Who is Jene’ Elzie?
My name is Jene’ Elize. I am Vice President of International Marketing in the NBA, so I look after all the marketing activity outside the US. I spend a lot of time on planes as we’ve got teams in nine offices around the world. I live here in New York but I travel quite a bit.
I would say I’m a study in contrast. I can be extroverted but I’m quite introverted at heart. When you’re in sales and marketing, that’s quite a difference. I can also be very loud and opinionated but also quiet and shy. I can be serious, I’m often quite serious, but I also love to make people laugh. So I would just say I kind of go with the flow and that I’m a bit of a chameleon.
What would I like my legacy to be? I think if I could put it quite simply, I would like to say that I inspire people and I was inspired. What that means to me is that there is inspiration in everything. There’s inspiration in my four-year old nephew who always makes laugh and smile and think about the future and think about big things. There are people that I hope that I can inspire, whether it’s people that that are coming up in the business or looking to do whatever they want to do in their lives - even being an athlete, being a former athlete myself. So all of that, for me, is really important. It’s to be inspired.
Tell us about your career journey.
So I think about my career in four quarters. The beginning for me was just a notion that I wanted to work in sports. I didn't know what that meant but I started out like everybody else does at the bottom as an intern. I did several different internships. I started really at the Olympic Training Center which was such an exciting time because it was right before the Olympics and in Atlanta. So, I had a really great view of sports and all that it brings.
The second part of my career really started when I officially began working at Fox Sports. I was working on the acquisition side of the business, meaning acquiring sports rights with everything from boxing to tennis to hockey to basketball. What that allowed me to do was identify another passion of mine, which is working with people, working with clients, and negotiating deals at that time. Then I went over to a place called the Tennis Channel, which at the time was a nascent network. It actually hadn't even launched. I was employee number thirteen over there and I loved it. I loved that time, being able to build something from the ground up. My job was to go out and secure tennis rights for this wonderful new channel and I did that for four years. We really built a legacy, which was great as the small team that we started out as.
Then I moved on to the other side of the table. That was the third quarter for me, which is international sales. I went to the sales side of the table. That was at Comcast. So I had a similar role to what I do now. I was overseeing international sales for channels like E!, Style and G4, so yes we sold a lot of Kardashians. We've sold everything from the G4 video game shows to Golf Channel series and it was a really great time to be on that side and to understand what it was like to be now the seller instead of the buyer.
That led me to the fourth part of my career, which is the marketing side. Through NBC Universal, I was working on sales marketing in the marketing solutions group for television distribution. I had the good fortune at that time. I was living in London and I had met with the NBA a few times and they called me up and said, “We have this great new opportunity - we want to build our marketing discipline in Europe.” So I said, “Okay. Sign me up.” I came over to the NBA and that's where I've been for the last, almost five years. When I first came over to the NBA, I was working across the European business and that was such a fantastic time because there's so much growth and there's so much excitement of our fans around the world. As a marketer, to be able to capture that within the NBA was a thrill. So I did that for about two years and then moved over to do essentially the same on the international side of the business – to build up our teams in several different markets. What I love about the NBA is that it's truly a global sport and what that means is that we've got fans all around the world. The fans are so passionate about our sport and there's nothing like being outside of the US and representing such a great sport and just seeing how much it connects with fans. It doesn't matter if you're in London or Johannesburg or Rio. All of the fandom is the same. It's an instant connection and being able to work in sports for me has always been that. It has always been about connecting people and bringing people together.
What are your top accomplishments?
So in terms of accomplishments there's kind of what I've done but for me, what's more important is who I've become. So when I think about accomplishments, I was a gymnast. I was a competitive gymnast my entire life before my career and then I had my career accomplishments. When people talk about it, you talk about it in terms of winning medals and getting certain scores and getting to this competition whereas in your career, it’s getting to a certain level in your executive career. For me, if I had to say what my single proudest accomplishment is, I'm really proud that I've had the chance and I'd taken that chance to see the world. For me, what that means is that I've done it literally and I've done it figure figuratively.
I lived in London for seven years and in that time, I was able to travel to over 40 countries. What's really amazing about that for me personally is that I grew up in California. I had benefit of growing up in a place that was always very inclusive and very diverse and you had a lot of different cultures.
What I think it came down to for me was really pushing myself way past my comfort zone. I could have stayed in California and lived a very very happy life but when the opportunity came up, to pick up and move across the world and I didn't know anybody, I just said, “Yeah, absolutely. Why not? Let’s go for it!” So I'm really proud of pushing myself past that point because I never would have come to the place that I am right now.
When I think about of all the many places I've traveled, countries that never would have even been on my list, the one common denominator for me is learning more and listening and learning about the culture when I get there. Yes, I'm traveling on business a lot of the time but what I love to do is take some time to go sort of off the beaten path. If I go to Johannesburg, I'd love to spend some time just outside and understanding. I don't want to see that the same hotel or the same office that we have. If I go to Estonia, I want to learn about the culture. That’s not the opportunity that I think I ever would have gotten had I not had this career and had I not been able to go to places that I've never been. Really, what it comes down to me is just learning about cultures and coming to appreciate everything that's diverse about the people that I meet.
How has your background influenced your success?
When I think about my background, the first thing I'll say is that I consider myself very fortunate. I'm very thankful that I had two amazing parents, one absolutely fantastic brother and that I was raised in California, which was a great place to live and a great place to grow up. One thing I always remember that my parents always taught me from the very beginning was one, to be thankful for everything that I have but two, to be curious about everything and that I could learn about everything. The third thing was that I had no sense of limits. I always knew that I could do something completely different and I always did something completely different. When I was a gymnast, there weren't a whole lot of gymnasts like me - that looked like me. It was always something that was just, “Okay, that's great, you're a gymnast, fantastic, let's see how far we can take this” and I really kind of carried that throughout my life. I've never seen that there are limitations other than the ones that I put on myself and I'm very thankful for my parents for giving me that foundation.
What are your thoughts on the P.O.L.I.N.G.® Principles?
Without even knowing it, I think I lived the P.O.L.I.N.G.® principles for my entire career. I think that you have to have something that guides you and you have to have a set of beliefs. Whether it's prioritization, whether it's growth, whether it's networking, whether it's reaching out to others - that's always been my foundation.
In terms of when I've used the P.O.L.I.N.G.® principles, I'm going to start at the very beginning of my career and talk about priorities, focus and leaning on others. When I first started I moved down to Los Angeles and when I was straight out of grad school, I knew that I wanted to work in sports and that's all I knew.
So after graduating from Stanford, undergrad and grad school, I knew one thing. I knew I wanted to work in sports. I could have done a lot of different things, I could have gone the investment banking route, I could have gone the law school or medical school but I just chose to chase my passion and that sent me all the way down to Los Angeles. At the time, Fox Sports Net had just launched. It was this sort of new concept under the Fox family and I knew they were hiring. The only thing that I knew about Fox was I had reached out to a sports caster at the time called Jim Hill and Jim was a legendary sportscaster for Fox. So then, I had decided to call him up one day - literally just called him up - and of course, his office answers and I say, “Hey I'm just out of school and I would love to talk to Mr. Hill about my career. How do I start a career in sports?” Of course they gave me a very pat answer back and they said, “You know Mr. Hill is not available at this time. However, when you do come into LA., let us know.” So I took that quite literally. I got my car and the first day I got into Los Angeles, I drove straight up to the Fox studio lot and said to the security guard, “I'm here to see Mr. Jim Hill.” He said, “Do you have an appointment?” “No.” And he said, “Is Mr. Hill expecting you?” “Yes.” “Okay.”
So he dialed up and of course, Mr. Hill wasn't expecting me and so he said to me “I'm sorry, we can't let you on the lot. You don't have an appointment.” I said okay. So all I did was that I walked to the back of the lot – this was the days before security - I jumped the fence and I started walking from building to building on the Fox Sports lot with my resume in hand and just handing it to anyone that I could see. I walked into the fourth building and there was a guy who was sitting there. He looked like he was probably just out of school himself and I said, “I'm here to find a job” and I gave him my resume. It turned out that he too went to Stanford and we were the same year. I hadn't met him before but then, at that point, I knew that that Stanford network was really working for me. He put me in touch with the right person and eventually I got a job at Fox and that's how that happened.
So back to the P.O.L.I.N.G.® principle, I stepped into my priorities, I reached out to others - even if the others weren't necessarily reaching back to me - I networked and I knew that that was my path for growth.
Tell us what you think about the P.O.W.E.R. framework.
The P.O.W.E.R. principles for me are very intuitive. Again, this is just something that I was living and I didn't even realize that it was actually the P.O.W.E.R. principles.
So one of the things that I absolutely love is mentoring. When I think about everything that I've been given and everything that has defined my life, my career my sport, I just want to give that back. What I think about, you know, you have work and you have your day-to-day work – but outside of that, there’s what really drives you, what really inspires you. For me, working with especially with young women that are just getting into the sports field or just getting into their careers - I love being able to work with them and talk to them and share with them the things that I didn't know. I had some really fantastic mentors very early on in my career and I am very thankful for the advice that they gave me and now to be able to sort of pay that forward is, talking about the P.OW.E.R. principles, that's it for me. You talk about the priorities and that to me, is a priority and I give my time to it. You talk about being worthwhile and energizing and that is absolutely energizing knowing that someone can learn and someone can really start their career on the right foot. That is so inspiring.
How has your background posed a challenge?
In terms of when my background has been a challenge for me and how I dealt with that, I think back to my early days. Now there were very few girls that look like me on the court and they were even fewer off the court. My role was to be the one at the table negotiating deals and so I would walk into a room and it would be one of two reactions. One reaction was of just kind of curiosity, but not really knowing where I fit. The other reaction would be to just push me to the side and try to ignore me.
I think where I really learned to deal with that, first of all, my background and always hearing my parents in the back of my head just saying “Just power through, you can do it, you can do anything you want, and you deserve to be at this table.” Though, I also had the benefit of having a boss and mentor at the time who made it his point to always bring me, not just to the table, but to defer to me when it was appropriate, to make sure that I was part of that conversation and I was leading that conversation because he knew that my background, my culture, the color of my skin, my age, everything was working against me. But the reality was we were able to turn it around and use it to my advantage. I used it to my advantage by knowing when people were on the back foot because what that means is that people are open. When they see me coming into the room and they don't know how to react to me, that leaves the walls down a little bit. It also keeps people from thinking, “Oh well I had her in this box, now I have her in this box.” And so what it makes them do is switch their mindset. It’s to have them be more open to the conversation we're about to have and I've always found that to be to my advantage.
Who are the people who have influenced you most?
Who has influenced me in my life? I've had a lot of really great influences.
I always start with my parents. Not only did they teach me values but I got a lot of what I learned about traveling the world, about seeing the world, about helping others - has come directly from them. My father, funnily enough, had a very similar job to mine where he was traveling you know 40, probably 50 countries. He's been to more countries than I have, so I grew up with that curiosity. He's also very disciplined. He was a scientist so he's very analytical which I tend to be when I'm making decisions. I always think about, “What would my dad do? How would he approach this?” On my mother's side, she has endless compassion and she's always taught me just to be open to anybody. It doesn't matter what race, ethnicity, background someone is - none of that ever mattered. And to be able to be taught that from a very young age is what kept me so open and allowed me to go and do all of these things that just sound crazy even now sometimes when I think about how much I've done just pushing outside of my comfort zone and just trying something completely different. I would tell her about it and she would just roll her eyes and say, “Yep, go for it.”
In terms of other influencers in my life, my coaches. Particularly the coaches that I had from the time I was about nine years old until I was 18 until I went off to college. They pushed me in a way that made me know that I was better than I actually thought that I was. They were always encouraging. They knew when to pick me up when I fell down and they were such an incredible influence on my life. You know, I spent 30-40 hours a week with with them and I had one coach in particular who I, without really realizing it, I adopted her life philosophy. She used to always say to me, “It is what it is.” She would say that to the entire team, that was her response to everything. And that's actually what I started to pick up over my life and I say, if you have a theme in life, that is my theme. What that means is accept things as they are. You can only control your reaction, you cannot control other people. You can't ride the wave of other people's emotion. That's what I learned. Out of all the the lessons from gymnastics, that's what I learned. Just to keep centered and just to accept things as they are and then move forward.
What career advice would you give to your younger self?
My advice to my younger self would be to celebrate yourself. And what I mean by that is, I think this is incredibly important – particularly for women – is not to excuse away your greatness. When you when you accomplish something, take the time to celebrate it. Take the time to recognize it for what it is, and then move to the next great thing that you're going to accomplish. I think my younger self spent a lot of time worrying about what everyone else thought and how people were going to react. And I wanted to over-explain the things that I did that were actually really great. So I think about that quite a bit, and I wish someone would have said to that young girl, ‘Just enjoy it. Just celebrate. Don't worry about anything else. Just let it be.’
What is your call to action for individuals?
As a call to action in terms of diversity and inclusion and what we can do as individuals, I choose to focus on that last piece – inclusion. It’s to make sure you’re included and to make sure that you’re on the table. Start the dialogue. If the dialogue isn’t happening, start it. That’s what we can do.
I look at the incredible opportunities that we have to grow in diversity and I think it all starts with dialogue. It starts with removing the fears, removing the pre-conceived notions – that can’t happen without initiating a conversation. So say, “Hey! Tell me about yourself. Tell me about your background. Where did you grow up? What did you do? What did you learn?” Those kinds of conversations lead to the larger conversations which need to happen. And when we talk about diversity and what we talk about inclusion – we talk about diversity, but sometimes we forget inclusion. And for me, the inclusion is what brings it all together.
What is your call to action for organizations?
As a call to action for organizations in terms of diversity and inclusion, it's a little bit of an extension of what I said we could do as individuals which is not just to facilitate conversation but to reach into the organization. To identify all the various types of diversity because diversity is not just about the color of our skin. Diversity is not just about whether I'm a man or a woman. There are so many different definitions of diversity. We have people who are loud and Type A and people who are very very quiet and not necessarily at the table all of the time. You have people who are right-brain and left-brain. All of those people should be coming together on a regular basis and so what an organization can do is to really facilitate that opportunity.
It doesn't have to be a formal notice out to your employees saying, “We're going to talk about diversity today.” It's just the way that the culture is. It's just the way that you set the culture for the organization. So take opportunities at all times in all places. Even just facilitating conversation - think about office design, think about the ability for people to sit in pods and have conversations, to sit at long tables and have lunch. Those are the things that start to break open conversations. And we as organizations, have a responsibility to make sure that we're facilitating that.
What are your thoughts regarding the iD community?
I love the iD community. I think it is so important and so necessary. The idea of bringing people from so many backgrounds, in so many areas of diversity and really just helping to define what diversity is, expand that definition. When I think about the iD community, I'm just excited to know there's so many people out there with such wonderful stories. I love stories. I love storytelling and I love hearing stories. And what iD can do is help break down some walls and facilitate conversations and help us have the tools to do that with others around us.
Tell us something about you that no one would guess.
There are two things that people wouldn't know about me. The first is that I love to write. If I could be anything else in this world, it would be a writer. I love just putting words to paper, especially if I'm traveling or if I'm in a cafe or if I'm just walking down the street. I just love observing people and I love putting pen to paper. If I could do anything in my life, that's what it would be.
The second thing, before my passion for writing, is that when I was young I used to dream of being a stand-up comedian. I thought it was the coolest job in the world. In fact, I wrote my entire research paper for my senior year in high school on stand-up comedians. At that time, I would just call them up and I would ask them what it was like to be a comedian. I had interviewed Ellen DeGeneres, I had interviewed Jay Leno and as I started - this was in San Francisco, so I would get to go to some of the comedy shows - and after seeing the first one and seeing how brutal people were in the audience, I very quickly learned that stand-up comedy was not going to be for me.