Forty Under 40: Libby Geist
Five or six years ago, ESPN executive Connor Schell saw something special in Libby Geist and gave her advice that she still leans on today. Schell, who had seen his profile rise from his association with ESPN’s acclaimed documentary series “30-for-30,” told Geist, “You need to own something. Instead of being one of 50 people working on a project, really carry something and put the pieces together.”
Vice President and Executive Producer, ESPN Films and Original Content, ESPN
Born: Evanston, Ill.
Education: University of Wisconsin-Madison, B.A., political science
Family: Husband, Kevin Wildes; children, Russell (6) and Billy (4)
What gets you fired up? Growing competition in the unscripted space — it’s the BEST fuel to see competitors do great work, keeps me on my toes.
Guilty pleasure: US Weekly and a No. 2 meal at McDonald’s on days that I’m flying.
Something your friends would consider “so you”: Stan Smiths.
You could not go a day without: A smooch from my little boys.
Cause supported: Michael J. Fox Foundation.
Person in the industry you’d most like to meet: Patrick Ewing.
Ideal day off: Sleeping in and a carefree day with my husband and kids. Bike rides, meals outside and no Twitter.
Most thrilling/adventurous thing you’ve done: A five-day horseback trek through northern Argentina, with only Spanish-speaking companions and zero training.
Geist took Schell’s words to heart and took ownership of the 2013 documentary series “Nine for IX,” celebrating the 40th anniversary of Title IX. The strategy worked, as executives in Bristol often referred to that series of documentaries as “Libby’s project.”
“That advice really changed my career trajectory,” Geist said. “That was a really good exercise for me to develop relationships, which have been necessary, but also just to focus on those stories. It’s still great to be one of 50 people working on a project — we’re all a team. But stepping up and making something yours, helped me see things a little bit differently and realize that I like being a leader.”
Today, Geist has a lot of responsibility at ESPN, overseeing much of the company’s storytelling. She oversees the features unit, which makes shorter-form stories for ESPN’s studio shows; “30-for-30” documentaries and podcasts; and longer series such as “O.J.: Made in America” and the upcoming Michael Jordan documentary “The Last Dance.” She also oversees original series for ESPN+, such as the Kevin Durant show, “The Boardroom.”
“We’re learning as we go,” Geist said. “It’s fun. For me, selfishly, maybe this is the answer: I just want to keep learning things, and I want to keep growing. If we only continued to do only those 50-minute documentaries, we would all go a little nuts. I wanted to take our team in different directions, because I want to keep learning and doing new stuff.”