Cathy O'Dowd First Woman to climb Everest Speaker | MFL Global
Cathy O'Dowd 1

Cathy O’Dowd

First Woman in the World to climb Everest

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.

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.

Cathy O’Dowd shares her stories about leading teams and executing plans in high-risk, high-stress environments, while striving for big goals. Learn why plans fail and how teams crumble, and discover the key tools that ensure you will get to the top.

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  • Motivational Speaker


Reaching New Heights - Teamwork & Leadership on the Slopes of the World’s Highest Mountain

Mount Everest: the highest point on Earth, guarded by vast flanks of rock, ice and snow. Of the climbers who tackle this challenge, 75% will fail, one in a hundred will die.What makes the mountain so difficult? The obvious answers are crevasses, avalanches, blizzards. However, the real danger is commonly overlooked. It is people: yourself, your team-mates.

Reaching New Heights draws on the lessons Cathy O’Dowd learnt from her first Everest expedition. With the focus on finances and logistics, the dynamic of the team was ignored. The team collapsed into in-fighting and power-play from the first day, and three members walked out before reaching base camp.

The key obstacles that Cathy and her team-mates discovered on the mountain turned out to all come from within the team. However, they also discovered hidden tools that finally got them to the top – tools that are not about ropes and ice-axes but rather ways to manage people as effectively as possible in pursuit of your common goal.

Think Like An Explorer - Doing what has never been done before

A dramatic story from an award-winning new route
 in the high Himalaya.

One of the last great mountaineering challenges – the Mazeno ridge of Nanga Parbat. International climbing teams had tried 10 times over three decades – and all failed. How would Cathy’s team be different?
And how did they adapt when their plan came up against the complicated, unexpected reality?

Cathy has turned this extraordinary experience into a case-study of the challenges of trying to do what has never been done before. She examines the pitfalls of operating in unpredictable, high-risk environments and identifies the key problems in executing ambitious plans in uncertain environments. Her analysis and solutions will help any strategic planner implement innovative objectives more effectively.

The speech includes live audience participation in the expedition decision-making process via internet polling.

To the Summit of Everest and Beyond

Join an expedition with Cathy O’Dowd as she shares her stories about leading teams and executing plans in high-risk, high-stress environments, while striving for big goals. Learn why plans fail and how teams crumble, and discover the key tools that ensure you will get to the top.

If all Cathy O'Dowd offered as an event speaker was a remarkable story - and it is a remarkable one! - she'd already be in the first tier of conference speakers with a combination of wit, eloquence and grace. But the reality is that she offers much more - a fully interactive, audience-engaging experience that offers the opportunity to adventure along with Cathy and her expedition team. That experience, in turn, provides an exceptional framework for the event to follow within which
business concepts like risk, decision-making, and strategy can be explored in context.

Gartner - Austin Texas

Cathy gave a fascinating account of her challenges when she climbed Everest, giving insight into selecting teams, building teams and having those uncomfortable conversations with a team when things are clearly going wrong: all challenges we face as project managers, though not at -30°C and 25,000 ft! I recommend getting the chance to hear Cathy.

Arup & Infrastructure Strategic Alliance

Cathy recently spoke at our company conference in front of a packed audience of over 200 guests, staff and partners. Cathy was both engaging and interactive with her audience, allowing also for the audience to participate in her story. It was very much an inspirational and uplifting hour with a focus on individual ambition and team work.

Sage Datel UK

Cathy’s achievements are incredible but what’s really fascinating is her human story of overcoming
prejudice and bias on a stage where poor judgment costs lives. Our attendees loved and learned in equal measure. If you can catch Cathy between adventures it’s very worthwhile.

ADP UK & Ireland


Cathy O'Dowd 1

ust for the love of it: The first woman to climb Mount Everest from both sides

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Cathy O'Dowd 1

Everest: Free to Decide

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Fees & Details

Fees From*

  • UK:

    £7k to £15k

  • Europe:

    £7k to £15k

  • US:

    £7k to £15k

  • Africa/Asia/ME:

    £7k to £15k

Travels From

  • Spain


English, Spanish

* This Speaker's fee falls within the ranges shown above. Ranges are presented as a guideline only. Speaker fees are subject to change without notice. For an exact quote, please contact us.

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