Find Your Next Speaker!


A demotion, then an Everest climb cut short: How one woman tackled two different kinds of failure

Susan Ershler

(Bizwomen) – Editor’s note: Bizwomen reporter Caroline McMillan Portillo recently interviewed Sue Ershler. Over a 23-year career in corporate America, Ershler, now 58, led a number of sales teams at Fortune 500 companies, such asVerizon, CenturyLink (where she was responsible for $600 million in revenue) and FedEx Office. Based in Seattle, she has also written two books: ” Conquering the Seven Summits of Sales” and “Together on Top of the World.” The two of them talked failure — two very different kinds of failure — and about Ershler’s strategies for overcoming even the most dramatic setbacks.

It’s known as the Death Zone. Elevation: 26,000 feet. Mere hours from the summit of Mount Everest, the highest point on Earth.

And the hiker’s set out a few minutes before midnight, on the eve of their 63 rd day of the climb, the storm gathered strength.

The human body wasn’t made to operate at that altitude. Sleeping is difficult. Digesting food is nearly impossible. And oxygen levels are so low that without a supplementary supply, bodily functions are known to deteriorate to the point of unconsciousness. And then, death.

It was supposed to be the record-breaking trek in 45-year-old Sue Ershler’s worldwide adventure with her husband, Phil, a professional mountain guide. The couple planned to reach the peaks of all seven summits, the highest points on each of the continents.

Everest, the most difficult of the seven, was their final destination.

So when Sue couldn’t feel her toes, she pushed on. When her oxygen mask’s vent — which allowed her exhaled breath to escape so she wouldn’t suffocate — froze, she stopped to break the ice, and continued.

But when they were only 1,400 feet from the top, the storm worsened to whiteout conditions. Lightening struck the surrounding mountains. And Phil was having trouble seeing.

“It’s too dangerous for us to go any farther,” Phil told her. Recalling the 250 people who had lost their lives climbing that mountain, she agreed. And after 63 grueling days spent scaling Mount Everest, the pair turned around and began their descent.

Two hours later, as Phil began to stumble, Sue looked through the icicles hanging from his eyelashes to see that the skin under his eyes was white and frozen. His corneas had frozen over. His normally brown irises were purple.

Failure. She’d seen it before, years earlier, when she was 30 years old. At the time, she had been plucked from her role overseeing a team of product technicians at Verizon and moved into a sales job, a higher-profile position.

Her boss and mentor, Walt, gave her a $1 million objective.

Sue loved the transition from product to sales. She enjoyed meeting with her customers in Seattle. She loved visiting their offices, chatting over lunch, building relationships. She had enthusiasm and drive.

What she lacked was the skill to close the deals.

Another problem: Sue wasn’t all that concerned about that $1 million objective. She thought of it as an “it’d-be-nice,” “give-it-your-best-shot” kind of goal.

It wasn’t until one of the firm’s top salespeople asked her how close she was to meeting her goal that Sue realized she hadn’t a clue.

You better find out where you stand, the other salesman said. The end of the year was approaching fast.

A few days later, Walt took Sue out for coffee. It was strained. He told her a major reorganization was in the works and the leadership team felt it would be better for the company if she moved to a department selling less expensive systems, a job that required less technical knowledge and — most of all — less sales experience.

Click on the “sources” button for full article.

Get A Quote For: