As the only woman—for any network—producing or directing NFL games, 2019 WISE Women of Distinction honoree Suzanne Smith is a pioneer in sports television. Here, the CBS Sports director and producer talks about confidence and finding her leadership groove.
Who has been the most influential person in your career and why?
Joe Aceti and Larry Cavolina, both former directors at CBS Sports. Not only did they teach me about why this camera goes here and why you want to use this angle or lens, but they also taught me the best way to tell a story through a broadcast. You don’t just go from Camera 1 to Camera 2; you need to think about why you’re doing it. Most importantly, they showed me how to lead a crew. Week in and week out, you work with different people, and you always want to work as a team. Those two were great at doing that.
Describe a moment in your career you consider pivotal to your professional journey.
I was working as the associate director for the NCAA men’s volleyball championships, and I drew up a map for Joe Aceti, the director, saying, “Here’s how we cover volleyball, but here’s how I think we should cover it.” He agreed and helped tweak a few things. I presented it to my boss, who said, “OK, hotshot, you think you know so much? You’re going to direct the event.” I panicked. I thought I was just giving the idea for the event, not directing it. But he pushed me to do it. This was pivotal. It launched me into my first directing assignment. It taught me about being proactive and believing my ideas are as good as everyone else’s and maybe even a little better.
Thinking back over your career, how has your leadership and management style evolved?
My mentors at CBS were both funny people with big personalities, so when I first started directing, I tried to be funny—which I’m not. As a result, I started to be sarcastic, which is awful. This wasn’t good. But the important thing is to know you will make mistakes. Own them, learn from them, correct them and move on. But as I got better at my job, I was able to gradually earn the respect and trust of my team and just be myself. If you have one person on your crew that fought to be there, then another person says, “Hey, why do you want to be on her crew?” It’s easier to lead when you’re working with people that want to work for you.
What advice would you give women who are looking to succeed in the business of sports?
Don’t be afraid to succeed, and work as hard as you can and then work harder. It’s simple to think about, but isn’t always simple to do. And more as a life lesson, my father taught me that you always treat people equally — from the cable puller to the CEO. You have to earn respect, but if you don’t respect other people, they won’t respect you.
Fill in the blank …
I wish I had known … that it’s all a part of the journey.
Growing up, I wanted to be … a baseball player.
I can’t live without my … passion.
On the weekend, you can find me … in a TV truck at a sporting event.
My biggest pet peeve is … when people are late or when people aren’t compassionate for each other.
Smith will receive her WISE Women of Distinction Award at the 25th Annual WISE Women of the Year Awards Luncheon on June 19 in New York City.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.