KN2: Keynote: – The Only Way is Up

Wim Smets, Mountaineer, Global Transformation Director


Mountaineering is pushing yourself to the extreme and that requires lots of persistence. Wim shares the lessons he has learned in the death zone and explains how he these lessons can be applied at work and in private life.
In the death zone, above 8000 meters, it is lethal to pursue the wrong goals. And holding on to the original plan while the weather circumstances have changed, can mean you will not reach the summit.

Climbing an 8000 meter giant is a team challenge. Your life can depend on the other members of your expedition team. From experience, Wim Smets knows that it is better to build a divers team, in which all necessary skills are represented.
The death zone is a dangerous environment. Every step can be your last one. You can mitigate risks, but a certain amount of risk is an essential part of every challenge. Without risks, you will miss out on a lot of opportunities that life can offer you. On the road to the summit, not all circumstances will be under your control. But how you respond to these circumstances, is your choice.

To become a better mountaineer, you need to be prepared to set out of your comfort zone and learn from the mistakes you have made.

Wim explains how he applies his experience as a transformation manager in mountaineering, and the other way around. Both careers strengthen each other and you will be on the front row to learn from the experiences of this modest speaker. In this fascinating lecture, Wim will offer you lessons in life and new insights.


After completing his MBA at Vlerick Business School Wim Smets started his career as a project and program manager. To support that choice, he obtained a certificate as Project Management Professional with the Project Management Institute. In the meantime, he works as a Global Transformation Director. He specializes in change management and perfectly places the parallels between business and mountaineering. Because every successful expedition hides a strong dose of management, goal setting, time management and planning. His transformations influence the work of thousands of employees. Through the years, he has lived in Germany, UK, Ireland and Spain. He has lead transformations in most European countries but also in the US, India, China, Malaysia and the Philippines.

Wim is a passionate mountaineer and focuses on extreme altitude. His track record is without any doubt impressive. He is the third Belgian that has completed the “7 Summits”, the highest mountains on each of the 7 continents. In 2007 he climbed Mount Everest (8850 meter), the highest place on earth. In 2011 he was the first Belgian to reach the true summit of Broad Peak (8051 meter) in Pakistan and saved the life of a South-African mountaineer during the descent. He still is the only Belgian that tried to climb K2 (8611 meter), where he reached 7600 meters.