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Biography: Thomas Bubendorfer - Read interview

Thomas Bubendorfer


Others say

"It was one of the rare speeches when my thoughts never drifted once. Didactically interesting, without appearing like a teacher."

"Your words hit the right spot and left a lot of the guys thinking and (re)valuating some of their actions and objectives in life and business!"

"Very moving speech. You were authentic, passionate and we could all understand the meaning you give to your life."
Bristol-Myers Squibb

"It was a clear, logic, down-to-earth presentation. An impressive speaker, and impressive pictures."

With Intelligent Performance as the foundation of his message, extreme solo climber Thomas Bubendorfer is driven by an inner fire, and the desire to fulfil his personal potential. Through his passion and philosophical outlook, audiences learn about courage; fear; dedication; peak performance; focus and risk-taking.

Accomplished as a speaker, and unique as an elite athlete defined by profound and thoughtful aspersions on his career choice, Thomas exudes control, intelligence, and a meaningful ability to use climbing as a metaphor for business, life and ideology.

Thomas’ passion for climbing was born in childhood. Raised in an Austrian valley with a mountain on his horizon, he decided to test his limits, and with no safety equipment, weather reports, or previous experience, he tried and tried and eventually conquered his first mountain. These tentative first steps defined him and he learnt to reduce his equipment to a minimum, so that with every climb he fully explores his potential, and uses his most prized attribute – control. He was running marathon distances at the age of fourteen, a discipline that instilled in him a lifelong appreciation of the importance of training and dedication.

"Your message on goal-setting and dealing with crisis and set-backs was perfect. Our colleagues in Austria and Germany were as fascinated as we are."

At sixteen he became the youngest climber in history to solo climb hard ice routes in the Alps, and a year later he solo climbed ice routes to the summit of Montblanc. By 18 he had conquered the Korshenewskij peak in the Himalayas, and he became famous for breaking his first speed climbing record.

Writing climbing history and setting speed records for the entirety of his career, at the age of 27 Thomas made his first – and only – mistake. He fell 70 feet onto rocks, and had to reassess his entire training strategy, outlook and future prospects. Without the ability to continue with his mountain jogging regime, Thomas had to adapt, and, confronted with his own fallibility, he had to accept that the reason for his mistake was that on that day he was climbing for the wrong reasons – to make money.

Describing the accident as the best thing that ever happened to him, Thomas’ messages to businesses about motivation and flexibility are powerful and enduring.

The challenge of free solo climbing is daunting to the most experienced mountaineer. Using neither ropes nor any other protection, a climber hangs onto overhanging rock and ice faces up to ten thousand feet high, using his fingers and feet alone. Thomas’ life relies completely on his dedication and focus, and without the ability to make life-changing decisions under extreme pressure, he faces certain death.

Thomas speaks in French, Italian, English and German at his corporate engagements.

For further information or to book Thomas Bubendorfer, call us at Speakers Corner on +44 (0)20 7607 7070 or email info@speakerscorner.co.uk

Interview with Thomas Bubendorfer


What drives you to keep undertaking these (mad!) challenges?


They are not mad at all! They are VERY well prepared, very well thought of, and they are also VERY controlled. Climbing is what I do and who I am. I wouldn’t give it up for all the money in the world (or any other reason)! What drives me to keep going is that I want to find out how good I can be. The human being is never “good enough”, meaning, there is always potential left to be explored – in all of us!


How did you get into corporate speaking?


When I was 21 I had introduced a new, very “lean” and audacious style to climbing: the solo climbing without ropes of the highest and hardest mountain faces. International fame followed, and IBM took notice of me. They invited me to speak at a convention in Monaco. Their challenge to me were the questions, 1. What goes on in the head of a guy who breaks into new grounds in his area of expertise, and 2. What can a corporate audience learn from his experiences? This triggered off a thought process that last to this day.


Why do you enjoy being a speaker?


I love exactly the above-mentioned challenge and the variety of themes that come with these questions. I also love the fact that every audience is different, every motto of each conference is usually different from any other, and I am forced to “reinvent” the wheel each time I speak. I never repeat a speech.


What’s the biggest challenge you’ve overcome?


After my first big successes in climbing, writing and as a professional sports man, I took a crippling 20-meter (70 feet) fall during a commercial photo session. I moved on crutches for almost a year, doctors declared me 35% handicapped and that I would never climb a mountain again. Still, I achieved my hardest climbs after the accident. I never learned as much as in the two years of catharsis that followed the accident.


Typically, how much preparation goes into getting ready for an expedition?


About six to eight months roughly, but I keep in shape all year round anyway. In an average year I climb about 130 days in rock, snow or ice, plus training in gyms of course.


What can a corporate audience learn from your experiences?


Ever since I started climbing some 35 years ago, my whole thinking revolves about how I can get better at everything I do: climbing, writing, keynote speaking, consulting. How I can better my performance. I found that the key to progress is permanent change, and that means you have to take calculated, measured risks. As a climber in vertical rock- or ice faces, you learn that you must move on. Gravity is relentless, the clock is always ticking, no matter how fit you are. Then there is the issue of unpredictability: volatile weather, and fatigue, of course. Every step precedes a decision, every decision is a little risk. You must challenge the status quo. You cannot remain or stand still. You are responsible! There are no excuses! Your life depends on the quality of the next step. You also learn, even as a solo climber, that you don’t get to the top alone. You are nothing without a good team. The goal must be set, you must know where you are heading, but then it is all about focusing on the presence. When you suffer a setback, when you are stuck in a seemingly impossible situation, there is always something that you can do! So you see, there are plenty of parallels between the corporate world and the world of a serious climber. A lot is at stake, always. Maybe for a climber that is easier to remember that, for if he fails, it really hurts… The major difference between a climbing athlete and the corporate athlete, as I call my audiences, is, that they don’t get enough rest. In my experience they are, unfortunately, usually over-worked.


What do you do to ensure your presentation has a lasting impact?


My key thoughts are: 1. The speech is about THEM (the audience!), not about me. 2. Nothing is in my speech that does not relate to the audience. Thirdly, I try to give them simple examples how they might change something in their every-day lives.


What’s your favourite way to spend a Sunday?


Most importantly, give me bad weather please, so I don’t feel I am missing out something in the rocks. Then, let me be with my wife and two kids, and then it’s a long sleep-in, and give me a good meal and good red wine (preferably Argentine or Chilean Malbec), a movie maybe. Stuff like that…

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