The 2011-2012 National Football League season kicked-off last week on Thursday, September 8th with the Green Bay Packers defeating the New Orleans Saints. We’re not sure if most people think about what actually goes into all of the compelling and stylized programming – nightly news, series, films, etc. – surrounding the NFL. But, we do. And thanks to espnW reporter, Whitney Holtzman, we came to discover that there is someone behind the scenes, who leads the “team” that has the enormous job of delivering all things football to millions of fans around the world, 24/7. That person is Kim Williams. She is the COO of the NFL Network and a woman you should know.
Whitney recently interviewed Kim as part of espnW’s Power Players series, which highlights women in the sports business. She spoke with the COO about the NFL lockout, how women can advance in sports and the idea of being open to life’s unpredictable turns. Women You Should Know found the interview, which originally appeared on espnW in June, to be smart, informative and entertaining, so we wanted to share it here, with our readers.
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espnW: Tell us what your job as chief operating officer of the NFL Network entails. What are some of your daily duties and responsibilities?
Kim Williams: Generally responsible for the day-to-day management of the National Football League’s cable television assets (NFL Network, NFL RedZone), which also includes overall administrative oversight of the NFL’s facilities and studios in Culver City, Calif. — operational home to NFL Network, NFL RedZone and NFL.com.
espnW: What’s the first thing you do when you get to your desk in the morning?
KW: Read the daily press clippings.
espnW: What’s the coolest part of your job?
KW: Seeing the fruits of our labors on “the screen” — big and small. Oh, and calling the NFL commissioner “Commish.”
espnW: What’s your favorite sport and why?
KW: Well, if ever there was a question for which there was a right and wrong answer, this would be it. Football, of course!
espnW: What career path did you follow to get to where you are now?
KW: Well, let’s start by saying that I am the poster child for the notion that the best-laid plans rarely proceed as planned. I started out as a Japanese/Asian studies major — how’s that for nonlinear career paths? Truth be told, I always wanted to be a veterinarian.
But here’s the lesson: Life has a strange way of taking you down paths you never intended. Each and every one of us should take advantage of the adventure of life, to jump at opportunities that pop up and that take ourselves out of our comfort zones even when those opportunities may seem counter to “the plan.” Only through the benefit of hindsight can I see how every step in my seemingly nonlinear career path, from my college major to my current position, is [one of many] very clearly related links in a chain.
espnW: Have you ever had a bad experience in any workplace because you are a woman?
KW: In my experience, bad experiences in the workplace are not reserved for women. I have been blessed by working for organizations and people for whom the fact that I was a woman didn’t matter (and, by the way, hopefully I played a role in not giving anyone a reason to have it matter). There were times early on in my career where either my gender or my age or a combination of both made me feel uncomfortable, even unworthy, but with the benefit of hindsight I recognize that that was mostly my own insecurity rearing its ugly head.
espnW: Have you had a moment during your career where you looked around in a meeting or elsewhere and thought, “Wow, I’m the only woman here?” In other words, what’s it like being a female in such a male-dominated field?
KW: Answering this question is a bit of a double-edged sword. On the one hand, I would be naive to suggest that it’s no different, that it does not matter. Yet I have always maintained philosophically exactly that: If I make it out to be different, more difficult, then indeed in the end, and for all the wrong reasons, it does matter. In great organizations, it does not.
espnW: What advice do you have for females coming up through the ranks who are interested in being sports executives?
KW: Two themes: (1) be intellectually curious. And by that I mean be smart and know your stuff. Know your business and have an opinion about it; don’t wing it or expect others to know it for you. (2) care enough to do the right thing, even when no one is looking. Have unyielding integrity; take pride and be confident in following the righteous path. And by the way, don’t be a jerk. No one likes a jerk.
espnW: OK, let’s take this out of the office for a minute. What are your favorite food and drink?
KW: Nobu’s yellowtail with jalapeño. And I think it was [Mark Twain] who said, “Too much of anything is bad, but too much Champagne is just right.”
espnW: What would you say is your biggest weakness?
KW: Have we discussed Nobu?
espnW: Are you an athlete yourself? If so, what sports do you enjoy playing?
KW: Yes. Athletics has been a part of my life since I was a little girl. I grew up playing all kinds of organized sports: softball, soccer, volleyball, basketball, track. Being active and healthy is still an important part of who I am.
espnW: OK, back to the office. We’re curious about the lockout. How is the NFL Network’s programming going to be affected if the lockout prevents or delays a season?
KW: We are hopeful that a fair agreement will be reached as soon as possible through collective bargaining negotiations. Regardless, the NFL Network will continue to provide the latest football news and most compelling football stories to our fans. As such, we’ll continue to monitor the situation and make programming decisions at the appropriate time as events dictate.
espnW: How much of your day is occupied by thinking about the lockout? How has it already altered the NFL Network and its programming?
KW: Our focus remains the same, which is to provide fans football 24/7. We are covering all the news nightly on “NFL Total Access,” as we always do. And we are excited about our new and acclaimed “Top 100” series airing now, “Players of 2011,” which counts down the top 100 current players in the NFL.
espnW: How big a role do female fans play in the NFL’s success?
KW: Forty percent of our fan base is female. More women watched this year’s Super Bowl than women and men combined watched the Academy Awards. Females love the NFL as much as men do, and we continue to find ways to serve them. I’m also particularly proud of the NFL’s special efforts during Breast Cancer Awareness month each October, when NFL players are outfitted in pink cleats, pink gloves and pink chin straps to help generate awareness and funds for breast cancer research.
Lead photo of Kim Williams courtesy of the NFL Network, via espnW