First Female Thunderbolt Pilot

Nicole Malachowski
Speaking Fee: $30,000 to $50,000

Travels From: DEN - Denver

Primary Topic Category: Company Culture / Employee Engagement / Teamwork


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Nicole Malachowski At A Glance:

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. 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. Her career has exceeded her dreams. Her dream came to an end when a devastating tick-borne illness left her struggling to speak or walk for nine months. An indomitable spirit, she fought back against overwhelming odds an prevailed.

Col. Nicole Malachowski, USAF (Ret.) defies stereotypes. Yes, she was a jet fighter pilot, but if you think you know her based on that, you’d be wrong. A leader, a combat veteran, the first woman pilot on the Thunderbirds Air Demonstration Squadron, a White House Fellow, and an inductee into both the National Women’s Hall of Fame and the Women in Aviation International Pioneer Hall of Fame, Nicole’s distinguished 21-year Air Force career exceeded her wildest dreams. But the dream came to an end when a devastating tick-borne illness left her struggling greatly to speak or walk for almost nine months. An indomitable spirit, Nicole fought back against overwhelming odds and prevailed. Drawing on stories from her career and personal life, Nicole inspires audiences to rethink the challenges they face every day. She urges them to go beyond resilience and become resurgent. Nicole empowers people with three key beliefs: failure and risk is the price of entry for achieving something great; sometimes you need to yield to overcome; and her personal mantra – “Nobody wants to lead a scripted life.”

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.

While other high school students were practicing for their driver’s license, Nicole was accumulating flight time. She was sixteen years old when she took her first solo flight and from that point on there was no stopping her. 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.  As a career pilot, 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 squadron. 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. The White House Fellows Foundation and Association awarded Nicole the 2019 IMPACT Award for demonstrating both remarkable achievement and transformational contributions in her field, as well as a sustained commitment to the White House Fellows program. Nicole also 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. In November 2020, Nicole was announced as one of 2020’s “Mighty 25” by We Are The Mighty for her passionate advocacy on behalf of veterans’ health. The Mighty 25 is a recognition bestowed each year to change makers in the veteran, active duty, and military family space.

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.


    Leaders across every industry and experience level share one thing in common: To be successful they need to effectively navigate failure, organizational change, and the unknown. Like headwinds to a pilot, these perceived barriers can force you to change direction, cost you momentum, and even take away options. These headwinds can feel confusing, disorienting, and downright uncomfortable. In this talk, Nicole Malachowski uses the aviation-based idea of headwinds as a metaphor to show how with the right mindset, individuals and teams can learn to harness the energy of these headwinds in their advantage.Nicole inspires individuals and organizations and bolsters their ability to:

    •Overcome personal and professional failures
    •Effectively navigate organizational and cultural change
    •Endure the discomfort of the unknown
    •Increase resilience, reinvention, regroup, and adaptability
    •Have courage to rise above self-doubt and cultural paradigms
    •Support and mentor others on the team

    To be successful, leaders from every industry and experience level need to effectively navigate moments of self-doubt, master the role of a trustworthy team player, and embrace moments of personal and professional vulnerability. Using the idea of an aircraft performance envelope as a metaphor, this elite fighter pilot and military leader will share inspiring personal stories and practical tools to ignite individuals and teams to reach beyond commonly-assumed limitations to achieve their maximum capabilities and impact. Nicole Malachowski’s presentation will bolster the ability of individuals and teams to:

    •Overcome self-doubt that often inhibits personal and professional growth
    •Model the selfless trust needed to be an effective teammate
    •Practice vulnerability and transparency to build trust and galvanize teamwork
    •Build accountability, dependability and reliability that drive performance
    •Break down silos to unleash creativity and adaptability

    Everyone faces barriers, both personal and professional, that may appear to place limits on what’s possible. When people pursue only what is expected, accept cultural norms that hold them back, and view barriers that appear unsurmountable, their personal and professional lives become limited—scripted. A powerful trailblazer herself, Nicole Malachowski reminds audiences to not let others draw their boundaries, and to break tradition with grace and purpose. She inspires people to see obstacles and challenges as opportunities to grow—a chance to reach new levels of personal and professional excellence.
    Nicole delivers actionable insights for pursuing dreams, making choices, and living an unscripted life.

    •Define your own possibilities and overcome self-doubt
    •Reevaluate traditions, paradigms, and overcome limitations
    •Welcome challenges to the status quo
    •Why having the courage to ask for help is key to, reaching your potential
    •Acknowledge the work-life balance myth

    “No war plan survives first contact with the enemy” is a truism. In the military, leaders must acknowledge and address the fog (things we can’t see, know, or predict) and friction (the forces which impede progress) of war. In such times, effective leadership is more crucial than ever. Using the challenges and uncertainties of combat as a metaphor for organizational challenges, Nicole Malachowski stresses perspective, priorities and positive leadership as she provides tools for leaders to use in times of crisis—or anytime—to keep their organizations successfully moving forward. Nicole offers leaders a framework to lead through fog and friction in times of crisis.

    •How to proceed regardless of the unknowns your organization facing
    •How to maneuver around or through impediments to your organization’s progress
    •Understand the leadership challenges that are unique to times of crisis
    •Keep focused on your purpose; perspective is critical to manage risk and adapt
    •Positivity and calmness are essential. Instill confidence; don’t add to the chaos

    One popular pilot saying is “speed is life,” because without enough speed, an airplane is nothing more than an expensive rock. In the business world, especially when technology is involved, speed can be just as crucial. The organization that moves the fastest often realizes the most success. Having flown a high-tech fighter aircraft that can reach speeds of up to twice the speed of sound, Nicole Malachowski offers principles that keep any organization functioning smoothly, efficiently, and at high speed, even when chaos and the unexpected occur. Nicole’s insights help leaders create a culture where decisions get made quickly.

    •Assess the dynamics that slow your organization down
    •How turmoil in your operating environment slows you down
    •How does a need for speed impact decision-making
    •Trust, clear roles, and communication are vital to navigate the unknown at speed
    •Practice, planning, and preparation underpin organizations that move quickly
Nicole was wonderful! exceeded all expectations, Thanks for your kind assistance!

— Pager Duty

Col. Nicole Malachowski was our keynote virtual presenter at our annual United Way of Broward County’s Women United Magnolia Luncheon. Col. Nicole Malachowski presented in webinar style and then participated in a virtual Q&A style discussion with the ‘who’s who’ women of the Greater Fort Lauderdale area. United Way had to cancel our in-person Women United extravaganza and pivot to a virtual event but not without great trepidation. BUT, I am so glad we did because Colonel Malachowski kicked it out of the park and exceeded our (and our 400 guests) expectations. We received so much positive feedback regarding Nicole that I could not keep up with my text messages and emails praising her. Not only was she so well received by the audience, she was so wonderful to work with, personable and spent extra time answering questions from all the guests. Her visual set-up and pre-preparation with us was Top of Class and added visually to her inspiring storytelling and genuine nature of relating to the audience. It felt like she was directly and personally speaking to each of us. She is a powerful speaker!! A true genuine storyteller, and encourages you to be the author of your own script. Even though the event was several weeks ago, we are still hearing how fantastic our keynote speaker, Col. Nicole Malachowski was! She is truly an inspiration! I highly recommend considering Col. Malachowski to speak at your virtual event.

— United Way of Broward County (VIRTUAL EVENT)

Thank you for a fantastic and engaging presentation this morning…the feedback during and after the meeting has been awesome; there was an ‘everyone’ Zoom chat underway during your session with ‘awesome’ and ‘fantastic’ included in the comments.  I have had personal messages from various leaders commenting on how inspiring, relatable and relevant your experiences are.  I wish we could have gone longer! After Lunch we conducted breakout sessions and each group took one of your stories, and the questions you posed, and explored how it relates to Momenta.  It started some great conversations; as each spokesperson provided their summary after the breakouts, it was evident that the themes of trust, teamwork, vulnerability and courage had really resonated with everyone – each spokesperson referred to and connected with the previous team’s summary, all referring to you as Nicole (you’re part of the Momenta family now 😊).

— Momenta Pharmaceutical (VIRTUAL EVENT)

We were thrilled to have Nicole as one of the keynote speakers at the Vistage Women in Leadership Event 2020.  From my first call with her, I knew that hearing from Nicole was going to be a special experience for our members.  In this age of virtual events, Nicole’s energy and focus kept our participants engaged and prompted an enthusiastic chat conversation among our participants who were effusive in their praise of her.  Her message is up-building, life giving and brings value for anyone who is struggling to keep their head up in challenging times, looking for inspiration in the journey.


I can’t thank you enough for your incredibly engaging and inspirational virtual address at our Sales Meeting today. Your experience-based themes resonated really well, your unique stories and experiences were very relatable, and of course your delivery was polished and entertaining.  This was the most engaging speech I’ve heard in quite some time (possibly ever) and I wouldn’t hesitate to have you back to speak to other areas within my company.

— Mark L. Roberts, Chief Executive Officer, Morton Salt, Inc. | A K+S Company (VIRTUAL EVENT)

Nicole has a multi-faceted story of overcoming adversity to achieve peak performance and she has adapted to tell that story in a compelling way during this time of virtual leadership meetings. Her messages about overcoming unexpected turbulence and harnessing headwinds were especially powerful for our leaders as we’ve shifted to serve customers and support our teams differently during a time of crisis. Nicole is a high flyer, brings great energy and would be a smart addition to any program.

— Cox Communications (VIRTUAL EVENT)

This is the second time I have used Nicole. She is powerful. She connected so eloquently to the ‘business’ and made all her themes resonate and apply pragmatically. The audience was buzzing – and really enjoyed her. They are requesting another go around on her patient level view as well as her advocacy role. I am incredibly inspired by Nicole – and in awe of her achievements.

— CCFord Healthcare (VIRTUAL EVENT)

Nicole was AMAZING!  I have heard so many positive comments and feedback.

— Janus Henderson (VIRTUAL EVENT)

Nicole was PHENOMENAL! One of the best speakers we’ve ever had. She was down to earth, had a powerful story and really cared about adjusting her message to fit the audience. If there are ever any groups in the AHA looking for a keynote, I will highly recommend her to them.

— American Hospital Association (AHA)

The conference attendees raved about your presentation and were truly able to relate to all that you shared. I very much appreciate you creating a unique presentation for us based on our discussions. The emphasis and importance you placed on all players and how important each individual is to the “Wingman Contract” came through loud and clear to everyone at the conference!

— HM Health Solutions

Colonel Malachowski is an inspiring, authentic speaker and leader. She speaks from the heart as she tells a story of determination, grit, attention to details and service to others.

— Raymond James & Associates

I’m sure you won’t be surprised to hear that Nicole was an absolute home run. I know her message made a profound and lasting effect on many of my colleagues, including me. Plus, she is just so nice and human. It’s really special. I’m not sure how I will top her for future events!

— PURE Insurance

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