By Shelly Anderson
The first thing that crossed Jenny Darling’s mind when the Pittsburgh Penguins reached out was, to her, humorous in retrospect: “I have figure skates, not hockey skates.”
But the search firm that paired the NHL team with the media and entertainment executive followed its directives well. Darling joined the Penguins in September as the franchise’s chief financial officer, one of the higher positions held by a woman across major pro sports.
The team was looking for a new voice for its next CFO. Darling said the idea of working in sports had intrigued her. “I’ve said when you’re a finance person, it’s more fun in media or sports rather than widgets,” she said. “That’s my personality. I think that drew me in.”
Darling, a native of Annapolis, Md., had nearly 20 years of financial leadership experience in media and entertainment organizations. Most recently she had been vice-president of finance for WRC and WZDC, NBCUniversal owned-and-operated TV stations in Washington, D.C.
She played soccer and softball and ran track in high school and skated on a frozen river in winter, but hockey and pro sports were new, and that led to an interesting dynamic when she interviewed with Penguins brass, including CEO and president David Morehouse.
“It was like, ‘So, let me get this straight. I’m not from Pittsburgh. I’m a woman. And I barely know anything about hockey. How is that going to feel when I start asking questions and challenging things?’ ” Darling said. “David was great and assured me that the organization wanted something like that and wanted a breath of fresh air and perspective. I will say I’ve been met with nothing but openness. It’s been a great experience so far.”
The Penguins likewise are happy with the hire. “Jenny brings an outstanding skill set and an important fresh perspective,” Morehouse said. “With Jenny here, we now have four women at the vice-president level or above, making a great impact on our executive team, and we expect that number to grow over time.”
Those four women have been hired or promoted in the past year or so. The other three are Jennifer Bullano Ridgley, vice-president of communications; Tracy McCants Lewis, who is African-American, vice-president of human resources and deputy general counsel; and Andi Perelman, vice-president of digital.
Darling was familiar with Pittsburgh stars such as Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin – how could anyone in D.C. not be, given the Penguins-Capitals rivalry? – and she’s learning more about hockey and its inner workings.
She’s not involved with the salary cap, although she said the plan is for there to be more crossover between her purview and the hockey operations department as she continues to settle in.
Darling also is comfortable with her role in advancing diversity, although she stops short of considering herself a pioneer. “That was one of the larger draws,” she said. “I’ve never viewed being a woman as something that should hold you back. I’ve always been one that doesn’t let it bother me. So in some ways it didn’t really strike a chord, and in other ways it really struck a chord when you look around. I did a Google search, and you do see that there’s a lack of that diversity (among major sports team executives).
“There’s a part of you that thinks, ‘That’s awesome. Let’s show people that we can do it. Let’s set that example.’ You can show, especially to the younger women on the team, that with hard work and dedication anything’s possible and that there isn’t that glass ceiling. I hope over time I will help prove that point.”