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Volume 23 No. 24
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Forty Under 40

In October 2010, Laura Gentile was in La Jolla, Calif., setting up for a conference at Torrey Pines to introduce espnW to 180 of the most influential athletes and executives in women’s sports, when an unusual thunderstorm rolled into the area.

The storm caused Gentile and her team to scramble; they had to move some of the outside events indoors.

To some, Gentile’s response to the freak thunderstorm was a microcosm to how she has overseen one of ESPN’s biggest programming initiatives of the past year in espnW. The sudden change in plans for espnW’s big coming-out party didn’t faze Gentile one bit. She had been working on espnW for the previous 13 months. It still was two months away from launching.

“The first conference we had in 2010, in hindsight, was kind of gutsy,” Gentile said. “When we talk about having courage or taking a risk, [we’re talking about] walking into John Skipper’s office and asking him for approval on something like that.”

The fact that the event was successful did not come as a surprise to Gentile’s ESPN colleagues. Gentile had displayed a single-minded passion for espnW since the fall of 2009, when she told then-ESPN President George Bodenheimer that she wanted to head up the project.

What followed was a whirlwind 12 months when Gentile went on what she describes as a roadshow to various ESPN executives who “helped home in on the concept and poked holes in the concept.”

From when the idea first was announced, Gentile encountered a lot of skepticism from inside Bristol, where senior executives openly wondered how espnW would make any money.

Gentile was undeterred. The executive, who had been a vice president in the office of ESPN president Bodenheimer, continued to focus on developing an online home for women’s sports. Launching in December 2010, espnW debuted as a blog before becoming an enhanced website in April.

“EspnW sprung from Laura’s vision and passion,” said ESPN President John Skipper. “Early criticism did not dissuade her from her belief that we could launch a business aimed at an underserved demo that speaks to the female athlete in a smart and conversational way. Laura recognized W would evolve and find its voice, and it is already a success for us.”

Age: 39
Title: Vice president, espnW
Education: B.A., Duke University, 1994; MBA, Boston College, 1996
Family: Husband, Tom; son, Will (3)
Career: Ogilvy & Mather (1999-2002); ESPN senior director of marketing (2003-06); ESPN vice president, office of the president (2006-09); named to current position in 2009
First job: Waitressing
Last vacation: Sea Island, Ga.
guilty pleasure: Nachos
best stress release: Massage and going for a run
pet peeve: Wasting time
fantasy job: Travel journalist or astronomer
what keeps you awake at night? Will, my 3-year-old
business advice: “No one is indispensable.” — my mom