We would love to hear how you got to where you are in your career!
I grew up in a family of lawyers but had an interest in business from a very young age. I went to a liberal arts college and was a government major, but I took every economics and accounting class I could to begin learning about business. I also took the internship process very seriously and explored all sorts of roles early in my career, from investment banking to brand management. After pursuing my MBA, I went to work for a management consulting firm called the Boston Consulting Group. BCG was full of absolutely brilliant people who were much smarter than I was, and it was an incredibly rigorous environment that stretched me every day and usually well into the night. I kept up by working harder than anyone else, by asking more questions than anyone else, by taking advantage of all learning and mentorship opportunities, and ultimately by developing strong client relationships and team leadership skills—which ended up being a bit of a differentiator in that type of environment. I also proactively pursued projects that interested me and managers who impressed me.
We all have different strengths and weaknesses, but I quickly learned the importance of seeking roles and opportunities that allowed me to draw on my strengths, pursue my passions and work with people and companies that inspired me. My self-awareness about the importance of these factors led me to transition into the sports and media world, where, ironically, I had no experience. That one career move was life-changing for me, and it has taken me to where I am today.
How did you get into sports?
I grew up playing sports, in a town known for sports, with a father who loves sports. As the youngest of two girls, I quickly stepped into the avid sports fan role as a way to spend more time with my dad. It quickly became one of the many bonds we still share. When I graduated from college, however, there were very few career paths in sports. It wasn’t even on my radar as an option; there were certainly no specialized Masters in Sports Management programs like there are today. I would have loved that!
After four years at BCG, I knew I wanted to pursue an opportunity in a high-growth, rapidly changing industry where I could get some operational experience. This was in the middle of the dotcom boom so opportunities were abundant, but the sports and media industry was at the top of my list. I had a former colleague who had gone to ESPN and was working on strategic projects for the president of the company. I thought she had the most exciting job in the world, so I reached out to learn more about her role. Then I met some other people in the company, and a month or two later a position opened up that was a good fit. It was my dream job, so I was willing to take a pretty significant pay cut to get my foot in the door and launch what has now been a long, focused career in sports.
The exciting thing is that the sports industry has evolved and expanded so much that it has provided great opportunity for professional growth. After an amazing run at ESPN, I left to join a boutique sports agency and later moved to an early stage startup. The diversity of these experiences and the teams I worked with made me a much more well-rounded leader. One of the things I am most excited about is how technology and innovation are influencing and reshaping the entire sports ecosystem. In today’s sports world, it is essential to understand the power of technology and the importance of data. That’s one of many reasons that I was excited to come to GumGum.
Can you share your thoughts on the power of networking?
I always tell interns and those who are early in their career to learn how to network early and then do it often, as part of a regular routine. The sports industry is an incredibly tight-knit, relationship-driven community, and people move around from team to league to agency to brand. Many of the roles that I have taken have been the result of a relationship I cultivated or a personal referral; likewise, many of the people I have hired have come through my own network.
Here are a few of the networking tips I would recommend:
Use LinkedIn! It’s such a powerful tool for networking. Use it to do your homework before going into a meeting, and always connect after a meeting. Also, never underestimate the impact of a quick and personalized handwritten follow-up note.
Leverage your alumni network. People love to hire from their colleges and universities. I have hired several Dartmouth graduates in my career (we already have a few in the Sport group!) and will always make time for an informational call with someone who takes the time to proactively reach out.
Connect with people in your network when you don’t need anything. Lob a quick call, share an interesting article, take them out for coffee, or meet for a drink just to stay connected. There will come a time when you might need an intro or referral, and you will have a much more established relationship to work from.
What would you say is your hope for the next generation of women who are rising up in the sports industry and as female leaders?
Sport, by its nature, teaches girls and women teamwork, discipline, resilience and confidence. Those are the exact qualities that we draw on as we progress through our careers into leadership roles. My message to the next generation of aspiring leaders is to be fearless—there is nothing but opportunity in front of you. While there is still an under-representation of women in the sports and technology industries, this is quickly changing. When I started my career in sports, nine times out of ten, I was the only female in the room. I got to the point where I didn’t even notice it. But we are now seeing women coaching NFL teams, women becoming GMs of powerful sports teams, women becoming commissioners and serving as CEOs of major sports media entities. We are also seeing our favorite female athletes, like Serena and Lindsey, transition their incredible athletic careers into their next chapters in the business world. It’s a very exciting time for women in sports. We have amazing role models and incredible support networks in each other. The opportunities really are limitless.
Tori Stevens (SVP of Customer Success - Sports) interviewed by Bayli Stefl (Senior Marketing Manager - Sports)