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Getting to the C-Suite and How to Stay There

By: Scott Carmichael, Prodigy Sports

CEO, COO, CMO, CRO, CTO, CFO…the list goes on.  Regardless of industry, for those who are career-oriented, have exceptionally lofty goals, and are ambitious, the C-Suite is the target.  In sports, those roles don’t come around often – but when they do, are you on the short list?  How do you get on that proverbial list to be contacted for available opportunities (keep in mind – these jobs rarely get posted or made available for public consumption)?  If you aren’t on that list, how do you break through and become part of the conversation?  Moreover, once you land that highly-coveted role, how do you stay there and not just survive but rather thrive?

Before starting Prodigy Sports in 2007, I was fortunate enough to have secured executive positions with the Los Angeles Kings and NHL League Office.  It wasn’t an easy road nor did I take any shortcuts.  Furthermore, I wasn’t your traditional revenue-generator working in the sales department, so my path to senior-level roles had other obstacles and challenges.  Sure, I was involved in critical business development efforts, but I was not quite your conventional “rainmaking” ticket or sponsorship seller.  Perhaps the first lesson is right there: the C-suite wants and needs exceptionally-talented operators, marketers, technologists, and otherwise strong financial, strategic, and big-picture thinkers and doers.  I’ve seen just as many strong legal and accounting minds succeed in C-level roles as I have your classically-trained branding executives or big-game hunters.  Whether your background is traditional or not, it is critical that you conduct thorough due diligence on the organizations you admire or otherwise are targeting in your pursuit of the C-suite.  Find those companies that are like-minded or have had prior success with paving a path to the top, regardless of who you are on paper, for someone like you.  However, some of those crucial skill sets and traits that are “color blind” to your résumé, current title, area of expertise and/or degree are –

  1. The ability to deliver business results on a daily, weekly and monthly basis that fit into long-term company-wide goals – balancing short-term wins while not losing sight of future goals. It is easy to accept a quick fix, a cash grab, a minor victory but if it impacts your detailed strategic plans down the road, is it really worth it?
  2. The confidence to create, maintain, communicate and sustain a comprehensive vision and mission.  This must be articulated clearly and consistently.
  3. The capacity to establish and advance a culture that takes into account the present environment and personality of the organization while considering the perspective of ownership, your board, staff and other vested stakeholders.  Is it “your” culture or “our” culture that you are building as a leader?
  4. An understanding of, respect for and openness to embrace the strengths and complementary skills of other C-suite executives to work towards a common goal.  When you are sitting around the table, it doesn’t matter what letter comes between the “C” and “O” in their job title.
  5. A tireless work ethic, a strong support system, an immeasurable level of determination and chameleon-like character and disposition.  These intangibles are sometimes more impactful than the hard skills you possess.

Getting to the top requires careful career road-mapping and strategic career planning.  You should draft a plan, put benchmarks in place, but do so in pencil; you may have to change course, develop a different proficiency, build a more diverse network and grow your portfolio with a different team, league, agency or sport.

Once there, continue to learn and develop.  Just because you have earned that C-level title, doesn’t mean you’ve reached the pinnacle and your work is done.  Stay on top of trends in your industry and other industries; learn from executives you admire; put yourself in uncomfortable positions; continue to work towards being a well-respected and fair leader.  Most of all, don’t become stagnant and simply collect the paycheck.  There are plenty of others waiting in the wings that would do anything to get that “Chief” notation on their business card.

An industry veteran with nearly 40 years experience in the sports business, Scott Carmichael founded Prodigy Sports in 2007.  Now entering his 11th year leading the agency, Carmichael has established Prodigy Sports into one of the nation’s premier boutique executive search firms. As Prodigy Sports has grown in national prominence, Carmichael has led successful placements with organizations such as the New York Yankees, Dallas Cowboys, Los Angeles Lakers, AEG Worldwide, TD Garden/Boston Bruins, SeatGeek, Engine Shop, Gen.G esports, NBA 2K League, Monumental Sports/Team Liquid to name just a few.

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Megan Meisse

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