Alumni Perspective – Jessica Gelman

HBS has a rich and diverse base of alumni. In this column, we speak with the alumni who have been out in the real world and bring their experiences and perspectives to our readers.

This week we spoke with Jessica Gelman (HBS 2002) who went into the unconventional realm of sports and combined her passion for sports with her keen business acumen Jessica is The Kraft Sports Group’s VP of Customer Marketing & Strategy and serves as a key strategic and operational advisor to the Executive Management Team of the New England Patriots, New England Revolution, Gillette Stadium, and Patriot Place. Additionally, she co-founded and co-chairs the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics conference which is entering its 5th year and considered one of the pre-eminent sports business conferences.

Sports was indeed Jessica’s true calling. She was honored as Harvard Female Athlete of the Year after leading Harvard to consecutive Ivy League Basketball Championships and NCAA Tournament appearances during her undergraduate days. Subsequently, she played professionally in Europe.ÿ She has been inducted into both the New England Basketball Hall of Fame and The Connecticut Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame. Thus it came as no surprise that she chose to use her business skills in the world of sports.

We spoke with Jessica about her experiences, motivations and advise for the current students. Here is what she said:

How was your time at HBS replica breitling Aeromarine ?
I loved the energy and activity of the school and my classmates. When I was in school, the economy was similarly shaky plus we experienced incredible tragedy with 9/11. For me, HBS was about immersing myself in the academics, the social activities and going after my passion. I was the president of the Business of Sports club, led the 1st WSA Sports panel and was the ‘Community and Standards’ rep (now known as L&V rep). Everyone was always planning something and I just loved how the way a day would go -fun and such a spirit of innovation.

Plus, during business school replica breitling bentley 6.75, I really came to understand my strengths and weaknesses in the context of accomplished business people. While I had done consulting before coming to HBS, HBS gave me the time and perspective to realize where I truly excelled.

What were some of your key takeaways at HBS?
My biggest lesson at HBS was that there are no set rules or paths. We learned about many great leaders and, as importantly, the variety of ways they built businesses or addressed challenges. It became clear to me that questioning and not setting limits on how to approach an issue is what really defines success.

It is interesting that you joined the Kraft Sports Group after business school. What led to your career with them?
I was very focused on going into sports. I understood the challenges of getting a position with impact and tha`t would be intellectually challenging. Plus, finding a situation where I could learn from some HBS alumni was very important. Over a decade ago, there were not many people with MBAs in sports, but I narrowed in on a few opportunities.

Then, luckily, the Patriots were looking for a field study during my second year of business school. Our team was selected and I worked closely with Andy Wasynczuk (who is still a good friend and mentor). A few days after our presentation at the end of the semester, I was a full-time opportunity continuing to evaluate new businesses we might develop. My role has morphed and changed over time. Today, I oversee our customer marketing & strategy area. This includes ticketing, direct marketing, market research and the creation of new businesses. The Krafts are very entrepreneurial and there is the opportunity for constant innovation. Nearly nine years later, I am one of the few people still at my first job post HBS. I love what I do. The work is high quality and people are passionate. It’s a wonderful place to work.

Fond HBS memories.
Definitely the first class of my first year led by Nitin Nohria. He taught ‘Lead’ and he left such a lasting impression about the importance of that first impression. The first day he re-started the class 3 times, each time someone came in late. He made every student aware that the class was re-starting and each person’s time was wasted because you were late. You can lead by telling, but as Professor Nohria illustrated, actions speak the loudest.

Separately, during my second year, I took Professor Segal’s real estate class. Not only is he brilliant, he has a terrific sense of humor. As a former basketball player, he gave me a “look-away” cold call. His passion for teaching and real estate left an impression on me. He made class so fun. I try to do that on a day-to-day basis within the organization.

A challenge that most people face is managing their personal and professional life together. What is your secret?

The way most of us HBS-types work, we are all so type A, it becomes harder to distinguish between the personal and professional life. Like many of my classmates, I work long hours. Mine just happen to involve Sundays at a stadium. So personal and professional life overlap a lot. I am sure my family and friends don’t mind the perks.coming to sporting events with me or that I am working. Mostly, I believe it is easier to manage all that life offers if you are enjoying/loving what you do. That’s just how I operate.making the most of the situation.

What advice would you have for the students?
Don’t settle on everything. When you are at HBS, the world is open to you and take advantage of that. Go grab life and your dreams.

Could you please tell us a bit more about your work at the Kraft Sports Group and the MIT conference you head?
Obviously, the Krafts are very prominent HBS alumni and there is good reason. They are constantly looking for improvement while also empowering people. During my time here, I have been able to create a department that is very analytically driven. We are primarily focused on understanding the customer and all aspects of their experience with us. So, I oversee ticketing, direct marketing, market research and ultimately, our team uses this information strategically to create new business, alter operations or whatever else we dream up. We have a lot of fun and we work hard. We’re in the business of making memories, the ones that people share on facebook or at cocktail parties. That’s a lot of pressure, but really, I love getting feedback from all customers, especially my friends.

The MIT Sloan Sports Analytics conference is a labor of love. It’s a giveback and a great way to be in the community. Daryl Morey (GM of the Houston Rockets) and I co-founded it in 2005. The response from the sports community has been remarkable. Last year, interest was so strong that we moved it to the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center and had over 1,100 people in attendance. ESPN was the presenting sponsor and Michael Lewis moderated a panel on the how Moneyball has (perhaps) negatively impacted sports. Fortunately, many of the true innovators in sports agree to be involved including Jonathan Kraft, Mark Cuban, Bill Simmons, Jackie MacMullan and many more. And, this year’s conference on March 4th-5th will feature Malcolm Gladwell among many other sports industry leaders.

Jessica Gelman is The Kraft Sports Group’s Vice President of Customer Marketing & Strategy. In this capacity she serves as a key strategic and operational advisor to the Executive Management Team of the New England Patriots, New England Revolution, Gillette Stadium, and Patriot Place.

In her ninth year with the organization, her responsibilities encompass four primary areas: leading the customer marketing function including ticketing, direct marketing and market research; identifying, evaluating and creating new businesses; creating strategic analyses to leverage the Patriots’ assets, locally and internationally; and working closely with existing business units to further develop business strategy and operations.

To further identify areas of growth, potential new businesses and operational improvements, Gelman initiated an analytic approach combining direct marketing analysis, market research and operational metrics. This has been critical in prioritizing strategy and business development efforts across the organization.

Prior to the Kraft Sports Group, Gelman worked as a strategy consultant at the Mitchell Madison Group. Her primary areas of focus were the entertainment and financial services industries.

Gelman earned an MBA from Harvard Business School and a BA, cum laude in psychology, from Harvard College. She was honored as Harvard Female Athlete of the Year after leading Harvard to consecutive Ivy League Basketball Championships and NCAA Tournament appearances. Subsequently, she played professionally in Europe. Gelman has been inducted into both the New England Basketball Hall of Fame and The Connecticut Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame. She is the co-chair of the Harvard Basketball Friends Group.

Gelman co-founded and continues to chair the annual MIT Sloan Sports Business conference, the first and largest analytically focused sports business conference.

Author’s Biography
Jyoti Mishra (OB) is a member of the Harbus Board of Directors. She considers gymming and sleep as the two most important things in her life.