WWE CBO Stephanie McMahon was recently on the Sports Business Journal’s I Factor with Abe Madkour. She spoke on being part of the family business and recalled a moment in her childhood where she learned the true nature of the business.
“I’ve always loved the family business,” McMahon expressed. “I was maybe five, maybe a little bit younger, when I really went to my first live event and understood enough about what it was, and I remember it was the Philadelphia Spectrum, which is no longer. And I was walking through the backstage, and I remember being so surprised at how stark backstage was, fluorescent lighting, linoleum floors, concrete walls.
“This wasn’t the shows that you see on television or anything else and walking past all of these superstars, mostly men at that time, and they’re all big and standing there in their costuming, what we call their gear. And all of a sudden, around the corner, all of these kids, like a group of kids, come screaming and running, running from something. They’re afraid, and I see these kids, and I’m like, well, what could that be? And so I walk a little further, and I appear around the corner and here comes George ‘The Animal’ Steele, who was just covered in so much hair. It almost looked like fur, just a naturally hairy man, and head shaved and his tongue is green, and he’s coming at me in character.
“And I was so petrified. I ran to my father. I ran up his legs, wrapped my arms around his neck, buried my head in his shoulder, and I was shocked when he started to laugh because this is my dad, my hero, the man who’s gonna save me no matter what. How can he possibly be laughing? I’m gonna get killed by this man, and he then introduces me to Jim Myers, which was the real name of George ‘The Animal’ Steele, and it was my first inkling into what our business really is, which is just this incredibly fascinating world of larger than life characters both on and off screen.”
McMahon then discussed working under mother Linda and her father Vince. She talked about what she did as well as finding her passion along the way.
“Once I graduated college, I first started in a really unique internship opportunity with my mom, who was then the CEO. For about three months, I’d get to sit in on any meeting she had, unless, of course, it was confidential in nature,” Stephanie recalled. “And I would write questions down on a legal pad, and after each meeting, if she had the time, she would sit with me. She would go through each question. She would answer that.
“In my spare time, I would read through contracts. I would read all relevant media and news stories that were flagged and coming into her office, just trying to learn as much as I possibly could, and then I spent six months on the road with my father, who is Vince McMahon, Chairman and CEO. And he was always the creative force of our company, and that’s where I really found where my passion lied, which is in the storytelling because I believe that everything is storytelling.
“Whether it’s sports, whether it’s content, programming, any type of media, marketing products, it’s all storytelling, and I live by this quote that Maya Angelou had and I’ll butcher it a little bit, but it’s, ‘People will never remember what you said. They’ll never remember what you did, but they will always remember how you made them feel.’ And if you can make people feel, that’s when you generate that real true connection and engagement.”
Stephanie then talked about the teaching styles of her parents. She compared how her mother Linda did things to how her father Vince did things.
“My mom would sit with me and answer those questions on the legal pad. My dad didn’t have the time for that, plus that wasn’t his style,” Stephanie noted. “He’s very much an in the moment teacher. So when things happen, that’s when he’s going to follow up with you about the lesson. Here’s why I said this. Here’s why I did that. Did you see how this person handled that situation? So very different styles but both equally as effective.”
Stephanie later talked about the many different roles she had to fill in WWE. She explained what that experience taught her as she gives some parting advice.
“Throughout my career, I’ve taken on new roles that I never thought I would be able to do,” McMahon said. “I was the head of our creative writing team, and when I was first brought into that position, I was one of the writers. And I was told maybe in a couple years time, I would become a manager or something like that. I just wanted to be a part of the business, and the head writer quit two weeks in and sink or swim, I was put in charge of this creative writing team. I had no management background. I certainly had no formalized creative writing background.
“It was completely new to me, I wound up taking on our live events division, our talent relations division, our entire digital division, all at different times, of course, but it’s about believing in yourself and not having to have all the answers, having the best people underneath you with that expertise. But it’s about taking the risk. You have to take the risk. Make sure they’re calculated risks but go for it. Life will be so boring if you never go for it. How would you ever know what you could possibly do if you don’t put yourself out there and put the gas to the floor?”
If you use any quotes from this article, please credit SBJ I Factor with a h/t to Wrestling Inc. for the transcription.