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Volume 22 No. 19
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Who has had the biggest impact or influence on your career in sports?

Portia Archer: There have been a number of people who have impacted and influenced my career. One of the most influential is my mother.

Kathy Beauregard: My parents, sisters, husband and son. They have been by my side through every step of my career. 

Carrie Brzezinski-Hsu: Bill Rasmussen, ESPN’s visionary founder (thus the reason I have my dream job) and also someone who has become a mentor and friend.

Alba Colon: My father. From him, I learned the skills to be successful like dedication, the power of teamwork and a constant pursuit of knowledge.

Jen Cramer: Seth Ladetsky and Keller Withers at Turner built my confidence. Andrea Ching at Turner became my mentor and executive coach. Kathy Carter at SUM taught me how to challenge myself, think strategically and create and execute a vision. 

Mary Ellen Curran: Every person I’ve worked for as well as the people who’ve worked for me have helped shape my career and contributed to my past and current success in the industry.

Kathy Duva: My husband, of course. He taught me everything. I don’t think a day goes by that I don’t recall or use something he taught.

Janet Evans: My coach, Mark Schubert, who taught me that there would be challenges and obstacles even at the best of times. 

Whitney Haslam Johnson: An appreciation and love for sports has been very much ingrained in my family for as long as I can remember — starting with my grandfather who played on the 1951 national championship team for Tennessee football and now of course my parents and their involvement with the NFL in Pittsburgh and Cleveland.

Jessica Holtz: My father has had the biggest impact on me. He fostered my passion for sports in general, but mostly the NBA at a young age. Though he works in a different profession, he is the person I talk to in the toughest situations. His leadership style and incredible work ethic have always provided an amazing blueprint for me.

Lynn Holzman: Charlotte West and Christine Grant. In the late ’90s and early 2000s both women held visible NCAA leadership roles as the NCAA membership discussed and debated major issues. Their wisdom, intelligence, poise, professionalism, communication and listening skills, patience, steadfast commitment to gender equity, fairness and, most of all, their commitment to ALL student athletes helped mold and shape my approach.

Ashlee Huffman: There truly are so many — Zak Brown, Kevin Thimjon, Tim Bampton, Lori Crawford, Mikel Hartman, Wes Zirkle. However, if I go way back to my younger days, it has to be my dad. He was a professional motorcycle racer for many years, then moved into hobby racing open-wheel sprint cars later in life. 

Michelle Johnson: I’m grateful to Adam Silver and Byron Spruell for bringing me into their leadership team. I was encouraged along the way by fellow USAFA graduate Gregg Popovich. And during my tenure, a real sports business pro, Ann Rodriguez, COO of the WNBA, has helped me translate the vernacular of leadership into the sports business realm.

Diane Karle: Bob Kain, former CEO of IMG. He possessed a quiet, intuitive and impactful leadership style. He was accessible, encouraged collaboration, autonomy and differing opinions. 

Michelle Kennedy: I had the great fortune of landing my first job in sports at my alma mater (Vanderbilt University) working with a dream team of talented professionals (assembled by Todd Turner, former AD at Vanderbilt). … I also had great support from [CFO] Lauren Brisky at Vanderbilt. … Working alongside our [Predators] Chairman Tom Cigarran and CEO Sean Henry has been incredible.

Nona Lee: Billie Jean King. Early in my career, I was privileged to serve on the board of her nonprofit organization in New York, the Women’s Sports Foundation. … She helped me understand that my voice is important, and that I have the ability, capacity and responsibility to make a difference. Most importantly, she inspired me to live by the principle that it is important to give back more than I take.

Sandra Lopez: It is a team — the Niners during their dynasty. As a kid, I would watch from afar and learned that you will always have a winning shot to turn a bad run around and the criticality of teamwork. Bill Walsh — I studied his leadership style, and his emphasis on continuous improvement has absolutely had an impact on my life.

Neera Mahajan Shetty: It would have to be my boss, Len Brown. His confidence in me and trust in my instincts, even though I did not have a traditional career path into sports, has been invaluable.

Yvette Martinez-Rea: Without a doubt, Craig Levine, my predecessor and the founder of the original organization in the U.S., which became ESL America. He is an icon and legend (gamer name: Torbull) in this space who has been the most generous, supportive partner to me as I entered the industry.

Liz Moulton: Joe Leccese, chairman of Proskauer, who helped me build a sports practice and most importantly encouraged me to take a seat at the table despite being outnumbered. … Val Ackerman, whom I recruited to be commissioner of the Big East Conference, and every woman in our industry should thank for being a trailblazer in an era that was significantly more gender-biased than what we face today.

Joanne Pasternack: Eunice Kennedy Shriver, founder of Special Olympics. I had the great blessing of working at Special Olympics’s international headquarters when Mrs. Shriver was still actively involved in the day-to-day operations of the organization. … My hero — my father, Bruce Pasternack — used to say to me regularly, “I can open a door for you, but it’s up to you to walk inside. And once you are inside, you need to show up each and every day. You are the only one who can effect the ultimate impact of that open door on your career and life trajectory.” 

Lara Pitaro Wisch: My brother, Jimmy, who very well may have come out of the womb more interested in sports than air. And since I passed most of my early life happily tagging along after him (and he tolerating it), so too came my love of sports. 

Hania Poole: Matt Hong, COO of Turner Sports. When he came to the company, he created a “business operations” role at Turner that didn’t really exist before, and I scheduled time to meet with him and discuss it. While it wasn’t the first role I had in the sports division, it was the role I wanted. And that’s what I needed to be able to see a path.

Jennifer Pope: Kathy Behrens. Smart, confident, mom of 2 (twins!) and just gets the job done. One of the best bosses I could have had to start my career.

Lara Price: I have had incredible mentors throughout my career. I will forever remember entrepreneur and activist Margaret Hansson as my true inspiration, and thereafter, former CBA Marketing VP Bob King, former President of Washington Sports & Entertainment Susan O’Malley and executives like Peter Luukko truly made an impact on my professional development.

Marianne Rotole: Octagon’s John Shea. And not just because he is ultimately my boss. I have grown more as a professional under John’s guidance the last several years than the whole of my career before it. John inspires confidence, empowers people, and is always available to offer guidance, perspective and wisdom. 

Kristen Salvatore: My college soccer coach, Ray Tharan, taught me the value of integrating both the physical and the mental benefits of sports into the rest of my life. That’s a lesson I’ve taken to heart throughout my career. (Ray passed away a few years ago — I miss his wisdom and humor all the time.)

Constance Schwartz-Morini: Maureen Rosen, who hired me at the NFL as her and Jim Schwebel’s assistant in 1991. She gave me a shot and allowed me the room to grow and learn way beyond the scope of my job with her. I am forever grateful.

Morgan Shaw Parker: Patti Phillips, CEO, Women Leaders in College Sports (formerly NACWAA), for her relentless enthusiasm and drive to empower women and girls in sports; Arthur Blank, owner, AMB Group, for continuously demonstrating the power of listening to the customer and giving back to others; Mark Rhodes, Nike, vice president of communications, for pushing me to think about storytelling differently while also taking the time to teach.

Tracie Speca-Ventura: Jeffrey Vanderbeek and Mike Gilfillan, former owners of the New Jersey Devils. Jeff and Mike trusted my vision from our first introductory meeting and gave me the chance of a lifetime by allowing me to curate my first stadium collection in 2007.

Sara Toussaint: Nick Carey, head of Wells Fargo’s sponsorship and hospitality team. For the past five years, he’s had my back, which gives me the confidence to be creative. I also have to recognize Carlo Castilla (for teaching me to find purpose in my work), David Wright (how to be true to the brands we support), Michael Gandler (mental toughness), Paul Mendes (how to be resourceful) and Jen Gefsky (first role model in sports).

Cyndie Wang: Tom Shepard because he gave me my first glimpse into the Olympic Games, taught me how to drive true value from partnerships and opened my eyes to the emotive power of sports to connect with audiences.

Nichol Whiteman: Rachel Robinson, founder of the Jackie Robinson Foundation and widow of the incomparable civil rights icon, Jackie Robinson. Her unwavering strength in the face of indescribable adversity will always inspire me to achieve greatness.

Chie Chie Yard: While he may not know it, my father. He raised me to be a strong and confident person. From a very young age, he reinforced the fact that I could do anything I wanted to do as long as I worked hard.