Super Bowl CEO shows students how to think big

Story by Rick Vacek
Photos by Darryl Webb
GCU News Bureau

There are plenty of stock ways to describe following your instincts to achieve success. You figure it out. Find a way. Trust your gut.

But maybe there should be a new catch phrase: You just Jay Parry it.

Grand Canyon University business students got a key-unlocking definition of what that means Tuesday morning when Parry, president and CEO of the Arizona Super Bowl Host Committee, gave them a glimpse into an unconventional but highly effective way to build a great career. The Colangelo College of Business Dean's Speaker Series is all about real-world experiences, and this was very real — and really different.

"One of my definitions of success," she said, "is being able to make choices for yourself personally and professionally."

Well-spoken and authoritative and yet delightfully unassuming, Parry laid out a game plan that most football coaches might find too risky: She just goes for it. And goes for it again and again. And keeps scoring touchdowns — Parry was named one of the 50 Most Influential Women by Arizona Business Magazine in 2013.

Winding career path

After majoring in finance at the University of Colorado, Parry chose to live in San Francisco and took a job with Young & Rubicam, one of the world's largest advertising agencies. That was fun, but she opted to move on to Bank of America, where in 17 years she rose to executive vice president of the 10-state Central Region.

This is where it gets interesting. Parry said she quit BofA to work on her golf game, then took a part-time job in the pro shop at Torrey Pines Golf Course in San Diego, considered one of the top public facilities in the country.

"I just did it for fun so I could play golf there," she said. "It was pure entertainment to be in there with what I called ‘the kids.’ The funniest question they asked me about BofA was, ‘Were you a teller?’ When they wanted me to run the register and the pro shop, I said, ‘They never let me touch the money at Bank of America.’ They didn’t know what to make of me."

People in the business world did, however. Through her BofA relationships she landed an even bigger job — president and chief operating officer of the Phoenix Mercury of the WNBA.

She remembers well her reaction when approached: "You want me to do what? You want me to run a basketball team? I don't know anything about basketball. I just like to watch it."

But she showed that she does know plenty about business and leadership, and the Mercury won two championships under her watch — still the most of any Arizona franchise. Which meant it was time for another move, of course, and she was named a senior vice president of the Phoenix Suns, a role that encompassed branding and business development.

Developing a good game plan

Those skills, in turn, were a perfect fit for her next challenge, with the Super Bowl committee, even though Parry admitted that she wasn't a "huge NFL fan." Once again, the relationships she had built dropped a plum job in her lap, and the success of Arizona's third chance to host the biggest sports event in the U.S. rested on her shoulders.

"I had no idea what I was getting into," she said.

But she definitely knew how to get the most out of the opportunity. By all accounts, the game and the festivities surrounding it were a raging success, fulfilling Parry's three objectives: Showcase Arizona as a great place, create a positive economic impact that week and into the future (the committee raised $30 million), and leave a positive and lasting legacy (she saw to it that $3 million of the proceeds was given to nonprofits).

Dr. Randy Gibb, the CCOB dean, first met Parry at a corporate outing a year ago and immediately put her on his wish list for the Speaker Series list. His main reason: the breadth of her experience.

"I want to make sure the students understand that," he said. "She started in advertising and then went into the banking world. She’s not a hard-core sports person. This job is not being a super fan. This job is being a professional businessman or businesswoman."

Three things to remember

Parry said there are three things she wishes someone had emphasized to her when she was starting out in business: relationships, results and reputation.

A good relationship, she said, can be forged by something as simple as responding to an email.

Two results she can point to on her resumé are starting 24-hour phone service with BofA and establishing a Spanish website for the Super Bowl. ("I couldn't believe that had never been done.")

Reputation? Pretty simple: "Nothing can make up for hard work and dedication in the workplace," she said.

Parry reserved most of her one-hour session for questions from students, and they were so continuous, they could have continued on into the afternoon if there had been more time. "I love talking to the students because they have such great energy and they’re excited about what’s coming," she said.

Among the nuggets of wisdom Parry shared was a slightly different take on the often heard advice about "who you know" in business. While acknowledging that those relationships are important, Parry said she kept advancing because "they knew what I could do." And that's because when people talked, she listened.

"The executives at BofA were mentoring me, but I just thought they were nice people," she said. "Family members are mentors as well. It's important to get honest feedback and be receptive to it."

What's in a name?

Speaking of family, an obvious question is how she came to be called Jay. Again, unconventional. It's not short for Jennifer or Jessica or any of the other popular J-names. Jay is her given name. Her parents decided to go with a bird theme — her sisters are named Robin and Piper.

"I hated my name," she said. "I was in every boys’ P.E. class. I was recruited to the Army. But when I asked my mom about it she told me it was either going to be Jay or Roadrunner. I said, ‘OK, I’m fine with Jay.’"

With the work of the Super Bowl committee mostly behind her, Parry is focused on beep-beeping around the golf course these days (she recently played the newly renovated GCU Golf Course and was extremely impressed). She said she treated herself to new clubs after the big game last February and just wishes she could find more time to play a sport she loves. It doesn't hurt that she considers golf a "door-opener" in the business world.

"It’s a great way to build relationships," she said, "and it’s also a great stress reliever."

And what do you do when you're faced with a challenging shot out there? Why, you Jay Parry it, of course. Do that, and success can be par for the course.

Contact Rick Vacek at (602) 639-8203 or [email protected].


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