know it until that person is ripped from your life.
I don’t think I’m alone in describing what it was like to have a relationship with Erik Bengtsson. He was naturally oriented to the needs of the other person. He was relentlessly present to whatever was in front of him, which often included many of those he miraculously found time to mentor, coach and love. During his work at Bain, Stanford GSB, DaVita Health, Bridgespan, Trium Group, and Torch, he developed trusted relationships with people who came to know him for his profound work ethic and easy smile.
Erik prioritized being a good person – and all the deep work that goes into that quest. The months and years that he spent studying mindfulness meditation, made for a very present gaze that let you feel seen in the most generous light. Erik was a surfer, a climber, a hiker and explorer. He leaves behind friends and family as well as a team who looked up to him for his character as much as his best in class skills as an operator.
Erik represented the kind of leader we need to drive us into the future as a human race. He would want nothing more than for each and every one of us to do the hard work. Do the hard work to know ourselves. Do the hard work to build deeply compassionate relationships based on presence and love, at work or otherwise. And do the work to bring the world closer to the leadership archetype he put forward. The world has lost a very beautiful man. And now, we carry his torch forward in remembrance, always.