South African mountaineer Cathy O’Dowd is the first woman in the world to climb Mount Everest from both sides. Her many high Himalayan expeditions provided extensive experience with individuals and teams facing stress, risk and overwhelming challenge. She shares these insights with her corporate audiences through story-driven expedition case-studies. She is an internationally acclaimed motivational speaker who has spoken in over 40 countries.
Cathy remains an active adventurer and in spring of 2019 will be doing a ski ascent of Mt Steele, a 5000 meter peak in the Canadian Yukon.
Cathy O’Dowd speaks on the following topics:
Cathy O’Dowd is the first woman in the world to climb Mount Everest, the world’s highest mountain, from both its north and south sides. Her first ascent of Everest happened in the midst of the chaotic events that form of the basis of the ‘true story’ behind the Hollywood movie Everest.
Cathy, who grew up in Johannesburg, South Africa, has climbed ever since leaving school. She was completing her Masters degree in Journalism, while working as university lecturer, when she saw a newspaper advert for a place on the 1st South African Everest Expedition. Six months later she was the first South African to summit Everest. Three years later she became the first woman in the world to climb the mountain from both sides. Finally she made one last expedition to Everest to try a new route on the Kangshung face. She has written a book about her Everest experiences, Just For The Love Of It.
The years she spent in the Himalaya were for her a degree ‘in living’. The insights she discovered about herself, and about individuals and teams under intense stress in the face of overwhelming challenge, are ones she has been sharing with her corporate audiences ever since. Her stories touch on themes of importance to anyone trying to run successful projects and get the best out of people.
Cathy’s most challenging Himalayan epic was as part of team forging a new route on an 8000 metre peak. Although Cathy herself did not reach the summit, two of her teammates did, doing the first ascent of Nanga Parbat via the Mazeno ridge, and winning the prestigious Piolet d’Or for their achievement. She has turned this experience into a fascinating interactive case-study of successful project execution of truly innovative goals.
Cathy has been a professional speaker for over 20 years and has presented her message to companies in 44 countries on six continents. She is a Fellow of the Professional Speaking Association of UK/Ireland, who have given her their highest award, the Professional Speaking Award of Excellence.
Her spring 2019 expedition is a ski ascent of Mt Steele, a 5000 metre peak in the Canadian Yukon.
Cathy is actively involved with charities focused on female empowerment, notably the Rwenzori Women for Health project in Uganda, and the Astraia Female Leadership Foundation in Germany.
She lives in Andorra, in the Pyrenees mountains, from where she pursues her speaking career, and explores the mountains of Europe. In her free time she does technical rock-climbing and ski-mountaineering.
“I have hired over 250 speakers for corporate clients' events globally. When it comes to finding authentic content with metaphors and tangible evidence of lessons for individual teams and leaders there are few better than Cathy. When it comes to inspirational delivery and a room full of leaders where you can hear a pin drop as she shares her story you know you have a hit on your hands. A joy to work with. Spot on timing as agreed Wonderful visual support. Superb. The end!!” Rexam Forum
“I just wanted to say how much I enjoyed your talk at the Rexam Forum. It was fascinating but also carried very clear and strong learning, which you brought out perfectly.” Rexam PLC
“Fascinating and inspiring insight into ‘mountain life’ and the importance of effective teamwork.” NQT Lead at MSTAlliance
“It has been a pleasure listening to you and the feedback I got from the team was overwhelming. And I was not joking when I said that I have never seen a GE audience being so attentive.” GE Wind Energy GmbH
“We asked Cathy to talk to our Leadership Team at a global conference with people from the US, LatAm, Europe and Asia, where our overall theme wasLeadership. Cathy was very thorough, with pre-meetings to understand our business and exactlywhat we were looking for. Cathy took the time to be with the team before her talk and this was really valuable. Cathy held the audience from start to finish and it really spoke to our challenges as a team – she was an inspiration! Her ability to talk to such a global audience with enough for all of the different nationalities present was also truly impressive.” Sealed Air Corporation
“Microsoft Summit 2014 the biggest business and technology conference in Romania – Cathy's one hour presentation was highly appreciated by the audience, and her speech was rated in top 10 out of 58 sessions of the entire conference.” Microsoft Romania
“A big Thank you“ for your very inspirational, lively and thought provoking presentation in Berlin last Thursday night at our Rolls-Royce RB3043 Kick Start event. The feedback I received from the team was extremely positive – we all felt very privileged for the opportunity to listen to you and your thoughts on leadership! I’m very convinced reflecting on your talk will help us to become even better leaders in our field of expertise.” Rolls Royce Germany
“Cathy is truly an inspirational professional speaker. I had a chance to listen to her in London Business School, and it was amazing. Cathy has got the talent in keeping the attention of audience and she could really take our motivations to the height of Himalayas.” DESPEC International FZCO
“The speech contained all the allegories and metaphors we had agreed together on themes such as: safety, objectives, team work, adversity, change, etc. These could have been done in a very obvious manner but the approach was instead natural not obvious and gave for a great and involving speech.” Enel Green Power
Your speech was excellent! The feedback to your speech was extremely good and positive. The story was great, the speech was exciting, fitted to our situation, you were in time… In total: Perfect!
The response … has been overwhelmingly positive…. the audience found your story thoroughly compelling and the way in which you weaved in our messages was superb. I can only express my sincere thanks on behalf of everyone here for helping to really bring the session to life.
It was a great inspirational presentation. I have really enjoyed listening to you, Everybody was really impressed.
The conference went well. Cathy did a fantastic job and we had a positive feedback from all.
Thanks for a fantastic job last week. The team really enjoyed the presentation as well as the time you spent with each of us talking thru your experiences. We were able to fit a lot of the themes into the rest of the week – especially the focus on ambition. The combination of fantastic pictures, your personal style and a simply amazing story provided for an experience the team will not forget.
You did an excellent job in sharing your experiences in a high-performing team and provided some really good insights.
Cathy … is a lovely person. Our meeting has been a great success, and Cathy’s brilliant and inspiring presentation top it all. People enjoy her passion, her practical approach to the topics (may I say … feminine approach?) and her communication skills. With not doubts, it has been a successful intervention.
The evening was perfect and you hit a home run! … your presentation was terrific!
I absolutely loved your presentation and how it can relate to our personal and professional lives.
Think Like An Explorer – https://youtu.be/PK8xmTYwqPs
Reaching New Heights – https://youtu.be/NbWhT-rQXQw
Cathy's recently completed an expedition to a new route on an 8000-m peak – Mazeno Ridge of Nanga Parbat the 9th highest peak in the world.
An interview with Cathy O'Dowd
Who or what is your motivation to achieve? I'm strongly driven by curiosity and I'm more interested in the process than the outcome. I set myself goals because I get more done that way, but I'm doing it for the experience of the journey. I'm interested to know what I will find and how I will cope when I put myself in testing situations.
Why is it important for businesses and organisations to motivate staff in recession? In difficult times uncertainty rises, self-confidence drops, stress increases and rewards are few and far between. Given that the efficiency of an organisation rests heavily on how well the staff perform their duties, taking the time to recognise, motivate and reward staff who are enduring difficult circumstances is crucial to the bottom line.
What was the turning point of your sporting life? Seeing an advertisement in a South African newspaper looking for a woman to join the 1st South African Everest Expedition. I came close to not applying – the male team members had already been invited and many of my friends thought the whole thing a tacky piece of sexist drama for the media sponsors – and my life would be very different had I not applied and finally been selected.
What was the turning point of your personal life? Becoming the first South African to climb Everest. That opened a whole host of doors to me: the chance to write a book, to work as a professional speaker, to plan further sponsored expeditions, to become self-employed, eventually to move to Europe. These were all opportunities born out of that one achievement.
Were there times you thought you would not succeed? There are plenty of projects that I have attempted where I have not succeeded. One important lesson in my life has been learning that failure is okay, what you learn by having participated can never be taken away from you and feeds into being that much better prepared for the next challenge. Another lesson has been to understand that there are different kinds of success. To have the courage to walk away from an attempt on a mountain summit in order to get home safely is another kind of success. There are many goals in life, we need to keep their relative importance in perspective.
What are you hoping to achieve in the future? I have a very immediate goal in my current expedition, which has the goal of the first ascent of Nanga Parbat – the world's 9th highest peak – by the Mazeno Ridge. This is one of the great uncompleted challenges left in the high Himalaya and I am one of a team of six trying it. http://mazenoridge.com
What makes a good manager or leader? Someone with the confidence to delegate the admin so they can focus on the vision, and on the morale of the team. Someone who can change their leadership style as circumstances change. Someone who can inspire their staff to achieve more than they thought they could.
Why do you think it is important to book an external speaker Highly intelligent, highly trained people quickly get bored by hearing the same information over and over again from within the field they are already well qualified in. Yet their leaders know that they often don't apply the principles they already know. A good external speaker takes their audience on an unexpected, exciting, unusual journey but use it to bring them back to the key issues that the management team wants reinforced.
Why are experiences from the Himalaya relevant to business? In my experience working with teams at high-altitude the people attracted to such challenges are similar in character to those who end up successful in business: ambitious, self-confident, a little egotistical, not that good at co-operating, everyone's a 'leader' which can leave one a little short on team players! So ideas about how to get the best out of such a group of individuals apply to both climbers and executives. Another important parallel is that both groups tend to be obsessed by the dramatic external risks that are not that likely and anyway, are largely out of our control. And they overlook the many small issues about the dynamic within their teams which can make or break a project, and a business. In business, just like the mountains, the 'soft skills', the 'personnel issues' are difficult to quantify, easily overlooked, and yet absolutely crucial to giving your team that extra edge.
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