After Bob and Greg showed me this story, I just had to write about it.
Alison Levine was born with a life-threatening heart condition called Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome. As a teenager, her health was so unstable, that she couldn’t do many of the things that her peers took for granted. Simple things, like driving a car and climbing stairs.
But Alison eventually underwent two heart surgeries. Within 18 months of her second heart surgery, Alison made up for all those lost years of climbing stairs, and she did it all at once; she climbed a mountain.
In fact, she climbed a lot of mountains. In 2002, about five years after her surgeries, Alison was the team captain of the first American Women’s Everest Expedition. In 2008, she became the first American to reach the South Pole on skis, taking an obscure, 600 mile route across west Antarctica.
Oh, did I mention that she also suffers from a disease which affects blood flow to her extremities, leaving her highly susceptible to frostbite?
It’s pretty amazing stuff, no doubt about it. But what’s equally impressive, in my humble opinion, is the business she’s built for herself.
See, long before she ever climbed a mountain, Alison was a veteran in the business world. She had years of experience, working for companies like Goldman-Sachs. But, to put it simply, she wasn’t fulfilled.
“After serving as team captain for the first American Women’s Everest Expedition,” Alison says on her company’s website, daredevilstrategies.com, “I realized that many of the strategies employed in the business world are the same strategies used when climbing the world’s highest and most challenging peaks. Foresight, focus, and flawless execution are equally important in the jet stream as in corporate America.”
That’s why she founded Daredevil Strategies. Using the skills she’s amassed during her 20 years in business, as well as her numerous adventures in the wilderness, Alison speaks to corporations and companies about focus, teamwork, and more. And, given her pedigree, one is tempted to listen to what she has to say.
Alison gets 15,000 dollars for every hour she speaks. (That’s pretty close to my hourly rate, give or take a few zeros). But how did she get to where she is?
The story of Alison’s first “paid gig” is outlined pretty thoroughly in this great profile of Alison in the San Francisco Chronicle. But, briefly, here it is:
When Alison had the idea to become a speaker, she auditioned with Virginia’s Keppler, a bureau of motivational and celebrity speakers. The audition went fine, but she didn’t hear anything back for six months. And then, out of the blue, she got a call.
A celebrity speaker scheduled to speak at a convention in Las Vegas had come down with the flu and dropped out at the last minute. Jeff Hurt, the event’s planner, scrambled to find a replacement through Keppler Speakers, and they put him in touch with Alison.
She had less than a day to build a presentation, and deliver it to a crowd of people who were not only clueless as to who Alison was, but were still expecting the celebrity speaker up until the moment Alison walked on stage.
Well, the one thing that separates people like Alison from the rest is the ability to say “Yes,” even under the most strenuous conditions. That’s what Alison did. She stayed up the entire night working on her presentation. She barely had time to “freshen up,” before walking out on stage (still being introduced as the cancelled speaker).
How did she do? She knocked it out of the park, of course. She played the audience’s false expectations for laughs, and then she took charge of the presentation. She succeeded beyond Jeff Hurt’s wildest expectations, and she helped save his event. He didn’t take it lightly. Jeff recommended Alison to anyone who would listen. And that’s how her career started.
In 2007, Alison made over one million dollars from her speaking engagements.
Alison is still climbing mountains, and still booking gigs through her company, Daredevil Strategies.
Oh, and if you’re interested, here’s another great story from the Why Guys about someone who turned Corporate Speaking into a shockingly lucrative venture.