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Vanessa  O'Brien, FRGS

Vanessa O'Brien, FRGS

6X Guinness World-Record Holder, Extreme Explorer & Author

Vanessa O'Brien, FRGS

6X Guinness World-Record Holder, Extreme Explorer & Author


Featured in the 2024 Guinness World-Records, Vanessa is the only woman to reach extremes on land, sea, and air and one of a handful of living female explorers that has the tenacity, grit and perseverance to transcend exploration boundaries. Her feats have taken her to the top of Mt. Everest (earth’s highest mountain at > 29,000 feet), the bottom the Mariana Trench (earth’s deepest point > 35,000 feet), and launched her past the Kármán line into outer space at (>347,000 feet).

Vanessa’s captivating story of overcoming adversity and transformation unfolds in her memoir, To The Greatest Heights: Facing Danger, Finding Humility and Climbing A Mountain of Truth, Simon & Schuster (2021). Publisher’s Weekly stated that, “readers will devour O’Brien’s sensational, electrifying tale,” which includes Vanessa finding herself on a journey that could only be won by losing – her ego, self-limiting beliefs, and her traumatic past.

O’Brien is a force of energy and grit. Her focus, enthusiasm, commitment, and persistence form a matrix that has been instrumental in getting her, and her team, to the top. She is a powerful leader and a formidable opponent with a strong moral compass. Vanessa believes teams are motivated by shared goals, objectives, and rewards. She believes in continuous improvement, and that one cannot fail unless one gives up.

Vanessa has appeared in international and national media including BBC, Sky News, Good Day Washington, Good Day LA, CBS Evening News, Inside Edition, and The Economist Films. She is often called upon for her expertise by the media, to comment on mountaineering accidents, for example, or the Titan disaster. Vanessa has her MBA from the Stern School of Business and has enhanced her exploration skills by adding two decades of leadership roles at GE Capital, Morgan Stanley, Barclays, and Bank of America.

Vanessa is passionate about women’s equality and youth education. She partnered with Scholastic to teach children about the Mariana Trench, selecting stories and lesson sheets for grades 3 - 6. She lectured at Boston College, teaching students about high performing teams using exploration-related case studies. She flew with UN women in outer space and was chosen as one of the forty ‘most inspirational’ women in the world as part of the Awesome Women card series.

Vanessa is a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society (RGS) and is an Honorary Board Advisor to the Scientific Exploration Society (SES). She contributes to scientific research on each mission and has tested hypoxic exposure, assessed high-altitude medicine, taken water samples at ocean depth, glacier samples at high altitude and used MRI imaging to test for signs of the overview effect in space.

Vanessa has been speaking to corporations, colleges and universities, community groups, nonprofits, government agencies, international organizations, and professional societies since 2014. She believes every client, just like every season and every climb, is unique. For that reason, she never gives the same presentation twice. Vanessa will want to understand your challenges and ensure what she delivers sets your organization up for success, not only for the road you are on, but for the journey ahead.

Speaker Videos

Preparing for the Grand Slam

Shattering Records on Wake Up with AI

Finding and Reaching Your Goals

Speech Topics


There are working groups and then there are high-performing teams. What do you have? What have you experienced? The audience will learn how high-performing teams differentiate themselves and can make a difference in any organization.


Are leaders made or can they be trained? What are the traits of a successful leader? The audience will find out what differentiates great leaders through leadership examples in business and on the mountain.


Do you want to win? What are you willing to sacrifice? The audience will learn how goal setting, determination, and hard work will get you where you want to go both in the business world and in life.

Overcoming Adversity

Obstacles are a fact of life: “that which doesn’t kill us, makes us stronger.” The audience will find out how to turn adversity into opportunity.


Becoming the fastest woman to climb the seven summits and reach both poles in 11 months is no small challenge. The audience will take away a better understanding of the sport of mountaineering and the challenges a mountaineer faces along the way. 


Paris, before the days of the Eiffel Tower, had no distinction. But after the Eiffel Tower was built, many came to marvel and admire this amazing structure. What is your Eiffel Tower? The audience will learn the importance of differentiating oneself from the herd and becoming memorable to others.

Women at the Top

Is there a glass ceiling? Do women have the same opportunities as men to succeed? What traits do women possess that position them above men in terms of success? Discover why women are achieving more than ever in today’s increasingly complex society.