WISE Up: Why you win when you're coachable

APRIL 15, 2024

And why you don't need to crunch numbers to succeed in data and analytics.

Coaching Circles

Photo: Artisteer

Dear WISE Community,


In this week's WISE Up Interview, Jessica Gelman, an analytics expert and co-founder of the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, talks about her good fortune to have had such great coaches as an athlete — she played basketball at Harvard and pro in Israel — but, even more so, in the business world. Of the latter, she advises, "I think the key is to be able to hear the coaching because it's not always so in your face." That quote has resonated with me as I am always thinking about what it means to be "coachable."


That certainly will be an important consideration as well for the women who are about to engage in WISE's second Coaching Circle, a program we have designed to help executive-level professionals become the best leaders. But even those who are not part of this Circle can find guidance as long as they're open to it. So my question to you: Where will you seek out the coaching you need: your organization, your local WISE chapter, somewhere else? And once you find it, will you be prepared to hear what the coaches have to offer?



Kathleen Francis

Chair and President

One-Question Quiz: Baseball Edition

Known at times as the Perfectos after joining the National League in 1892, the St. Louis Cardinals made news in 1911 for what MLB first? Scroll down for the answer.

The WISE Interview

KAGR CEO Jessica Gelman

Jessica Gelman

Once Jessica Gelman was done putting up her own numbers, she embarked on a second career analyzing those of others. Today, the former basketball star (she was recently ) runs KAGR, a SAAS solution and data warehouse for clients that include the L.A. Rams, the Philadelphia 76ers and the NCAA. Gelman is also the co-founder of the industry-defining MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference and a new part owner of the NWSL's Utah Royals, whose season just began. We caught up with her after she attended the Women's Final Four weekend. (Gelman's first visit to the tournament occurred in 1993, and, yes, things have definitely changed!)


On what data can do for you:

"My comfort with analytics gave me a distinctive voice in the male-dominated world of sports, so I encourage other women to get comfortable with it, too. You don't have to actually be able to do the analysis. That's only one skillset. You can also have domain expertise and a flair for storytelling to highlight — 'why is this information important?' — or translate — 'how can these insights be applied to drive change?'"


On what the numbers mean to her:

"We're still in the early days of data analysis so we're still focusing on overcoming the problem of 'garbage in, garbage out.' The amount of data created each year keeps accelerating. Many suggest that 90% of the data in the world was created in the past two years, and it's going to double every two years; that's mind boggling. We're establishing foundational data, because once we have data we can trust, we can use it more effectively. For example, we're working now with the NCAA to help better capture information about who comes to their 90+ championships and then, in turn, we will help them better market to collegiate fans, selling the right products at the right pricing to ensure high championship attendance. Ultimately, this data will even help identify the right markets to consider hosting the championships."


On staying true to yourself:

"It's funny; basically I've had four startups — KAGR, the Sloan conference, a basketball camp for girls and now the Utah Royals. However, I didn't think of myself as an entrepreneur until recently. I have always known to follow my heart, and each of these efforts is a result of that. KAGR came from the real day-to-day pain we were experiencing when I ran the customer-facing business lines of the New England Patriots. Sloan started after my best friend Daryl Morey moved to Houston to become GM of the Rockets, we wanted to continue doing something together. We didn't conceive it could evolve into what it is today. The basketball camp was the result of a vow I made to myself in sixth grade when I was the only girl in all-boys' clinics and wanted to create an opportunity for girls too — and I did that when I came back from playing pro basketball in Israel. My involvement in the Utah Royals comes from my passion to effect change in women's sports."


On having an overarching mission:

I want to put my energies into growing women in sports across three dimensions — women in leadership roles, early career education and mentorship programs, and investment in women's sports. First, at KAGR, 65% of the executive team is female and we engage the community by inviting women in sports, technology, and analytics at local colleges for events in our office. The Sloan conference is very much about the idea that if you see it you can be it; almost half of our speakers are women or represent diverse backgrounds. And as a student-run non-profit, every panel or presentation is available online for free. Lastly, with the Royals, I have another opportunity to work with people with a shared vision of empowering and investing in women and to use analytics to drive change specifically for women's sports. Plus, owning a sports team is a lifelong dream of mine to affect change in that way too."


On translating lessons learned on the court:

"When I played basketball, knowing others' strengths and weaknesses was critical to my success: Some players liked to catch and shoot, others preferred to take it off the dribble, and recognizing those nuances made all the difference. The same is true in the business world and with analytics. At KAGR, we are constantly working to understand how our employees think and act. We solicit quarterly anonymized feedback from them via surveys, because I see it as very important data. Then, once per year, I personally ask for insights with questions like 'what do we do well?' and 'where do you see opportunities?' But, I also ask about their career aspirations and about the coaching and management they get within the organization. This really helps me understand our team's experiences and how we need to continue to evolve and grow."


On making your players better:

"When we created KAGR and I became a CEO, I compared it to moving from being a captain to becoming a coach. As captain, you're a player who is in the game; as a coach you set the game plan and vision for the players. That means making adjustments or even changing who's on the court. In any event, I try to identify the things that only I can do and the things that are the best use of my time. One of those things is helping each member of our team be the best they can be. Coaches have to want to care about their people's development, and I really do. I think the point of life is to become your best self."


Let's Go! Women on the Move

Jaime Boldt: Governance Advisor, Hockey Canada (Previously Executive Director, Globe Theatre)


Dani Giansante: Promoted to Corporate Sales Executive, Frisco RoughRiders (Previously Inside Sales and Service Representative)


Krystin King: Promoted to Senior Director of Marketing, Frisco RoughRiders (Previously Director of Marketing)


Allie Kleva: Chief Growth Officer, Athletes Unlimited (Previously Strategic Partnerships and Brand Alliances Leader, CNN)


Traci Messier: Director of Corporate Communications, U.S. Soccer Foundation (Previously PR Senior Account Director/Sports Practice Co-Lead/In-House Culture Lead, Jackson Spalding)


Diane Penny: Senior Vice President and General Manager, Marquee Sports Network (Previously Senior Vice President and General Manager, NBC Sports Northwest).


Amanda Shank: Executive Vice President, Business Development and Brand Strategy, Unrivaled Sports (Previously Vice President, Business Development, Unrivaled Sports' Ripken Baseball)


Heidi Simmons: Promoted to Director, Solutions Marketing, Kitman Labs (Previously Partner Marketing)


Emily Sisson: Senior Vice President, Head of Sponsorships, Athlete and Partner Marketing, OneTeam Partners (Previously Senior Vice President of Business Development, Octagon)


Krista Whitaker: Executive Vice President/Legal and Business Affairs and Chief Legal Office, Chicago Bears (Previously Vice President and Associate General Counsel, Miami Heat)


Andrea Zopp: Senior Advisor, Legal and Business Affairs, Chicago Bears (Previously Managing Partner, Cleveland Avenue)


Inspired to make your own move? Explore the , with new daily listings from leagues, teams, agencies and other exciting employers.


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Worth the Click

Big take: (The Atlantic)

Big question: (New York Times Gift Link)

(Surprisingly) Big problem: (HBR)

Big bummer #1: (New York Times Gift Link)

Big bummer #2: (CNN)

(Not) Big numbers: (Directors & Boards)

Big push: (CNN)

Big warning signs: (Psychology Today)

Big trend: (New York Times gift link)


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One-Question Quiz Answer

Inheriting the team from her father, Helene Britton became the first female major league baseball owner. When she sold the Cards six years later, she was succeeded as team president by Branch Rickey, who later moved to the Dodgers and signed Jackie Robinson to break the sport's color barrier.

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