First Woman Thunderbird Pilot, Combat Veteran, Fighter Squadron Commander, White House Fellow & Adviser, and Indomitable Spirit
“Failure is the price of entry for achieving something great.”
“Failure is the price of entry for achieving something great.”
Key Speech Themes
Harnessing Change • A Culture of Excellence • Motivational
Peak Performance • Execution • Teamwork & Trust
Handling Disruption • Leadership • Women & Career
Overcoming Adversity • Inspiration • Becoming the Best
Adaptability • Diversity • Accountability • Healthcare
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 – she even has a Star Trek Federation starship named after her, the USS Malachowski (NCC-1619). 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’s 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 received several prestigious honors in recognition of her significant contributions to various endeavors, including the 2023 Award of Inspiration from The Ninety-Nines, Inc.®, an international organization of women pilots who are dedicated to encouraging and inspiring people to chase their dreams, whether in aviation directly or in other arenas.
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.
Video Playlists by Topic
Harnessing Headwinds – Successfully Navigating Change & Adversity
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 metaphorRead More >
Breaking Barriers: Conquering Self-Doubt and Cultural Paradigms
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.Read More >
Pushing the Envelope: Being the Best When It Counts
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.Read More >
The Mach 2 Mindset: Decision-Making in a High-Speed Environment
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.Read More >
Conquering Fog and Friction: Leading Through Times of Crisis
“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.Read More >
What People Say About Nicole
“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.”
Treasury Management Association of New York (TMANY)
“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.”
“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.
“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
“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)
“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.”
Chairman, Board of Directors, National Association of Specialty Pharmacy (NASP)