VBQ Speakers

Cathy O'Dowd - Keynote Speaker

Book Cathy O’Dowd as a keynote speaker with VBQ Speakers. 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. For more information on motivational speaker Cathy O'Dowd, contact VBQ Speakers founding agent Leo von Bülow-Quirk on leo@vbqspeakers.com or 0044 7833 727090.


cathy o'dowd

first woman to climb everest from both north and south sides

Speaker Themes

  • Teamwork and leadership in high-stress environments

  • Executing plans and dealing with risk

  • Goal-setting


Travels From

Andorra or London, UK





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.

A superb story-teller, Cathy draws on her extraordinary experiences as a climber to provide invaluable lessons for businesses about teamwork, leadership and succeeding in high-stress environments.

She was completing her Masters degree in Media Studies at Rhodes University, and working as university lecturer, when she saw an advert in a newspaper for a place on the first South African Everest Expedition. She was one of 200 women who applied for the Everest place, and was the one finally selected. The team followed the route made famous by Edmund Hillary. Despite being the apprentice on the team, on 25 May 1996 Cathy reached the summit. It was, however, a tough introduction, as British team-mate Bruce Herrod was killed on the descent.

In 1998 she took on the challenge of the treacherous north side of Everest, where George Mallory had famously disappeared in 1924. Her attempt ended just hours below the summit when she stopped to try and save a dying American woman.

In 1999 she returned once more, and succeeded, becoming the first woman in the world to climb Everest from both north and south sides.

Cathy has written two books about her Everest experiences, Everest: Free To Decide, co-written with Ian Woodall, and Just For The Love Of It.

In 2000 she became only the fourth woman in the world to climb Lhotse, the world’s fourth highest mountain. And in 2003 she returned to Everest one more time to make a bold but ultimately unsuccessful attempt to climb a new route on the notorious east face of Everest.

Cathy remains an active adventurer. From taking a dog-sled expedition through the remote wilderness of the Norwegian Arctic to the northern-most point of Europe, to tackling the sheer rock walls of Yosemite National Park, she always has new goals and experiences in mind.


Cathy is an impassioned and amazingly vivid story-teller. Her presentations take audiences on an emotional journey that really drives home her lessons about teamwork, how to deal with risk, and achieving the impossible.

What is it that makes some teams crumble and others succeed?

What tools do you need to ensure that you conquer your Everest?


Think Like An Explorer: going where no-one has gone before (2019)

Extracts from two of Cathy O'Dowd's most popular business motivational presentations: teamwork & leadership on Everest, and strategic project management & tackling the unknown on Nanga Parbat. 

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 this team, of which Cathy was a member, plan to be different? And how did they adapt when their plan came up against the complicated, unexpected reality?



“Cathy will take you on a journey to the top of Everest. Your emotions will feel the highs and lows. However the main thing is the lessons about yourself and team dynamics. I highly recommend Cathy as Speaker and an author. Even after seeing her speak the book made me wipe a tear from my eyes!” --- Scott Bell, Founder, UK Firewalk

"Cathy is an exceptional inspirational key note speaker. Her story about what it takes to climb Mount Everest from a team and management perspective is compelling and the key messages of the utmost relevance. “Get rid of Hippie Racers” and “Ask the Sherpas” became immediately part of our management language… Very powerful!" --- Stephan Schulz, CFO, Hartmann Group