Senior Vice President, Global Strategy, Business Development and Business Affairs, ESPN
By Stuart Miller -- Broadcasting & Cable, 6/4/2012 12:01:00 AM
This year, ESPN promoted Donoghue, one of two women on its executive committee, to senior VP, global strategy, business development and business affairs. But her path was roundabout, and it did begin with the law.
After graduating she decided to gain experience and took a job at a Wall Street firm. That led to work at Polygram Holdings in the early Internet days, dealing with Napster, before she came to ESPN in 1998 as senior counsel for ESPN Internet Group. “I didn’t love law for the sake of the law—I loved the negotiations and the partnerships,” she says.
She left law behind in 2000 when she became VP, business affairs for ESPN Enterprises. “As a lawyer, you advise others on the risks,” she says, “but now I had to help actually make the decision about taking the risks. It was a little scary.”
Donoghue quickly found a comfort zone and never looked back. The broad-based nature of her job ranges from operational decisions to deal negotiations, from social media strategy for ESPN’s content division to business plans for Grantland.com, operations for ESPN’s gaming business and ESPN Films. Being flexible in her thinking has paid off big.
Her Web experience proved key. “I love digital because everything is always changing—you have to be comfortable with shifting sands and you have to stay educated and current,” she says.
One crucial bit of flexibility came when ESPN decided to take “a fairly unique approach” by negotiating for rights in “any and all media,” Donoghue says, meaning that as technology has changed and more options have arisen, the company has not had to go back to renegotiate deals.
One thing she never worried about was being a woman at a sports network. “I’ve been outnumbered since being in the first class of women at Columbia College,” she says, adding that Wall Street and the digital worlds were equally maledominated. “If I’m the only woman in the room, then people will remember who I am.”
When she moved over from the digital to the television side at ESPN, that may have broken a bigger barrier in terms of mind-sets. And when she was named to ESPN’s executive committee, “I had a lot of women reach out to tell me how much it meant to them, but a lot of people from the digital side too,” she says.
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