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Cathy O'Dowd

Teamwork & Leadership on the slopes of the world’s highest mountain International

LeadershipTeamworkGoal achievementOvercoming obstaclesMotivation / inspirationRisk managementProject managementLeadership in uncertaintySurviving a VUCA worldChange managementInnovationRisk managementEffective project managementTeam dynamics


Kathy O’Dowd was the first woman in the world to climb Mount Everest, the world’s highest mountain, from both it's North and South sides. Her first ascent of Everest happened in the midst of the chaotic events that form the basis of the ‘true story’ behind the 2015 Hollywood movie Everest.

Cathy grew up in Johannesburg and has climbed ever since leaving school. She was completing her Masters degree in Journalism, while working as a university lecturer, when she saw a newspaper advert for a place on the First 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. She has 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 on or around Everest 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 challenges, 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 has been a professional speaker for nearly 20 years and has presented her message to companies in over 40 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. She is also a holder of the CSPGlobal designation, which indicates recognition by peers and clients of global speaking competence and experience.

Cathy remains a committed adventurer. Her last Himalayan epic involved teaming up with two top British Alpinists and three Sherpas to attempt 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.

In her free time she does technical rock-climbing and ski-mountaineering. 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.

Key Facts

Countries Performed In

  • 34

Clients Past & Present

  • World Bank
  • Rolls Royce
  • Vodafone

Talk Time Duration

  • 50 minutes