She Got Game: Meet WNBA President, Laurel Richie

Laurel Richie wrote the playbook on people skills. A Dartmouth College grad and over three decades worth of experience in business and marketing, Richie has been President of the Women’s National Basketball Association since April 2011. Acquiring her talents in corporate management and branding from training programs at advertising heavyweights Leo Burnett and Ogilvy & Mather respectively, the former Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer for Girl Scouts of the U.S.A. is a pro when it comes to campaigns for women.

“The second assignment I was given in my career at Ogilvy [was working on] Kimberly-Clark and Huggies,” she recalls of the job that dictated her career path. “I didn’t have kids then and didn’t really have any siblings that I had helped raise so it was a brand new category for me. It set the tone for me really enjoying working on products that targeted women or women were the primary consumer.”

Here, she reveals the female mentors and words of wisdom that keep her from dropping the ball.

My position in one sentence:
It’s really full responsibility for all the inner-workings and health of the [WNBA] as it continues to grow.

Moment I realized I wanted to go into marketing:
When I was graduating from college and interviewed with a whole host of companies (non-profits, investment banks, the U.S. government) and I met the marketing people, I liked them. Marketing sort of required them to be students of the world, have a good finger on the pulse of pop culture, understand people and what motivates them to make the decisions that they make, and it had a creative aspect to it. The people who came to interview from marketing companies seemed really cool, really fun and really interesting, and I thought when I’m 40, they were the people I most wanted to be like.

Origins of her success:
Luckily, I joined an agency called Leo Burnett. At the time, it had a terrific training program for entry-level college students and M.B.A.s who were getting into the business so I was fortunate to have their training program and then about a year and a half later, I moved to Ogilvy, which had a similar training program. So I feel like both my on-the-job training and extra effort is where I honed the specific skills of marketing.

Laurel Richie’s desk-side wisdom

Pro tip in handling challenges:
I really like challenges. Marketing is problem solving so when you get a challenge, it’s really a problem to be solved so I try to break down anything that feels daunting to “How do I get started?” I’ve got a quote on my board that says “Begin anywhere” so that really just helps me deconstruct things so that they don’t become larger than life.

Favorite quotes from her female mentors:
So my first two mentors were my grandmothers and my mother. These were really strong women who, all of them at some point in time, worked outside of the home, particularly my grandmothers that was pretty advanced notion for women of their generation. I draw incredible strength from their moral fiber, sense of curiosity, sense of family and sort of the importance of respecting people who are similar and different from you. My mom was very big on “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you” and my maternal grandmother voted with, “To whom much is given, much is expected.”

The key to balancing life and work:
I try in every single situation to realize it is just a choice and that in any moment, make the choice that feels best for that moment and five minutes later, I have the opportunity to make another choice.

Advice to women in showing their male superiors they are capable:
The most important thing is to pick something you love to do because then it’s not work and everything becomes a sense of possibility and you’re just pursuing your genuine interest. I think of myself as a manager and a leader when the people who work on my team express genuine interest in anything and they volunteer to do things that may be a little outside of their specific requirement or they take a project and go the extra mile or when they take the project that seems like the worst project being offered and turn it into something cool. I’ve had a lot of people volunteer to take what seems to be the most boring, low-profile project and then turns it into this thing that becomes the gold standard and everybody else looks at her like, “Oh, I wanna do what she just did.”

Favorite book: A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving

Bag necessities: A nail file, bright lipstick, Band-aids, cell phone and gum

The definition of a boss: Creating an environment where people do their best work

Photo Credit: Jason Chandler