Last Thursday night, The Nashville Predators were defeated in game seven of the Western Conference Second Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs by the Winnipeg Jets. Deemed unfair by many to play this team so early in the competition, our newest FACE reminds us that on the way to the cup, everyone is good — and that is how tournament seeding works. While disappointed the season ended sooner than anyone had hoped, Nashville has shown their true colors in support of the team and a season well fought. P.K. Subban, Pekka Rinne and Mike Fisher are now household names, but a name you might not know is Michelle Kennedy. Acting Chief Operating Officer, Michelle is responsible for (almost) everything that happens off the ice. She joined the franchise in 2008 as in-house counsel, in 2010, she was named General Counsel and Chief Financial Officer, and in the fall of 2017, she moved into her current role. Holding what she calls a “double professional disability,” Michelle is both a lawyer and an accountant; as well as a former Vanderbilt basketball player and long-time Nashville resident. She brings a breadth of talents to the world of sports, and her work is making women more relevant on an executive level in the sports industry. Welcome Michelle Kennedy as today’s FACE of Nashville!
What are your key responsibilities as Chief Operating Officer?
I was the CFO and General Council for a number of years. In that capacity, I was charged with the overseeing the financial operations of our enterprise, plus legal, PR, IT and HR issues. As I have transitioned into the COO role, two other very qualified people have assumed roles of CFO and General Counsel. I am still very involved in those things, but my involvement is broadening into other areas. I get involved with just about everything we do.
When people ask what I like most about my job, the answer has always been (and part of the reason I chose this profession) that there are never two days that are the same — never two hours of a day that are the same. As I move deeper into the COO role, I find that I can be talking to our owners about a governance issue, and an hour later I can be talking about the catfish tank. When I take time to look back at what I did in a day, I chuckle. There are pieces of operations that are zany and fun, but there are also business and logistical elements to them that someone has to pay attention to — and a number of us do.
How have you seen Nashville’s hockey culture change? What was the catalyst for this change?
A couple different things have had a huge impact on that: our deliberate attempt to grow a fan base; the all-star game, which put us on the international stage; and the success of last year’s run.
We were an expansion franchise, as everyone knows. We don’t have the benefit of 100 years of history and built-in hockey fans. As I stand in Winnipeg and look out my window, I see people who grew up on hockey. It is what they know. It is their national sport. They are born hockey fans.
For us, we had to take a very deliberate approach. People who grew up in the area did not grow up on hockey. That is why it is so important we have our Get Out And Learn! Program, the Ford Ice Center and the new ice center being built in Bellevue. Those things are all vitally important to us because we have to create fans. From our inception, we had to create something that was alluring. We did it through young hockey fans, and we also did it by being a little bit different. We are not the traditional hockey market or the traditional hockey experience. We often say the way we “do” hockey is unapologetically irreverent. We do what is fun and what feels right. We have created an experience that you can enjoy whether you have been a hockey fan since birth or not. You can come enjoy hockey, but there are also 10 other things to enjoy. Of course, it is a culture with hockey as a center, but there are other elements as well. We have – without question – made a very deliberate attempt to put a foundation in place to bring hockey fans for years to come.
We have had a good team for years, but the 2016 All-Star Game was a big turning point. Local fans, local businesses and everyone in the world saw what a great city Nashville is. The city came together in such a wonderful way. We couldn’t have shown better as a city — as a hockey city. That created a different impression of what Nashville is from a hockey perspective … worldwide.
Last year’s run was unbelievable and made a difference for the franchise. We snuck into the playoffs, and no one expected much. We went on a tear, and it was so fun – our city embraced us in the best way. It solidified what was already put into motion.
It is really satisfying and fulfilling to see our town respond to our team like they have.
Do you have any game-day superstitions?
Last year, my assistant wore the same t-shirt to every single game. We make ourselves believe that it is all up to us whether we win or lose. A colleague and I have lunch at the same place every game day. One day we couldn’t fit it in, we lost. All because we didn’t have lunch!
What do you hope to accomplish in your tenure? Is there anything you’d like to see changed or improved?
I am so fortunate to be in an organization where I have a lot of input. A lot of what we do comes out of collaboration. We want to get better every day so we never rest on our laurels.
Aside from the very obvious, which is winning a Stanley Cup, we want to be an organization that gives as much back to Nashville as Nashville gives to us. I tell people all the time (and I really mean it): What we do in the Nashville Predators Foundation is just as important as what we do on the ice. Every day we strive to be an organization that takes its platform and uses it for good. We have the great fortune that from ownership to executive management to coaches to players, everyone appreciates and understands the responsibility we have to our city. We want to make our city better; we want to make our fan experience better. Certainly, we make mistakes, but as long as we keep giving back to our great city in the forefront of our minds, we will keep on the right path.
Have you faced gender-related roadblocks in your career? How did you overcome these?
In professional sports, there are more male executives than female executives. But my career is not littered with hardships because I am a woman. And why is that? I don’t know. I grew up playing with the boys. I played little league baseball until I was 12. My “boyfriend” was pitching for his team, and I hit a home run over the fence. I never thought much about it, but it probably didn’t sit well with him. I think very differently. I grew up in a neighborhood full of boys, and I never thought there were certain gender lines I had to stay between. My personality is one that is confident and assertive, and I have had the dumb luck or good judgment — or, let’s call it good fortune — of working with people in my professional career who don’t see gender as an issue. They see me as I see me: a dedicated, very loyal, hardworking businessperson. I am just a professional doing my job. I’ve had great owners, colleagues, bosses and mentors — some are male, some are female. I want to work with good, smart people, and I want people to see me as a good smart businessperson. I am fortunate and thankful I have never felt like there is a glass ceiling that has restricted me because I am a woman in a profession that is traditionally a man’s world.
What is the best piece of advice you have received?
There is no magic bullet. Never lose sight of where you are centered, ethically. It is the combination of hard work, being a good person and staying centered. It doesn’t matter what you do, where you go or where you stand on the org chart; if you keep those things in mind, you will be on an upward trajectory. I learned that in my own career.
Name three things you can’t live without, excluding faith, family and friends.
My iPad, a good glass of red wine and occasional solitude.
Thank you to John Russell, Predators team photographer, for the lovely photos.
Allow us to introduce you to Dr. Erin Steidl, OB/GYN. Not only does she make other women moms with every delivery she makes, but she’s also a mom herself. Get to know our newest FACE of TriStar! CLICK HERE.