It’s never easy walking in your parents’ footsteps, but try being the fourth generation to make a mark in the family business. And yet, Stephanie McMahon has done just that, rising from the ground floor to the C-suite where she serves as the WWE’s Chief Brand Officer. Read on to learn Stephanie’s insights on leadership and why professional growth, like building muscles, can be both painful and rewarding.
Tell us about your role as WWE's Chief Brand Officer.
I am responsible for WWE’s brand, community relations, and pop culture strategy, which includes celebrity integrations and partnerships within the entertainment industry. I am also the company’s global brand ambassador and a part-time character on WWE programming. Becoming a character was something I had not anticipated or planned, though I have always been a natural ham!
What's the most eye-opening lesson you’ve learned since taking on the CBO role?
The biggest lesson I have learned is the importance of relationships. You can have the biggest numbers and deliverables in the world, but without the human connection, it’s a lot harder to make meaningful partnerships.
How did you get to where you are today?
"My leadership experience in these positions prepared me to become the company’s first Chief Brand Officer."
It’s important to note that I’m fourth generation in my family’s business. I worked my way up in the company, starting as a switchboard operator in high school, and interning throughout WWE doing everything from editing highlight reels to Xeroxing and hand-delivering our company newsletter (which tells you how old I am). I was originally asked to be part of the Creative Writing team, and then, only two weeks in, the head writer quit, and I was offered a position running the department. In the years to come, my role would grow to include oversight of our Live Events, Talent Relations, Talent Development and Digital departments, and I became the first woman at WWE to lead any of those divisions. My leadership experience in these positions prepared me to become the company’s first Chief Brand Officer, which is where I am today.
What pivotal moments did you face along the way?
Letting down my father, who was also my boss, was pivotal to my growth. In one instance, after someone had come to him threatening to quit if I didn’t change my management style, he gave me some tough feedback about micromanaging my team. It was one of the most difficult times I have had in business, but I was grateful to have the opportunity to improve.
What do you see as the major opportunities and challenges for women today?
Women still have to fight for their opportunities, but companies do seem to be more aware than ever before about the need for diversity of all kinds in the workforce. We are currently working with the ANA’s new See Her in Sports initiative as well as the non-profit organization She IS to help advance media coverage and marketing support of women’s sports. Currently, women only get 4% of media coverage for sports in the U.S. and that needs to change.
The biggest challenge is for more women to speak up for themselves and their ideas, and to have confidence knowing their voice matters in the room, even if the room is predominately men.
What advice can you share?
I always tell my kids that confidence is 90% of being successful in anything, and I think that applies at work as well. Believe in yourself, your ability to do the job, and to overdeliver. I also think it’s important to play to your strengths and to focus on what you do better than anyone else.
Who helped you in your journey and how did they help shape your thinking?
"...from my father, Vince McMahon, I’ve learned that growth is painful, but it’s worth it."
I believe anyone can be a mentor if you are able to learn from them. I learned from Bonnie Hammer, a titan in the media industry, to trust my team and that it’s ok not to have all the answers. From Eleanor Roosevelt, I learned to do something I’m afraid of every day, and from Maya Angelou, I learned it’s not important what you say or do, but how you make people feel. And from my father, Vince McMahon, I’ve learned that growth is painful, but it’s worth it.
Knowing what you know today, what one thing would you have done differently early in your career?
I would have worked somewhere else for at least five years. I know WWE better than anyone (other than my father), but I think it would be helpful to have spent time at an organization where I’m not the boss’ daughter and to have had the opportunity to learn and grow from others outside of our business.
If you weren’t doing what you’re doing now, money or talent would be no object, what would you be doing?
I would be doing the exact same thing. I love WWE and it is a privilege to be a part of a brand where we get to make a difference in someone’s life. Our mission is to put smiles on people’s faces the world over, and when someone thanks you for generations of entertainment, or you get to see the smile on the face of a Make-A-Wish child after he meets his hero, or you get to shake the hand of a serviceman or woman who risks her life to defend our freedom, there is no better feeling in this world.