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Cathy O'Dowd

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


Cathy ODowd is the first woman in the world to climb Mount Everest, the worlds 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 storybehind the 2015 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. 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 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 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 dOr for their achievement.

Her next expedition will be a ski ascent of Mount Logan, the second highest peak in North America, in spring of 2016. 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.


Reaching New Heights: teamwork and leadership from the slopes of the world’s highest mountain

  • Leadership 

  • Teamwork

  • Goal achievement

  • Overcoming obstacles

  • Motivation / inspiration

  • Risk management

  • Project management

Think Like An Explorer: going where no one has gone before

  • Leadership in uncertainty

  • Surviving a VUCA world

  • Change management

  • Innovation

  • Risk management

  • Effective project management

  • Team dynamics


"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 !!

Ronnie Stronge, Chairman of Stronge Communications Ltd + event moderator for Rexam Forum, 2015

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.

Lisa Carroll, Director of Technology at Rexam PLC, 2015


“Fascinating and inspiring insight into ‘mountain life’ and the importance of effective teamwork.”

Louise Moore, NQT Lead at MSTAlliance, 2015


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.

Andreas von Bobart, GE Wind Energy GmbH, 2015


Key Facts

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