First Woman Thunderbird Pilot, Combat Veteran, Fighter Squadron Commander, White House Fellow and Adviser and Indomitable Spirit
A 21-year veteran of the United States Air Force, Colonel Nicole Malachowski (USAF, Ret.) wanted to fly military jets from the moment she saw them at her first air show when she was five years old. She achieved that goal – and then some. A leader, a combat veteran, the first woman pilot on the Thunderbirds Air Demonstration Squadron, an instructor, a White House Fellow, and an inductee into the Women in Aviation International Pioneer Hall of Fame, Nicole’s Air Force career exceeded her wildest dreams.
In her speeches, Nicole inspires audiences with lessons from her experience that can be tailored to meet program objectives. Nicole brings her experience to the stage and holds audiences spellbound with an easygoing authenticity of someone who’s achieved greatness. She’s been a member and leader of exceptional teams. She has faced overwhelming challenges and adversity and has come out on top. When Nicole’s distinguished military career was cut short by a neurological tick-borne illness that, at its worst, left her unable to walk safely or speak intelligibly, she overcame those challenges, as well.
While other high school students were practicing for their driver’s licenses, Nicole was accumulating flight time – she was sixteen years old when she took her first solo flight. While in high school, she joined the Civil Air Patrol and participated in Air Force Junior ROTC. Nicole’s professional story began when she earned her commission from the United States Air Force Academy in 1996. Following graduation, she attended Undergraduate Pilot Training (UPT) at Columbus AFB, MS and began her career as a pilot. Competitively selected to fly combat aircraft, she was among the first group of women to fly modern fighter aircraft. She served in combat as an F-15E Flight Commander, Evaluator, Instructor Pilot and Flight Lead. Over her 21-year career, Nicole achieved the rating of Command Pilot with over 2,300 flight hours in six different Air Force aircraft. She was also selected to fly as Thunderbird #3 with the USAF Air Demonstration Squadron – the first woman to fly on any Department of Defense military jet demonstration team. Colonel Malachowski has served as a mission ready fighter pilot in three operational F-15E fighter squadrons and has flown over 188 combat hours, including her proudest moment as a fighter pilot: leading the first fighter formation to provide security for Iraq’s historic democratic elections in 2005.
On the ground, Nicole was a White House Fellow, class of 2008-2009, where she served on the Presidential Transition Support Team (PTST) while assigned to the U.S. General Services Administration. She has served two high-level staff assignments at the Pentagon – one in the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD P&R) as well as the Secretary of the Air Force Office of International Affairs (SAF/IA). She also served as the Executive Director of the White House’s national ‘Joining Forces’ initiative where she directly advised former First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden on all topics relating to service members, veterans, and military families to include employment, education, mental health, veterans’ homelessness and more.
Nicole’s operational F-15E assignments include two tours of duty at RAF Lakenheath, United Kingdom as well as one operational assignment to Seymour Johnson AFB, NC. She has also served alongside the United States Army 2nd Infantry Division, Camp Red Cloud, Republic of Korea, as an Air Liaison Officer. During her second assignment to Seymour Johnson AFB, NC, she had the honor of commanding the 333rd Fighter Squadron, leading an elite cadre of F-15E Instructors in the training of the next generation of combat aviators. Further, she was responsible for resources totaling over $1.1B and the execution of a $119M annual flying hour program.
Nicole earned a Master of Arts, with honors, in National Security Policy from American Military University and a second Master of Arts, with highest distinction, in National Security and Strategic Studies from the U.S. Naval War College. While there, she earned the Admiral Stephen B. Luce Award as the class honor graduate, the first Air Force officer in the history of the Naval War College to do so. Nicole has been recognized with several honors for her consistent contributions to community service. As Nicole continues to recover from her neurological tick-borne illness, she embraces any opportunity to educate others about her medical journey and gains energy from educating others about this growing epidemic. She is on the Board of Directors at the LivLyme Foundation and is a Patient Advisory Board Member of The Dean Center for Tick Borne Illness.
Colonel Nicole Malachowski (USAF, Ret.) was born in Santa Maria, CA and graduated high school in Las Vegas, NV. She and her husband Paul have twin children; son Garrick and daughter Norah. Paul is a retired Air Force Lieutenant Colonel and former F-15E Evaluator Weapons Systems Officer.
Harnessing Headwinds of Change
In flying, headwinds slow you down. At their worst, they cause you to change your plans and impact the effectiveness of weapons in combat. Headwinds demand that pilots be resilient and resourceful, literally on the fly. “Headwinds are the perfect metaphor for the change impacting organizations and individuals today,” says 21-year Air Force veteran Nicole Malachowski. A former fighter squadron commander and mission-ready pilot in three operational fighter squadrons and the first woman to fly on the Air Force Thunderbirds, Nicole has the perfect message to inspire audiences to think differently about the headwinds of change they face – organizationally and personally.
Pushing The Envelope: Being The Best When It Counts
What does it take to be the best? The individuals and teams who achieve at the highest levels have one thing in common: they push the envelope and go to the edge of boundaries. They accomplish as much as possible and do it to a standard of excellence. Pushing the envelope is an aviation term for taking an aircraft to the maximum limits of its abilities. In the business world, pushing the envelope means knowing yourself – certainly knowing your limits – all while using every bit of your ability to maximize your performance, be your best and be consistent.
The Power of Challenging Assumptions
The best organizations and leaders create cultures that engage and harness the diverse ideas, talents, and abilities of every person; one where challenging assumptions and the status quo drives extraordinary success. Nicole Malachowski knows about high-performance cultures and challenging assumptions. As a member of the elite Air Force Thunderbirds flying demonstration team, the first woman to do so, Nicole was part of a team that demanded flawless execution under extreme circumstances.
In The Service of Others
Nicole Malachowski has lived a life of service to others. Her commitment to making a difference was the foundation of a distinguished 21-year Air Force career and it continues to drive her work as an advocate on health care and veterans’ issues. First as a White House Fellow in the General Services Administration and later as the executive director of Joining Forces, a nationwide initiative launched by First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden, Nicole rallied around service members, veterans, and their families and supported them through wellness, education, and employment opportunities.
“…she was the absolute ‘best’ speaker we have ever hired. With that, the leadership from Major Account Summit have asked, how do we give her a bonus? She was that good.”
– Manager, Meeting & Events, Kaiser Permanente
“Everyone sitting near me (including myself) agreed that you were the best speaker we have ever heard, hands down.”
– Senior Counsel, Member Service, ALAS
“…not only did she receive a standing ovation, but the line of attendees seeking to talk with her after the meeting was the longest I had ever seen at such an event – and she took the time to meet all of them.”
– Law Firm Vendors Association
“Everyone…I mean everyone…left raving about your message. As you can imagine being in healthcare as executive I hear a lot of people speak. You are an exceptional speaker and have an incredible message to share with anyone that’s looking at ways to be motivated to improve themselves. So yes, count me in as a card holding member of your fan club”
– Chairman, Board of Directors, National Association of Specialty Pharmacy (NASP)
“I want to thank you so much for being THE highlight of our Women in Specialty Pharmacy luncheon last week! Your keynote address was one of the most empowering and impactful that I have ever heard. Our attendees could not stop talking about how fabulous you are and I think the line of folks who wanted to meet you and have their picture taken with you is a testament of how well your message resonated with our attendees.”
– Executive Director, National Association of Specialty Pharmacy (NASP)
“We cannot thank YOU enough for bringing your inspiring, moving, profound, vulnerable, INCREDIBLE story to our team. If your ears have been ringing it is 120 people saying you were the absolute highlight of the whole offsite. And many told me you were the BEST speaker they have ever heard. [And these people hear a lot of speakers.]”
– Training Manager, Genentech
“We were already excited to hear Nicole speak because of her impressive bio, but her presentation still blew us away. She has a compelling personal as well as professional story to tell. And she does it with a passion and vulnerability that create a strong connection with her audience. Five minutes into her presentation, you could tell that she had our group hooked. Nicole creates a three-dimensional experience for her listeners – we had the sense that we were with her in the cockpit of her fighter jet as she recounted experiences of flying with the Air Force’s Thunderbird team. Her presentation resonated so deeply with our audience that people are still talking about her presentation a week later and employees who could not attend are asking to see the video of her presentation. Nicole is professional, organized, timely, and an all-around pleasure to work with. She was thoughtful in researching our organization and event so she could craft her discussion to fit our audience.”
– Investments Director, Fundamental Equities, Invesco Advisers, Inc.
“Most of us will never lead a squadron of F-15E fighter pilots, fly right wing for the USAF Thunderbirds or have our careers transformed as a result of a tick bite. But your storytelling took us there for a brief moment and the lessons they represent—failure and risk are the price of entry for achieving something great; plow your own path; nobody wants to lead a scripted life; etc.—resonate in a way that can change lives, personal and professional. You are one of the most engaging and effective speakers I have come across—a humble force that touches people emotionally. Without question, you presented exactly the message we wanted to share with our elite performers.”
– Chairman and CEO, SunTrust Banks, Inc.
“Nicole was exceptionally well received. She—truly—did a magnificent job. Connected with the audience, inspiring, thought-provoking, funny, real, open. Our colleagues couldn’t stop talking about it. Was the highlight of our event.”
– UnitedHealth Group
“Col. Nicole Malachowski took our financial professionals by storm – three weeks later, people are still talking about her. She has a unique gift of being able to relate her very interesting and exciting professional and personal life experiences to a diverse audience in a completely different profession. Her genuine conversational style made each attendee feel she was talking directly to them.”
– Treasury Management Association of New York (TMANY)
“Rarely have I found an entire room of business colleagues all so incredibly inspired and engaged by one speaker! Nicole’s story has the power of relating to all businesses as well as the individual journeys we are all on. Nicole’s compassion, determination and kind spirit shine through in every aspect of her presentation. The outpouring of support, after two standing ovations and many tears, made it clear her message resonated with everyone in attendance. We look forward to Nicole joining us for future conferences and highly recommend her for anyone looking for a truly exceptional experience!”
– CEO of Cetera Financial Group
“I have had the pleasure and burden of hosting speakers for major corporate and client meetings (40-7000 attendees) for the last twenty years. I refer to this part of my work as a burden only because when you chose a speaker who doesn’t hit the mark, it can have a significant impact on the experience, efficacy and ratings of an event. But when you chose well, it’s magic. I’m writing to you today to let you know that you, Nicole Malachowski, are magic! You are easily in my ‘top-5 of all-time’! In addition to be an excellent public speaker in manner, tone and approach, your presentation was stunningly inspiring, moving and motivational. And it wasn’t just a feel-good session. Every person in the room left with business and life-tools to use and share. But most of all, each and every one of us left the room with a more grateful heart. For me, this is the home run of home runs as we attempt to bring some light to the lives of our employees and clients. Thank you for being the amazing woman and role model you are, for your service to our great country and for sharing part of yourself with us. I, too, wish you blue skies and tail winds.”
– President, First Allied and Cetera Advisors