23 Aug Leadership Lessons From Mt Everest with Alison Levine
Today’s guest is Alison Levine, the author of On the Edge: Lessons Learned from Mount Everest. She’s also the executive producer of The Glass Ceiling, a documentary about a woman who was the first one in Nepal to climb Mount Everest. She has some great takeaways like what is your mantra, your three-word mantra? Find out what hers are and why it’s so valuable. She tells the story of climbing Mount Everest, that it’s not a straight line up and psychologically what that does to you. She said, “backing up is not the same thing as backing down.” One of the things she talks about also is how she launched her speaking career and how difficult that was, and she said, “You need to treat every opportunity as if this is your big break.” Finally, she has the secrets to choosing a great team, which is experience, expertise, and ego.
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Leadership Lessons From Mt Everest with Alison Levine
Hi and welcome to The Successful Pitch. Today I am thrilled and honored to have Alison Levine as the guest because I got to hear her speak in person. She’s a history-making polar explorer and mountaineer. She served as the team captain of the first women’s Everest expedition that’s climbing the highest peak on each continent, skied on both the North and the South Pole. That’s called an adventure grand slam, which fewer than 40 people in the world have achieved, and then in 2008 she made history as the first American to complete a 600 mile traverse from west Antarctica to the South Pole following the route of the legendary explorer, I’m going to kill his name, Reinhold Messner.
Alison had completed this arduous journey on skis, and believe me when she tells the story, it’s arduous. While hauling 150 pounds of her gear and supplies in a sled harnessed to her waist, she made history once again in 2016 when she completed the first ascent of Antarctica’s Hall Peak. Her success in extreme environments is noteworthy given that she’s had three heart surgeries and suffers from Raynaud’s disease which causes the arteries that feed her fingers and toes to collapse in cold weather, leaving her at extreme risk for frostbite. That just alone boggles my mind.
In addition to having tackled some of the most challenging environments in the outdoors, she spent time climbing the corporate ladder. She worked in the pharmaceutical and medical device industry and earned an MBA from Duke and spent three years working for Goldman Sachs and then she left that in 2003 and served as deputy finance director for Arnold Schwarzenegger in his successful bid to become governor of California.
And she’s done so many other things that it just continues to impress me, but she’s a keynote speaker. She’s addressed audiences from Fortune 500 companies. She’s the author of the New York Times bestseller On the Edge: Leadership Lessons from Mount Everest and Other Extreme Environments, and that includes Wall Street which I just think is hilarious. She also has an amazing new role where she’s the executive producer of the upcoming documentary film, The Glass Ceiling, and the website’s TheGlassCeilingMovie which chronicles the life of a Sherpa and her quest to become the first Nepali woman to climb Mount Everest, so there’s a whole lot of things to unpack. Alison, welcome to the show.
Thank you. Thank you so much for having me.
Well, you are just a bundle of energy on stage, off stage, because it takes all of that. I always like to ask my guests to tell me a little bit of the story of origin, so let’s go back. We can go back further if you’d like, but let’s start with getting your MBA at Duke and your idea of, “I’m going to go work on Wall Street and do all this.” Was that always the focus?
No. You know what, it was never the focus. When I went back to grad school, I was a liberal arts major, I grew up in Arizona, went to the University of Arizona for undergrad and had no exposure to business classes whatsoever, and I had this dream of starting my own adventure travel company and I thought, “Well, if I want to get investors and start this company I’m going to need some kind of business background, and so I should go to business school.”
So I ended up applying to a bunch of business schools. Got a partial scholarship to Duke. I was super excited but I thought, “OK if I’m here at Duke, I’m here to go to business school. I’m here to learn about business. I’ve worked in sales. I’ve worked in marketing. I have those skills. I might as well really focus on more finance and accounting and if I want to learn finance I should try to get an internship on Wall Street for the summer.” I thought, “Well, I’m just going to do it for the summer. I would never actually want a job on Wall Street because that’s just not me at all.” I thought, “Well, if I’m going to go to Wall Street for the summer I should try to go to a big firm,” and I interviewed with all the big firms. Ended up getting some offers. Went to Goldman for the summer and I thought, “Well, I’m just here for the summer. I would never actually want to work here.”
Then, of course, it really surprised me because I met so many interesting, smart, talented people for the summer and ended up getting an offer to go back there full time and took the offer, and it’s interesting because even though I never really liked the job itself, I did love the people. I felt like every day I was learning something from my colleagues, and what I loved about the people was that they were clutch players. What I mean by that is that whenever somebody at that firm told you they were going to get something done, they did it.
It’s funny, I was only there for a few years but when I left the firm I realized the rest of the world doesn’t necessarily work that way. People promise you all kinds of things and they tell you they’re going to meet deadlines and they don’t do it. People at Goldman, when they say they’re going to get it done they get it done, and that’s something I really value. People you know you can count on. People that are going to come through for you. That’s the type of environment that it was and I really liked that.
Well, it’s almost foreshadowing for climbing Mount Everest, because you really need your team to do what they say they’re going to do, don’t you?
Exactly. Exactly. You want to know that you’re climbing with people that you can count on.
One of the things that are so important whether you’re climbing Mount Everest or starting a business or working in a culture is choosing the right team. Investors tell me all the time that’s really the number one criteria more than the idea of who they’re going to invest in and when people are starting their own business it’s all about the team, and you have a wonderful chapter called Choosing Your Team from your book On the Edge about, “The Three Es: experience, expertise, and ego.” Can you tell us a little bit about what’s in that chapter and how you used that for assembling your team?
First of all, when you’re climbing Mount Everest obviously you want to be up there with people who have the skill and the experience to get to the top of the mountain and get back down alive. But you also want people who are going to be really good team players because you’re spending two months in a tent with that person. The team has to gel and you have to have people that are going to look out for the people around them because look, even the best players, the most talented, skilled climbers, the smartest employees, everybody’s going to have a bad day once in awhile, so you want people that are going to supportive, that are going to be team players.
Some advice I got from Coach K who was kind enough to write the foreword for my book and taught me a lot about how to choose the right team. He’s the head men’s basketball coach at Duke University. The winningest coach in the history of men’s Division I college basketball. Spent years as the coach of the US men’s Olympic basketball team and brought home several gold medals, so that guy knows something about how to put together a team.
He’s the one that taught me about ego because I always thought well, ego’s bad. You don’t want ego on your team. And he said, “No, you want ego.” And he said that when he’s putting together a team he looks for two kinds of ego. The first is what he calls, “performance ego.” He said, “I want people who are good and who know that they’re good,” and I thought, “Alright, that makes sense.” Because I do not want to be climbing a mountain or starting a business with people who are thinking, “Gosh, I don’t know. Maybe we’re a little out of our league here.” You want to be climbing with people who are thinking, “I’ve got this. I’ve got this.” That’s performance ego.
The other kind of ego that he taught me that is so important is team ego. He said, “You want people on your team who are going to feel that collectively, the interests of the team are more important than the interests of the individual.” He said, “The name on the front of the uniform, Team USA, is more important than the name on the back of the uniform,” and that made sense to me too because I didn’t want to be climbing Mount Everest again with people who were super selfish climbers and weren’t looking out for other people and were putting their own interests ahead of the team’s interests. So I really learned a lot from Coach K about why ego is so important. You want to find people for your team who have the perfect mix of skill and experience, but who are also going to be really good team players.
I love that. That’s so great. There’s two kinds of ego, performance ego which is, “I know I can do it,” and then the team ego which is, “But it’s not all about me at the same time,” which is that fine balance of confidence without arrogance and really caring about other people. There’s a lot of people that are falling into different buckets so you need that perfect chemistry. One of the things that really was my big takeaway from listening to your amazing keynote, Alison, is this whole concept of the journey up the mountain, and I don’t think most people know how you have to backtrack to go forward. I think that is such a great analogy for starting a business or being in business sometimes. Can you explain to us what that all means and what would you say to yourself if you were going back?
I agree with you. I think it’s a great analogy for business whether you’re starting a business or whether you’re somewhere further along in your career working for somebody else and thinking about starting your own business. There are so many analogies with this one. When you’re climbing Mount Everest, people typically think that you start off at base camp and then you climb to camp one and then you climb to camp two, you climb to camp three. You go higher on the mountain until you get to the summit. That sounds logical, but that is not the way that climbing Mount Everest works.
First of all, it’s going to take you 10 days just to get to base camp and set everything up. Base camp is over 17,000 feet. Once you’ve been at base camp for a few days and you’re used to the altitude and your body has adjusted a little bit, then you get ready to climb to camp one. You climb up to camp one, you spend the night up there, and after you spend the night up there the next day you actually come back down to base camp again, and then you spend a few nights at base camp again. Then you climb up to camp one again for the second time, and then you climb up to camp two.
And after you get up to camp two which is about 21,500 feet, so higher than any mountain in the US. Higher than Denali in Alaska. You’re up there. The next day you pack up your stuff and you come all the way back down to base camp again and then you spend a few nights there again. Then you climb to camp one again and spend a night, and then you climb to camp two again and spend a night. Then the next day you’re going to spend maybe 9 or 10 hours fighting your way up the mountain to get to camp three. Now you’re at 24,000 feet and after you spend a night up there you come all the way back down to base camp again. I know it sounds like wait a minute, wait a minute. You’re going in the wrong direction because you’re going back down to base camp, but the reason that you have to keep coming back down to base camp is that you have to let your body get used to the altitude very slowly.
It’s what we call acclimatization. You have to acclimatize slowly because if someone were to magically drop you off on the summit of Mount Everest by a helicopter or something like that, you would actually be dead in a matter of minutes from the altitude. That’s why you have to move up very slowly to give your body time to adjust. But, (there’s always a but, right?) the catch is that when you’re above an elevation of about 18,000 feet which is going to be any camp above your main base camp. Anytime you’re above 18,000 feet your body is starting to deteriorate and your muscles are getting weaker, so it’s this crazy, crazy balance of trying to spend time up high to get used to the altitude, but you have to come back down low so you can eat, sleep, hydrate, and regain some of that strength that you lost being at the higher altitude.
It’s very, very physically exhausting and emotionally, psychologically can be very frustrating because you know you want to be going up the mountain. You’re thinking about the summit. You got to get to 29,035 feet, but you’re spending so much time climbing back down the mountain, down to the lower camps, down to base camp, and you might feel like you’re losing ground because you’ve worked so hard to get up to that point where you’ve hit your high point, and then you give up all the elevation and you go back down. But you’re not losing ground. You’re just helping your body acclimatize and you’re gaining strength, so I always like to remind people that backing up is not the same as backing down.
That’s a great tweet. Really love that line.
Right? Backing up is not the same as backing down, and just because you’re going backward doesn’t mean you’re not making progress. For whatever reason, we always think that progress has to happen in one particular direction and that’s just not the case. Sometimes you are going to have to go backward. Sometimes you will find yourself backtracking, and that’s OK. Just realize that it’s time to regroup, regain some strength so you’re better out of the gates the next time around. Backing up is not the same as backing down.
That’s one of my favorite takeaways from you, and you also talk, the psychological importance of climbing a mountain, starting a business, not giving up. You have these three words. “What’s your mantra?” That’s what really interests me is, what do I say to myself? If we all are telling stories to get people to sponsor what we’re doing, hire us, fund us, hire us to speak, whatever it is, the story we tell ourselves I think is so important so I really want you to tell these three words that you have in your wonderful book On the Edge about what’s your mantra?
For me, I needed a mantra to help me stay centered and help me figure out how to navigate the most difficult times, and I think if everybody has their own mantra that can help you find your way when you’re feeling a little bit lost. For me, my three words that I use to describe myself as my mantra is, “Count on me.” I want people to know that I am going to come through, so if I’m pitching a business or I’m trying to get funding or I’m trying to get something sponsored, that’s the thing I want to come through.
I want people to know that they can count on me to pull together this business, to pull together this film, to pull together this expedition and know that when I’m doing it, when I’m working on it, they’re going to get 200,000% effort from me that I am not going to give up. I am not going to stop. I’m going to get the job done, and I think that’s why people invest in other people because they trust that they’re going to get it done, no matter what it takes. I am going to go to the mat and make it happen, whatever I have to do. Whatever mountains I have to move, it’s going to get done, and I think people feel confident about investing in people that have that sense of determination and resilience.
We’ve come full circle to when you were talking about being a clutch player at Goldman Sachs. It’s fascinating, isn’t it? It’s a through line through your life and through your different things that you do. You tell the story of getting within I think it was 200 feet of the top and a storm coming.
And then having to go down, and the thing that people in any kind of business. We’ve all had failures. Sometimes they’re not quite as public as what you went through where you’re on television or expectations, but you had this great line of what somebody said to you at a cocktail party. Would you mind sharing a little bit of the context of that story? Because it’s one of my favorites.
Of course. The setup is that I was the team captain for the 1st American Women’s Everest Expedition and because we were the 1st American Women’s Everest Expedition we had tons of media coverage. We did all the talk shows circuit. The morning show talk shows. The evening news anchors were interviewing us. 450 media outlets following our climb. CNN doing live updates from the mountain. And then we miss the summit by just a couple hundred feet.
It’s a very high profile failure of course with all this media coverage, so then you come back and everybody feels like they’re so disappointed in you and you go from being this person that’s praised in the media to being the butt of Jay Leno’s opening monologue joke. How does that feel to have such a public failure? And especially when you’re someone like me where your motto, you pride yourself on, “count on me,” but sometimes there are external factors that come into play. For us it was the weather. There are uncontrollable things when you’re in environments that are constantly shifting and changing, just like the business world, just like entrepreneurs have to deal with every day. All these things that are outside of your control. We didn’t make the summit and we had to come back to media scrutiny and I had to come back to just people asking me a ton of questions. “What happened? How could you get that close and not make it?”
The anecdote you were referring to was at a dinner party I went to shortly after I returned where the host of the dinner party was introducing me to the other guests. He said, “Hey, this is my friend Alison. She just climbed Mount Everest,” and the guy sitting across the table from me said, “Oh, no way. Mount Everest. All the way to the top?” And of course, I then had to say, “Well, no. No. We turned around just a couple hundred feet from the top in a storm.” And he looked at me and said, “Oh, so you didn’t climb Mount Everest.” And I was like, “Two months on that mountain dealing with hurricane force winds, sub zero temperatures, near death experiences and avalanches, and then here’s this guy going, ‘Oh, so you didn’t do it.’”
I was explaining to him the whole situation, I was like, “Well look, we spent two months on the mountain. We just had bad luck with the weather.” I gave him a whole lecture about getting to the top is optional. Getting down is mandatory. And he said, “Yeah, but look. If you weren’t at the very top then you didn’t climb it. If you weren’t at the top then it doesn’t count.” So I said, “OK, what do you do, tough guy?” He said, “I work for J.P. Morgan.” And I said, “Oh, wow. No way. You’re the CEO of J.P. Morgan?” And he said, “Wait a minute, no. I’m not the CEO. I didn’t say I was the CEO. I work in fixed income trading.” And I said, “Oh, well then I guess you don’t really work for J.P. Morgan then, do you? Because if you’re not at the very top then it doesn’t count.” And he was like, “Oh, that’s totally different. That’s not even the same thing at all.” And I was like, “Ah, whatever with you.”
People put so much focus on getting to the summit of a mountain, and what they don’t realize, everybody has their mountains to climb. Mine are literal. Most people’s are figurative but everybody’s got mountains in life whether it’s entrepreneurial stuff, whether you’re still working for a big company. Whether it’s your family or your community or sports or whatever it is you’re dealing with, you’ve got mountains.
Everyone’s got their mountains to climb and what you have to remember is that getting to the top of a mountain is not the important thing. It’s about the lessons you learn along the way when you’re getting your ass kicked on the way to the top and then what you’re going to do with that information to be better on your next climb.
Love it. By the way, everyone who’s listening, if you didn’t catch it in the introduction, Alison did go back and did get to the top, and one of the fascinating things for me was she said, “It didn’t feel that different.” That’s the irony.
The thing is it took me eight years to go back, and I think this is such an important lesson for entrepreneurs is it took me eight years to go back because I was so afraid to fail again. After such a high profile failure I thought, “What if I don’t make it again and what are people going to think again and how will I ever get a sponsor to invest in me again?” And so I regret the fact that it took eight years for me to get up enough guts and enough courage to try again, because I was so afraid of failure and then when I did summit on my second attempt and completed as you mentioned the adventure grand slam, which is climbing the seven summits, the highest peak on each continent, and then skiing to both the North and the South Pole.
When I finally did complete it I realized that getting to the top of Everest just wasn’t that big of a deal. It really wasn’t, because it’s just a pile of rock and ice. Let’s keep things in perspective here. Granted it’s a very tall pile of rock and ice, but come on. You’re standing on top of a pile of rock and ice. That’s not going to change you. It’s not going to change the world. You are the only person who can change you, right?
And look, changing the world. Who’s changing the world? Entrepreneurs. Look, I respect entrepreneurs a heck of a lot more than I respect people that stand on top of a mountain. Sure, and entrepreneurs have to have that same grit and that same determination and they have to survive their own hurricane force winds and sudden avalanches and things like that in their business. I think you can learn so many things climbing a mountain that help you in other aspects of life, but climbing the mountain itself I just don’t think is important. Like I said it’s what you learn along the way and what you’re going to do with that information to be better.
Look, anyone that knows a little something about the history of Mount Everest will know the names Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay. First guys to summit that mountain. But what you also have to remember is that there were dozens of climbers who tried and failed before Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay made it to the summit, but those two guys, they had the benefit of all of the beta from those previous climbers, and those other guys are gutsy. They were the ones that were so brave and so gutsy to go at it first, and Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay got to learn from their mistakes and their past experience. If those other guys hadn’t had the courage to try and fail first, maybe Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay would never have made it to the summit.
Love it. One of the things you referenced earlier is this fear of failure. “How am I ever going to get somebody to invest in me?” Can you tell us the story of who you got as a sponsor for your climb and that you had two different choices and obviously one was much better than the other?
When I was putting together the 1st American Women’s Everest Expedition, this is back in 2001. We started putting the team together for the 2002 climb and climbing Everest was quite expensive, $25,000. It’s almost actually double that now but at the time: $25,000. I didn’t have any money. Nobody else I knew in the climbing community had any money. So we could only make this trip happen if we found sponsors, so I started pitching everybody I knew under the sun. I was leaving voicemail messages. This is back when people used phones. And sending out emails and nothing was happening, so I figured out I needed to do something creative in my pitch to get people to pay attention and to take action.
Instead of just sending emails, “Hey, we’re putting together this expedition. Are you interested in being a sponsor? Here’s what you get.” I started sending out my hiking boot in a cardboard box, and I would put a note to people in the box and I’d explain what we wanted to do. How we had this dream of becoming the first American women’s Everest team, and I said at the end, “Whether or not you choose to sponsor us, I really need my boot back so make sure you send it back to me because I have to train. I can’t train for this climb. I need to be prepared for my climb. I can’t train until I get my boot back.”
I thought that would make people take action quickly and I put a return, a prepaid FedEx label in there hoping that they would return the boot. Then I kept getting the boot back like, “Dear Alison, good luck on your expedition. We regret that we are not able to help,” but at least people were taking action and reading it because they were getting this box with this old, smelly hiking boot in it thinking, “What the hell is this?”
Eventually, I ended up pitching a friend of mine who worked for Ford and what happened was I was in the Bay Area. I was walking around. I was at the Half Moon Bay Pumpkin Festival with some friends and I walked by what is called a “concept car,” and that’s a car that is on display that’s actually not in production. It was this massive SUV by Ford. It was this white SUV and it was called the Himalayan Expedition, and all of a sudden, light bulb. Oh my god. Ford, that’s who needs to sponsor our expedition, because here I’m thinking The North Face and Patagonia and Mountain Hardwear and I’m thinking Nike. People involved in outdoor wear, and it didn’t hit me that oh my gosh, a car company. That’s who should sponsor us.
So I pitched Ford. A friend of mine who worked there helped us funnel the idea to the right people there. They ended up agreeing to sponsor the entire trip, which I was super, super happy about, because, well Ford! And let me tell you the reason they agreed to sponsor us is because they were getting ready to launch their new 2003 full-size SUV which was the Ford Expedition, and I saw the concept car at the Half Moon Bay Pumpkin Festival and then of course they were getting ready to launch the real car, which wasn’t called the Himalayan Expedition but just the Ford Expedition. That is why they ended up agreeing to sponsor us because it was a perfect fit for the launch of their new SUV.
Now, I was so happy with that because as I mentioned I was also negotiating with Chevy, and of course, their full-size SUV is the Avalanche, so I just thought, “You know, if you’re going to go to Mount Everest, it’s probably a lot better to be sponsored by the Expedition than it is by the Avalanche,” so it worked out. It worked out really well. They were a great sponsor for us, and God, we would have loved to have made it to the top for them, for us, for America and for them, and of course, they were wonderfully supportive when we didn’t make it and expressed the fact that everybody coming back alive was really the number one priority for the trip.
Look how much value they got out of it because you are talking about it years later so the sponsorship awareness continues. I just love that. Which leads me to my next question is, how did you launch your speaking career?
My speaking career got launched, it was one of those, “right place, right time, oh my god I never thought this would happen,” type of moments. I wanted a career that would allow me the flexibility to continue to do these adventures and these expeditions, but I was tired of being broke and scrounging for expedition dollars all the time and I thought, “OK, if I could make money as a speaker then it would allow me the flexibility that I want in my schedule and it would allow me the income to fund these expeditions.” So I started pitching all these different speakers’ bureaus. “Hello, my name is Alison. I was the team captain of 1st American Women’s Everest Expedition and we had this amazing experience and I can talk about leadership and what it’s like to try for something and not necessarily achieve it but learn from the experience,” and they kept responding, “Oh, we have a lot of Everest speakers already.”
This was after, and he’s actually a friend of mine but Aron Ralston. If you saw the movie 127 Hours where he’s stuck in Bluejohn Canyon, he has to cut off his arm. This was right after that event actually happened, and they’re like, “So, you’re speaking about climbing and Everest. Have you cut off any body part?” I was so not interesting to them at all. You have to have cut off a body part or something. They’re like, “We have Everest speakers. We’re not interested.” So nobody was interested in me.
Well, I ended up, one of the bureaus that I pitched was this speakers’ bureau called Keppler Speakers out of Arlington, Virginia and they were one of the few bureaus that actually let me come in there and meet their agents and give them a quick pitch, a 10-minute excerpt from my speech. And they said, “You know, we think we could do some business with you,” and I thought, “Great. Great.” I was so excited. I was jumping up and down in the elevator, and then I never heard from them again and I was like, “Isn’t this how it goes?”
Six months go by and then they call me, and they said, “Alison, we have this opportunity for you. A speaking engagement that we think you’d be perfect for.” And I said, “Oh, great! Give me the scoop.” They said, “Well, before we give you the scoop, what are the chances you could get yourself to Vegas before 7:00 AM tomorrow morning?” And I was like, “Wait, what?” And they said, “There’s an event in Vegas. It’s 6,000 people there.” They were supposed to hear from Carolyn Kepcher who, this is back in 2007 when the show The Apprentice was really big, the original Apprentice, and Carolyn Kepcher was Donald Trump’s sidekick on the show. She was the executive vice president of The Trump Organization. She was the one in the boardroom and was helping him fire people and she had the opening keynote on the final day of this event.
This three-day event in Vegas. 6,000 people. She canceled at the last minute. They had had, I think, Cal Ripken, Jr. speak and Jim Lovell and pretty famous people, but you can’t get a famous person at the last minute as a replacement, so I’m sure they went through their whole speaker list and I was last and they were like, “Remember that Alison Levine chick that came in? Maybe she could get to Vegas.” Because this is late afternoon the day before, so who’s going to be available to get on a plane within a few hours?
Well, there was a 10:30 flight. I got to Vegas. Got to my hotel at midnight. I called the meeting planner first of all before I got on the plane and I said, “Hey, Jeff. This is Alison Levine. I’m going to be replacing Carolyn tomorrow morning for the opening of the conference on this last day. I know it’s important to send everybody off the right way.” I said, “What message do you want me to focus on?” And he said, “I don’t give a … What message you focus on. I just want to make sure that my audience isn’t pissed off that Carolyn Kepcher is a no-show.” And I was like, “OK.”
So I get to Vegas. Get to my hotel. It’s midnight, 12:30. I’m opening up the meeting on the final day. I’ve got to be downstairs at 7:00 AM for an AB check, I think my talk was starting at 8:00, I stayed up the whole entire night putting together a presentation for these people knowing they were expecting Carolyn Kepcher and they had no idea she wasn’t going to come on stage. I created this presentation about being a clutch player, going back to “Count on me,” about being a clutch player and I photoshopped Donald Trump and Carolyn Kepcher into my Everest slides and I basically kind of just poked fun at Carolyn for not showing up, and the whole point of my message is if you want to build your customer base, if you want to build customer loyalty, if you want more engagement from your employees, be that person that they know they can count on.
And I was like, “Right, Carolyn?” And I was like, “So I don’t care …” She was sick and that’s why she couldn’t come, but I was like, “I don’t care if you’re laying on the bathroom floor vomiting your guts out. You show up for people when you say you’re going to show up.” And I basically did a talk around being a clutch player, coming through no matter what, and that’s how you’re going to build trust and loyalty with your customer base.
I had had the “You’re fired” video in there. I stayed up the whole night putting this together. I didn’t go to sleep for one minute. I ended up getting a standing ovation and being the highest rated speaker at the conference, and after I got off stage the meeting planner came up to me and he said, “Oh my god, first of all, who are you? Who are you?”
And he goes, “No offense, but I have never heard of you before.” And I said, “There’s no reason you would have heard of me. I’m not famous. I’m not Cal Ripken. I’m not Jim Lovell from Apollo 13. I’m nobody.” And he goes, “Wait a minute.” He’s like, “You just knocked it out of the park here.” And he goes, “When did you put together that presentation?” He said, “I know you didn’t even get in until midnight,” and I said, “Jeff, I stayed up the whole night putting it together. I haven’t gone to sleep yet.” And he said, “Wait a minute. I can’t believe you would do that.” And I said, “Of course I would do it. I had no choice but to do it. You were counting on me. Your audience was counting on me.”
I said, “The most valuable resource they have is time, and they were giving me an hour of their time and I wanted to make sure that they would never regret it,” and he said, “I don’t know too many people that would do what you just did, staying up the whole night to come through.” And I said, “I don’t know too many people who wouldn’t do it.” And he said, “No offense but no speakers bureau has ever, ever mentioned your name to me before.” He said, “I book more speakers than probably any meeting planner in the country. I am going to pick up the phone tomorrow and I’m going to call every speakers’ bureau that I’ve ever worked with and I’m going to tell them what you just did here today,” and he did. He did it.
He called every major bureau in the country and then my phone was ringing off the hook by the following week, and now I do over 100 talks a year and I make a really good living at it and I’m just very, very grateful to the people that helped me along the way but it was such a good lesson for me to remember that you have to treat every opportunity, for me, when I’m on stage, that’s a pitch. I’m pitching. I am pitching and my brand is me and my business is me but I am pitching myself every time I’m on stage, so my pitch is my speech. That’s why I want people to invest in me and you’re out there. Your audience is out there trying to get people to invest in them and invest in their business and what you have to remember is that you must treat every opportunity as if it’s going to be your one big break.
Great takeaway. We’re going to tweet that out. Treat every opportunity as if this is your one big break. It’s so great.
Because it might be. It might be.
It might be, yeah. It clearly was for you and look at the tenacity that you’ve shown climbing Mount Everest not once but twice and also doing whatever it takes to get yourself there and doing an amazing that now launched this career. Before I let you go I want to finish on this other project, The Glass Ceiling, and tell us why you’re so passionate about it and how we can help.
Oh, thanks for asking about that. For me, obviously my passion is climbing mountains and I think it’s so important when we have the privilege to do things that we enjoy, things that enrich our lives, it’s really important to pay homage to the people that have made that possible and for me, one of the people who was so inspiring in my journey is a woman named Pasang Lhamu Sherpa who was the first woman Sherpa to climb Mount Everest, and she had to break through all kinds of political and social barriers in order to climb the mountain that was essentially in her backyard because Sherpa women didn’t climb.
It was something only the men did and the women were expected to stay home and cook and clean and take care of the men, and she was the first Sherpa woman who fought for Nepali women’s right to climb Everest and she tried three times unsuccessfully. Was thwarted by either bad weather which I know how that goes or by climbing politics. They didn’t want a woman summiting Everest, a Nepali woman, a Sherpa woman touching the top of the mountain because they thought that would just be horrible.
She was absolutely relentless in her pursuit of this dream though and she finally summited Everest on her fourth attempt but she died on the way down. She left three young children behind and there’s still a lot of mystery and controversy surrounding her final climb and no one’s ever told her story but she really broke through that glass ceiling for women in Nepal and paved the way for so many other women to be able to climb that mountain, so I’m working on a documentary about her life.
The film sizzle reel can be seen at TheGlassCeilingMovie.com. I’m working on that now and I’m really honored to be a part of the project and to be able to share her story with the world because it’s such an important message for everybody that no matter who you are, no matter your race, gender, socioeconomic background. She was dirt poor. She couldn’t read. She couldn’t write. You have the power to be an architect of change.
I love that so much. We’re going to put the link for that movie trailer in the show notes. The link for your book, On the Edge, your website so people can book you even more for keynote speeches. Alison, I can’t thank you enough for giving us such insights and energy.
We know that it really all comes down to everyone can count on you and that’s a question we can all ask ourselves is, am I somebody people can count on? And if I am I’m going to be able to climb all kinds of challenges and get up to the top, even though that’s not the ultimate goal as you said.
Thanks again, Alison.
Of course. Thanks for having me and if people have questions, you can count on me to get back to you. You can get in touch with me through my website or through social media. Feel free to reach out and ask any questions and I’m happy to connect with your listeners.
That’s very generous. Thanks again. We’ll post all your links in the show notes.
- Book: On the Edge: Lessons Learned from Mount Everest
- Film: The Glass Ceiling
- John Livesay Funding Strategist
Do You Want To Host Your Own Podcast?
Fox 11 News Los Angeles John Livesay The Successful Pitch book
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