Connecticut College Magazine · Spring 2005


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Tackling the NFL´s budget

Tackling the NFL´s budget
Kimberly Williams ´90

As senior financial officer of the NFL, Kimberly Williams ´90 holds the line on a $3.5 billion budget.

by Julie Novak

One of the offbeat memories Kimberly Williams ’90 recalls from her college years is looking into the crystal ball of a psychic who told her fortune at the College Center at Crozier-Williams one afternoon.

“If she had predicted I’d end up as the chief financial officer of the NFL I would have said, ‘What are you, nuts?’” said Williams, who chose Connecticut College in part for the strength of its international programs.

Never in her wildest dreams did the Asian studies major think she would one day hold the purse strings to the NFL’s $3.5 billion budget — not bad for a woman whose alma mater doesn’t even have a football team. She also supervises more than three dozen employees and analyzes business trends, looking for ways the league can boost its revenue.

The job’s appeal has as much to do with “the books and numbers” as the freedom it gives Williams to escape her Park Avenue office and “meddle” in all aspects of NFL operations. From a financial perspective, all league activities, including sales and sponsorship, marketing, licensing, production, media, international, and game operations, come under her umbrella.

She finds that teaching is a big part of her leadership position to help create “a vision” for the organization and to motivate others to follow suit. Part of what prepared her for that role, she said, was learning the fundamentals of finance and accounting well and having the experience of applying them in real business situations — enough to be able to analyze a prospective business opportunity from several angles.

Williams was sought out by the NFL in 2003 to “add more discipline and control” in their finance function. She admitted that a “necessary evil” of her job is telling people in the organization that they can’t spend money, but “I never want my first interaction with someone to be, ‘No, we can’t do that.’ I want to work with them to see what value we can add and help people think about the decision-making process in a different way … I enjoy making them understand why that’s important.”

Williams majored in Asian studies and Japanese language and literature and minored in Italian and related studies. She selected the College having never set foot on campus — because she attended high school in Italy — for the strength of its international study programs and its small community atmosphere. She also had heard good things about the College from a high school friend who went there. The financial aid the College offered also tipped the scale when she was weighing offers from other schools.

“Maybe I was destined to be in finance,” she joked.

Taking advantage of study abroad opportunities, Williams enrolled in the Associated Kyoto Program in Japan her junior year with six other second-year Japanese language students. Nearly fluent in Italian and with a background in French, she wanted to explore new territory. Making new friends, bonding with her host family and being exposed to a new culture were invaluable life experiences, Williams said.

“It’s a big part of who I am today. For that I will be eternally grateful to the College,” she said, adding that she is looking forward to reconnecting with old friends at her 15th reunion in June.

Classmate Jim Gellert ’90, who studied in Kyoto with Williams, recalled socializing with her and her host family and touring Kyoto’s ancient ruins and other landmarks off the beaten path with their classmates. The language and cultural barriers the students faced drew them together for support, particularly when they were lost, unable to negotiate the subway or find help.

“One of the keys in being able to survive when you’re studying overseas is a sense of humor,” Gellert said, something Williams had in abundance. “She took it all in stride.”

Williams was not certain which route she wanted her career path to take after graduation, but she knew she wanted to continue her education and travel abroad. She remembers sitting in the College’s Career Services Office, (now known as Career Enhancing Life Skills), flipping through a magazine while waiting for an appointment and seeing an advertisement for the American Graduate School of International Management (“Thunderbird”) in Glendale, Ariz.

“It was as if the ad should have said, ‘Kim, this is for you!’” she said.

While she applied to graduate school after graduation, Williams worked as a legal assistant for a New York City law firm for a year. She then earned an international master’s of business administration from Thunderbird, choosing to study finance and accounting because she could acquire skills to help her find a job in any field while expanding her opportunities to pursue international relations.

Williams launched her career in finance with General Electric, seizing a job opening in London. A year later the company invited Williams, with her proficiency in Italian, to play a pivotal role in the integration of GE’s new acquisition Nuovo Pignone, a manufacturing business in Florence purchased from the Italian government.
Williams was in for a surprise when she walked into the cafeteria on her first day of work.

“All forks dropped and conversation stopped,” she recalled, as she ambled down the long aisle that divided the room where 2,000 men clad in blue construction uniforms were eating lunch. “There were 4,000 eyes watching my every step.”

Williams had attended high school in Milan and Rome because her Italian-American father, a federal drug enforcement agent, was stationed in Italy at the time. While the experience helped prepare her for working in a foreign country, her new corporate status at Nuovo Pignone, coupled with being one of very few female employees in the company, took some getting used to at first.

“I was keenly aware of not only my gender, but my age,” Williams said.

Williams left Italy in 1997 and moved back to New York City to become the director of finance for broadcast and network operations at the National Broadcasting Company, owned by General Electric. She held several other posts at NBC in Los Angeles and New York, most recently serving as senior vice president and chief financial officer for NBC’s west coast entertainment and studio operations before joining the NFL.
Gellert said Williams’ career decisions — from choosing to study finance, to leaving a well-established niche at NBC — were not anything he expected from his classmate.

“She continually surprises,” he said.

But what comes as a surprise to others is really just Williams reaching for the next rung on the ladder. She said it is time for a change, whether that means a new job or a new hobby, when her learning curve begins to plateau. She welcomes challenges that push her outside of her comfort zone.

“When you take yourself outside your comfort zone you are reminded that you don’t know everything. You know and have experienced only a fraction of what there is to know and experience,” she said. “That’s what makes life fun.”

Williams’ brother Christian Meale said his sister is the consummate “people person.” Despite their 14-year age difference, the siblings are best friends, he said, and he welcomes her advice on professional and personal matters.

Last October Meale was involved in a serious accident when he was struck by a tractor trailer truck traveling 60 mph. The accident sent him to the hospital for a plethora of internal injuries. His friends from Belmont Abbey College, where he is a senior turned up in droves to aid in his recovery during his stay at the hospital, something his sister appreciated.

So she sent them all tickets to a Carolina Panthers game as a thank you.

Her parents Sam and Roseann Meale see their daughter’s thoughtfulness as one of the keys to her success.

“She has a good heart. She cares for people. Wherever she’s worked I think people recognized that,” Sam said.

Williams has resettled in Manhattan with her husband Geoffrey, a writer, and their 9-year-old golden retriever, Mac. As often as possible, they like to get away to their home on the island of Turks and Caicos in the Caribbean.

Born in Philadelphia, Williams was raised as an Eagles fan and dedicated to learning each of the team’s players and their statistics. When she moved abroad where the sport is less popular, she lost touch with her team. And while she admitted that she “can find something else to do on a Sunday” besides watching football, one of the perks of working for the NFL is being able to attend the games, particularly those in bad weather, from box seats where a TV is available for replays and there is always plenty of heat. Prior to working for the league, she had only attended one live game.

“There are few events that match the excitement of a live NFL game,” she said.
More valuable than the perks, however, is working for the organization itself, where some of the owners have been involved in the game for decades. When Williams was first recruited by the NFL, she was content working for NBC and politely declined their offer for an interview. But the recruitment firm hired by the NFL was persistent, so Williams agreed to an interview.

After one meeting, she was won over by the management’s love of the game and their desire to keep the organization moving forward.

“It just felt right,” she said. “All those intangibles just felt right.”

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