Many people have asked me about Todd's history with Extreme Connection. Here is my account of our long and treasured collaboration.
Todd and I met in the late 80's at an Outdoor Retailer Trade Show. I was working for The North Face and he approached us looking for sponsorship for himself and Paul Piana before their historic first free ascent of the Salathe Wall on El Capitan in Yosemite. He was also seeking support for his Dad's "Cowboys on Everest" Wyoming Centennial Expedition. I was impressed with his vision and lobbied The North Face on his behalf - and he became the second athlete to be put on retainer by the company. We became fast friends and collaborators and remained that way until Todd's passing.
Todd's first speaking engagement came in 1989, when I suggested to my brother, who was working at Apple Computer at the time, that Todd would be a great speaker for Apple's upcoming sales conference. Todd spoke to 3,000 people at the San Francisco Civic Center about his recent breakthrough ascent of the Salathe Wall climb and on being a first ascentionist. He was a big hit. Clearly corporate speaking was something he naturally excelled in.
In 1992 I left The North Face and launched Extreme Connection. From the beginning Todd was the mainstay of the company. In the early years, our focus was on securing his sponsorships with companies such as Reebok, Nikon, Freestyle Watches, and Sierra Designs, along with booking speaking engagements and an occasional TV commercial. Reebok was particularly a good partnership. They asked Todd to design a climbing shoe - which he loved doing and appropriately named "The Transcender" - and they financed his upcoming expedition to the Karakorum Himalayas.
Leading up to his 1995 Trango Tower expedition we spent a year raising money, securing product donations, and working out the filming details. It was an enormous logistical and financial challenge to make the expedition happen, dwarfed only by the audaciousness of the expedition itself. The day before he left for Pakistan to begin the expedition, Todd was in Toronto where he spoke to 5000 people at the insurance industry's "Million Dollar Round Table." That was the last time I heard him tell the story of the Salathe Wall.
While he was on the expedition I nurtured The National Geographic Society's interest in the climb. Their pundits had given Todd and his team little chance for success but by the time the expedition was finally coming to its conclusion NGS was intrigued and cheering them on. The combination of an historic achievement, an epic story, and stunning images led to a cover feature that Todd wrote for the April 1996 issue. In 1998 The National Geographic Society launched their Expeditions Council, which funds explorations and adventure around the world. Todd was among the first to be invited to be on their advisory board and was a member until his death.
Todd returned from the expedition clear that he wanted to keep his climbing ambitions free from the pressures or time requirements of sponsorships. Together we decided that the best path for Todd's career would be to focus on motivational speaking engagements. At first each booking was hard won, but his reputation as an excellent and provocative speaker grew quickly. By all accounts his audiences benefited greatly from hearing him speak about his world and his interpretation of it.
By 2000 Todd's speaking career really started to take off. In between expeditions, climbing, and training he spoke to hundreds of companies ranging from startups to industry leaders such as Accenture, Adobe Systems, American Express, Aramark, Hitachi, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Microsoft, and Novell. Todd relied on me to secure these opportunities for him and I always did so enthusiastically, knowing that his talks changed people's lives. He made a good living by any standards, but he often told me that he received much more than money from presenting "Beyond the Summit" - he said that the audiences also inspired him with their responses, questions, and perspectives. He liked being around different kinds of people and always learned from them whatever he could. He was looking forward to speaking to more schools, particularly to kids at risk, and was giving a lot of thought to what he wanted to say to them.
It amazed me how his message continued to develop and transcend itself over the years. He never stopped crafting his comments, contemplating what he wanted to communicate, and how to do that effectively. The process of writing his book "Beyond the Summit" elevated his presentation to a new level. Todd was an excellent writer, yet putting his spoken word into written form was a huge challenge and likely would have been impossible without the guidance of his sister Holly, his trusted ally and a professional writer.
The responses I would receive about how Todd had provided the tools to transform lives, personally or professionally, were always an inspiration for Todd and me and confirmed that our work was gold to the core. Todd wanted to inspire greatness and challenge people to do more than they thought they could do, to have the courage to begin a journey when success was uncertain, and he wanted to stress the importance of always continuing to learn. Connecting Todd with people who would benefit from working with him was good work, both for Todd and myself, and we were a good team. I will always miss our collaboration and friendship.
Todd was committed to the creative process, whether it was in his climbing, writing, filmmaking (he won an Emmy Award for adventure cinematography), or speaking. He was confident in his beliefs and was determined to live his life to the fullest. He had an unequaled ability to give his entire focus to everything he aspired to do. Todd approached every project with a complete sense of purpose and attention. He lived in the present and those who were lucky enough to spend even a few moments with him will never forget him.
I hope you look through this website and the Todd Skinner's Expeditions site to learn more about Todd's philosophy, spirit, and expeditions. Thank you for your interest in Todd and in keeping his impact on the world alive.