Laurel Richie made history this past May when she became the president of the WNBA–the first African American woman to hold the position in any national sports league. With a dynamic background and an acute business and marketing acumen, she hopes to reel in new fans while furthering the reach of the league in to the mainstream. Richie steps into the position highly decorated. She’s a recipient of the YMCA’s Black Achiever’s Award and Ebony magazine’s Outstanding Women in Marketing and Communications. The Network Journal also named her one of the 25 Influential Black Women in Business earlier this year. The one thing Richie doesn’t have is a working background in sports. But don’t let that deter you, the Cleveland native grew up on basketball and brings a much-needed fan’s perspective to the position. That perspective, coupled with her background as the Girl Scouts of America‘s Chief Marketing Officer, is a perfect mixture that the league hopes will enhance the WNBA experience and take the sport to new heights, on and off the court.
BlackEnterprise.com: How did you go from the Girl Scouts to your current position as WNBA President?
Laurel Richie: I love this story. I was with the Girl Scouts of America and I was asked to give a keynote address at an annual fundraising luncheon for Seattle Girl Scouts council. At that point and time I did a lot of those addresses and they would usually ask me to speak on the brand revitalization, but in this case they had asked that I tell my personal leadership journey. The Girl Scouts is all about developing the girls’ leadership skills so I did that. Unbeknownst to me, the female ownership of the Seattle Storm was receiving the inspiring women award at the same luncheon and I was really intrigued by these women. They were smart, articulate and passionate. The president of the Seattle Storm, Karen Bryant, at one point described her work as “building a dynastyâ€ and I just remember thinking that I liked this woman. She was a visionary who thinks big. Afterwards, we went up to each other and said how much we enjoyed what we had to say and how we wanted to keep in touch. Unbeknownst to me, she sent my name on to the WNBA, who I didn’t know were looking for a new president. I got a call two weeks later and began the interviewing process.
Does the fact that you don’t have a work history in the sport play in your favor?
I think that my history in sports is as a fan. I grew up in Cleveland and my father was a season ticket holder of the Cleveland Cavaliers for almost 30 years. I have one brother and two sisters and we would all take turns going to the games with him. As I grew older and Cleveland got into the playoffs, I would fly from New York; my brother from Boston; and my sister from Chicago and we’d all draw straws to see who could go to the games. I think I bring a fan perspective and a marketing background to this position. I think that’s really what [NBA Commissioner] David Stern and [NBA COO] Adam Silver are looking for at this point in the development of the league. We know right now that the quality of play is the best of the world in terms of women’s basketball so the opportunities right now are less about the game and more about the marketing of the game.