Up Close with Susan Cohig: Embracing Change

By WISE National

WISE Women of the Year honoree Susan Cohig once pivoted from working in radio to sports and later on, moved across the country to join the National Hockey League. Here, the executive vice president of club business affairs talks about her passion for mentoring others, how her mother influenced her drive to be a change agent and what to do when you start feeling comfortable in a role.

Describe a moment in your career that you would say was pivotal to your professional journey.

One moment was when I was working in radio, and I had the opportunity to pivot to working in sports with the Denver Nuggets. I loved the radio job, and I love music. I was running my own department and worked with wonderful people. I was comfortable and enjoying what I was doing. When I was recruited by the Nuggets, it was for a senior director position — a step back from where I was — but in a new area. I really had to think: Do I want to make a change that gets me out of my comfort zone? It was a pivotal moment because I thought about the things we all learn. If you're feeling really comfortable, that might be the time to make the change. It was a risk, but it was my time to take a risk.

What does success look like for you, and what do you do to work toward that vision?

For me, it's being able to learn, grow and face challenges. You can't be successful if you're doing the same thing over and over again. Success also means influencing positive change. That has always been a part of what we all do in this business, but since COVID, that community connection is more important than ever.

Who has been your greatest role model, and what did they teach you?

I have a tremendous amount of women and men who I've been able to learn from, but none so important as my mother. Early on, she instilled in my siblings and I the idea that you don't have barriers to what you can accomplish; you can be and do whatever you set your mind to do. Having her not only tell us that but also show us as she reinvented herself was powerful. She raised seven kids, got divorced, then had to go out and create a new career for herself and be really successful at it. She was not only a role model in what she taught us and told us but also what she showed us in terms of how she has lived her own life to this day.

Was there a moment when you considered leaving the sports industry, and what made you stay?

Honestly, I haven't had a moment where I considered it. One thing about working in sports is that we aren't in a distinct silo. We work in entertainment, in community service and in the public square. It isn't, "I'm going to leave sports and do something else," it's how we can continue to use the platform of sports to broaden the impact of what we do in our day-to-day lives. If I were to go in a different direction, it would ultimately be pivoting in this same public square that we all have the privilege and benefit of working in.

How do you keep your ideas and contributions fresh and relevant? Where do you draw your inspiration from?

I get my inspiration from a combination of things. I'd start with my 16-year-old. We're all humbled and get our energy from the generations that come after us. Their enthusiasm and the things we can learn from how they engage in the world keeps us fresh. Our fans get NHL content in so many different ways now. They're getting soundbites on their phone and streaming clips. Our fans still love their teams and are as engaged as ever, but they consume them differently. I learn from all of my colleagues as well because there are so many different perspectives that remind me how much we have to learn every day. We also need to remember that there is a slant to what you're consuming. Twitter, Facebook, TikTok, What's App and all the different platforms can create an echo chamber, and you have to step back and recognize the perspective that you're seeing.

In your career, what has been a "Pinch me, I'm dreaming" or "This is too good to be true" moment?

I've been blessed to have so many. At KYGO, we put on the 4th of July Celebration for the city of Denver, and I booked all the talent, and handled the staging and sponsorships. I remember the first time I was on the stage, looking out at a crowd of 50,000 people, and our main act had just wrapped up but they stayed to watch the fireworks. I remember in that moment being so amazed and able to soak it in, but also thinking that I could do this. I have that same moment in sports all the time. Going to Climate Pledge Arena on the Seattle Kraken's opening night, standing there as they started their intros and the lights went down and seeing the crowd's reaction, I get it. Every time we start a Stanley Cup or a playoff game, I get it. Every one of these moments, it reminds me how lucky and privileged I am to do this for a living.

How have you helped break down barriers and create opportunities for other women in the industry?

The success I've had, the opportunities I've had, none of it means anything if I'm not creating opportunities for others who come after me. Mentoring is a huge priority for me; collaborating and supporting women everywhere I've worked, throughout the industry. Our collective voices are what makes change. It's important for me to have my hand out, to help others get to where I've been. When you've taken the elevator up, your job is to send it back and bring people up after you. Think about when WISE is doing this 10 years and 20 years down the road: The pool of candidates for the WISE Women of the Year should be in the hundreds, and WISE should have a really hard job choosing who to honor each year.

What still challenges you most in your personal or professional life?

My challenge is finding balance. For all of us, it's the combination of being driven in the industry and at times having to say, "I'm going to put that aside and find a moment of peace." If you had asked me this question pre-COVID, I would have answered differently. The world has changed, and we have evolved our idea of flexible work, but I don't always want to look at my desk in my kitchen. Finding that balance of spending time with my family and with the people who are important in my personal life can be challenging. I don't want to compromise those moments because of the 24-hour nature of the business.

And I would say the other part of it is a recognition that we're always learning. I always challenge myself to identify what I don't know and how I can find it out. I want to learn and gain that knowledge to be better at whatever I'm trying to do in the future.

Fill in the blank …

  • I wish I had known … it's never a straight line from where you start to where you end. If I'd known that back in my 20s, I would have been less stressed and maybe taken more risks. We're fearful of making the wrong decisions.
  • Growing up, I wanted to be … a lawyer (and I am now) and a change agent. I was upset by the inequities for women that I saw growing up, and I thought being a lawyer could help me gain the skills and tools to do that.
  • When I have downtime, you can find me … running in Central Park.
  • My greatest fear is … not having enough time to do all the things I want to do.
  • I can't live without my … music, using my music apps and headphones.

Cohig will receive her WISE Women of the Year Award at the 26th Annual Awards Luncheon on March 9, 2022, in New York City.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.