Susan O'Malley, C'83
In elementary school Susan O’Malley wrote a paper about her desire to someday run a sports franchise. She was promptly told by her teacher that it was an “unrealistic” goal. But O’Malley would not be deterred. And today, as president of Washington Sports and Entertainment, she is the first female president of an NBA franchise, the Washington Wizards.
O’Malley grew up in Washington, D.C., where her father, a lawyer, worked for Abe Pollin, long-time owner of the Wizards. Pollin is also responsible for building the Capital Center in 1973 and the Verizon Center in 1997. “Because of my father’s work for Abe, I had a lot of exposure to that type of business environment,” she recalls.
While exposure to her father’s work inspired her career choice, her father also had a hand in her college choice. O’Malley’s father, a graduate of the Mount, always predicted that his daughter would attend his alma mater. “He never asked me,” says O’Malley with a chuckle. “It was just a foregone conclusion in his mind.” She adds, “I really enjoyed my time there. I developed lifelong friendships and learned a lot of life lessons.”
Never wavering from her original career goal, she interned with the Bullets (later renamed the Wizards) and the Capitals hockey team. After graduating in 1983 with a degree in business and finance, she worked with an advertising firm. But when a job opening came up within the Bullets organization for director of advertising, “I used my family connections to get an interview,” says O’Malley.
That family connection, of course, was Abe Pollin. But O’Malley still had to prove herself—which she did and then some. Just five years later, in 1991, she was named president of Washington Sports and Entertainment, including the Washington Wizards. In doing so, she had opened a door for other women. “I received tons of letters from women congratulating me,” she remembers.
O’Malley has not only made it to the top of the sports business world, but thrived once there. In her first season handling off-court activities, the team experienced the largest ticket revenue increase in the history of an NBA franchise to date. And this past year the club achieved the highest renewal rate of season tickets ever by a franchise.
For O’Malley there is never a dull moment. “One day, you might be preparing for a concert with someone like Tim McGraw and Faith Hill,” she says of her duties overseeing operations at the Verizon Center. “At the same time, you’re getting ready to introduce the newest Wizard signing. It’s always interesting.”
She adds, “It’s not just a job for me. It’s a passion.”