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A remarkable story of beating the odds

You can't always choose your room, but you can choose your attitude.


David Downs is a business leader, public servant, consultant, board director, speaker and genetically modified organism. David is now CEO of The New Zealand Story, an ambitious government-funded organisation marketing New Zealand to the world.

Previously David was a General Manager at New Zealand Trade and Enterprise (NZTE) for 10 years, working with the Technology sector to help fast growing tech companies grow internationally. David has held various roles at NZTE, in the Services, Customer and Corporate Services teams, and led a cross-government project for the MBIE to help grow the Agritech sector.

David spent 13 years at Microsoft, in New Zealand and as regional director for South East Asia, and he has set up and run successful businesses of his own. David is a published author on New Zealand Innovation, with two highly successful books No.8 Re-wired, and No.8 Recharged.

In 2017 /2018 David was facing a terminal diagnosis and given less than a year to live, but managed to beat cancer in a remarkable series of lucky breaks. After a year of chemotherapy, and staring a terminal diagnosis in the face, David got a literal lifeline, with the chance to get on to a clinical trial in the USA. Now a genetically modified cancer-killing machine, David's reflecting on the lucky series of events that saw him beat cancer, and on his new approach to life.

He's an ex-comedian, TV and Radio actor, semi-finalist for New Zealander of the Year, and a genetically modified optimist who documented his battle with cancer in the book A Mild Touch of the Cancer now a documentary film. His charity project Down with Cancer helps raise funds to make the revolutionary CAR T-cell therapy available in New Zealand for those who need it.

A chartered member of the Institute of Directors, David holds a number of board positions, including as the chairman of The Icehouse, the Hi-Tech Trust, and the Well Foundation. He is part of the executive advisory committee to the CEO of DIA.

At the beginning of the Covid-19 lockdown, David co-founded - a not-for-profit initiative to help bars, cafes and other small businesses sell vouchers. It quickly became a huge hit and to date has sold over $2 million in vouchers for over 2500 small businesses. All the money goes to the businesses. Based on that experience, he published a book about the innovation that happened during covid-19 in New Zealand, 'Silver Linings', published by Penguin Random House.

David studied at Massey University, the University of Auckland and Stanford University, and regularly presents and gives talks on his cancer journey and on the power of positive thinking and optimism.

Talking Points

Personal resilience surviving terminal cancer

David had a public battle with terminal cancer and ultimately won, thanks to luck, science and personal resilience.

New Zealand innovation

David is an expert in the history of NZ innovation with 4 books on the topic from NZs earliest innovations, to today.

Silver Linings - The positive stories and lessons from Covid-19 in NZ

International business how to really screw it up

Bad board meetings and how to avoid them

NZ's place in the world of Agritech

He was hilarious! So engaging and really gave off such a strong message to the power of positivity. Amazing story, amazing guy. Chartered Accountants ANZ

David was an absolutely fantastic speaker. His story was so inspiring and many of our conference attendees said he was the highlight of the conference for them.


Really enjoyed having David at our Staff Day. He was inspirational and entertaining. He engaged with everyone in the room.

Waikato Cancer Society

Loved his pithy quotes, his ability to engage and get a few laughs. People were talking about his session for the rest of the day.

NZ Transport Agency

Very engaging and great story teller, delivered at the right level for the audience.

TRG Imaging

Thought he did well, appreciated his honesty and the personalized twist, as well as understanding the nature of our team and throwing in the awesome T-cell display at the end. Just what our team needed to start thinking about mindset!

London Green

David was brilliant to work with!! All our guests commented on his speech being the highlight

Moloney Moloney

David is an extremely engaging speaker. He offered insight into his own personal experience, the practical and emotional skills he used while he and his family were going through this time and offered hope and a process as to how he managed to live his life to be able to stand in front of us today. David is an amazing man with an inspiring story.

NZ Groundspread Fertiliser Association
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