Convention Speaker Climbed to the Top in More Ways Than One

Susan Ershler has an amazing story to share with attendees of the Northwest Credit Union Association Convention and Annual Business Meeting. Don’t expect this former corporate executive to come on strong about over-regulation, net worth ratios or life after Dodd-Frank. Instead, expect her life story to motive and inspire.

Ershler, a former corporate executive for Fortune 500 companies, directed record-setting sales teams. Her impressive business career ended at the vice-presidential level for a multi-national telecommunications firm. She also served at US WEST and FedEx Kinko’s while climbing the ladder.

At the same time, Ershler answered another calling to climb—mountain summits. She and her husband, Phil, became the first married couple in history to climb the seven summits, the highest mountains on each of the world’s seven continents.

They saved Mt. Everest for last. Life-threatening weather forced them to turn back 63 days into the climb the first time around. It was heartbreaking, but it was wise. It was also cast in stone that she would try again.

“I had visualized Phil and me standing on the summit at Everest thousands of times in my mind,” Ershler said. “I was committed way before I got there. There wasn’t any question. I’ve got to come back.”

And come back they did, successfully reaching Everest’s summit on May 16, 2002.

Ershler’s accomplishments are even more remarkable considering she didn’t even take up mountain climbing until she was 36 years old. Even then, she only climbed Mt. Rainier to get a better understanding of her husband’s work as a professional mountain guide.

Somehow, she made it up Rainier, and the rest is history—the kind of history that gets you a book deal and lands you on the Today Show. But the experiences themselves did so much more for Ershler, and that’s the journey she plans to share with Convention attendees.

“I did find that the climbing helped me in business,” she said. “You had to be extremely disciplined. I could not have a glass of wine every night; I had to be in the gym. It worked hand in hand. It was positive at work, too.”

In addition to the discipline she learned through climbing, Ershler believes that the challenges involved in meeting large objectives and climbing a summit are similar.

“We are going to get knocked down at some point in the business environment like we have today,” she said. “We are going to run into huge obstacles. Those who will succeed don’t take no for an answer.”

Ershler was also able to use lessons from the mountain to help her teams reach new heights. She recalls watching her husband coach climbers and saw quickly how his work applied to her own.

“He always knew they could climb higher than even they thought they could go,” she said. As a sales leader, she used the same approach. “I saw my team members much higher than they saw themselves. I gave them constant feedback and treated them that way. I never let them quit. If we know this is the right thing for the client, then keep going.”

Ershler lives in Kirkland and still climbs, but her speaking career now keeps her extremely busy.

“I try to stay under 20,000 feet,” she mused.

Ershler will address convention attendees during the General Business Meeting on the afternoon of September 21. 


Questions? Contact Training Programs Coordinator Yuri Jung: 206.340.4817,

Posted in MAXX Annual Convention, NWCUA.