Linda McMahon: Women in Business, Balancing Motherhood & Career, WWE Operations, more

From The Stamford Advocate :

Mar. 26 - This year was a pivotal one for Stamford-based World Wrestling Entertainment Inc.

After a body slam from the economy that left the entertainment company on the mat, the WWE took a hard look at what it needed to do to get back up and turn itself around.

That's what Linda McMahon, the WWE's chief executive officer, said in a candid speech to more than 200 Sacred Heart University students about the inner workings of perhaps one of the most globally recognized entertainment companies.

McMahon spoke Wednesday evening at the school's Fairfield campus, kicking off the university's Women Leaders in Business series. After going public in 1999, the WWE experienced immediate success, but began to struggle as the economy faltered and a new crop of reality TV shows competed for the same viewership, McMahon said.

McMahon said she responded by changing some upper management, bringing in a new chief marketing officer and evaluating what the company was doing wrong. What the WWE found was that it was marketing and promoting each of its products well, but in a vacuum, she said. The company knew it was time to refocus, re-energize. And WrestleMania XX was the way the WWE was going to do that, McMahon said.

"Last spring we decided to use WrestleMania XX as our driving focus for the next year," she said. "We knew WrestleMania would really galvanize us." The company aggressively cross promoted WrestleMania, an event that brings together its top performers and storylines, through all its products -- from live events to merchandise to publications.

The idea worked. Since making WrestleMania XX a marketing focus, "Every revenue for every quarter has grown. Morale really lifted because everybody felt they were on the same page, pulling the same wagon together," she said.

What McMahon realized, she said, is that "It's very important to continue to look at your business all the time."

And it's one of the many lessons McMahon has learned since she co-founded the WWE's predecessor with her husband, Vince, in 1979. The McMahons, childhood sweethearts who met in church, married while college students in 1966. Linda McMahon was a paralegal before she and her husband incorporated Titan Sports, a live event promotion business. In 1982, Titan purchased Capital Wrestling Corp., the company founded by Vince McMahon's father.

It was a very interesting buy-out, McMahon said. "We made four quarterly payments. If we missed any of the payments we forfeited the money already invested and the company would go back to the shareholders," she said. It was the first of many challenges the McMahons would face in making their company into the integrated entertainment empire it is today. McMahon also spoke about the challenges of being a women in a male-dominated industry.

"It's a hard road," she said. "Being a mother is the most incredible and demanding job in the world. To balance that with a career -- that becomes an exponential demand."

"It is not something you can do without pain. It is not something you can do without guilt," she told the students. "You have to be willing to sacrifice to achieve both goals. The choices are not easy." However, building a career was easier for McMahon, she said, because she didn't have to climb the ladder like most women do.

"I've never experienced the glass ceiling. I had the fortunate experience of starting at the top. But being on the top rope is a very jittery place to be," McMahon said. "It's about ability, it's about seizing opportunity. I don't deny glass ceilings exist. They do. I've had incredible opportunity at the WWE."

And some of those opportunities differ from what people traditionally think is the role of a CEO, she said, recalling her husband's request that she become part of the story line, where she comes face-to-face with wrestling superstar Kane.

"Nothing in your job description will prepare you to be held up by the throat by a man who is 6 foot 10," she said.

McMahon was really able to speak to the audience, particularly since the student body is 70 percent female, said Greg Bastek, the major gifts officer at the Sacred Heart's Institutional Advancement Office, who organized the event.

"Their impression probably changed quite a bit from their preconceived notion of her," Bastek said. "Her notoriety should go beyond someone who is the wife of Vince McMahon. I don't think a lot of people in the audience knew what she brings to the table."

By Julie Fishman-Lapin, The Stamford Advocate, Conn. Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News

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