'Women in Sports': IBL Commissioner Sharleen Graf
Graf has been with the International Basketball Leagues for four years.
Graf has been with the International Basketball Leagues for four years.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Latest in a series

The second annual “Women in Sports” career seminar, presented by the Great Northwest Athletic Conference, will be held Saturday, Jan. 24 in Portland, Ore.

Designed for college and high school females interested in pursuing sports-related careers, the seminar will take place in the Georgia Pacific Room at Memorial Coliseum.

The event will feature panelists from a broad cross-section of occupational paths, including coaching, administration, business, marketing, media, media relations, NCAA compliance, sports medicine, ticket sales, and officiating. Attendees will have an opportunity to interact with -- and seek career advice from -- a slate of experienced sports professionals in a round-table format. In addition, the seminar will include a "professional development segment" and networking reception presented by Enterprise Rent-A-Car.

Below is a profile on a panelist who will be featured at this year's event.

Sharleen Graf
IBL Commissioner 

Colleges attended:

  • Universal, Mount Royal University,
  • Simon Fraser University (Canada)
  • Jarvis Christian College (Texas)

College majors:

  • Marketing
  • Events
  • Business and Non-Profit Management

Current position: Commissioner, International Basketball Leagues (IBL) (evolving); General Manager, Portland Pro Am

Years in current position: 4 years IBL

Primary job responsibilities: League operations, governance and management including all business projections, strategic plans, team business support, development and evaluation

Things I enjoy most about my job: 

  • Collaboration
  • Watching others develop and be inspired
  • Creating new paths
  • Being inspired by my colleagues

First job in the sports industry: Volunteer ticket taking, usher

Previous jobs in the sports industry: 

  • General Manager, Titans Men's Pro Basketball (IBL)
  • Director Business Operations, Langley Events Center (venue)
  • Event Manager, Credit Union Center (venue),Saskatoon Blades (WHL)
  • Assistant General Manager, Marketing & Public Relations,  Hawks Men's Pro Basketball (CBA former NBADL)
  • General Manager, Stallions Pro Baseball Event Coordinator, Saskatchewan RoughRiders (CFL)

A key mentor who helped me on my career path: Brian Swidrovich, who was the general manager of the first pro basketball teams, then business development manager of one of the venues I was a part of; and Gary Hunter, former CBA Commissioner/NBA executive, current NCAA AD and NBADL team owner.

Most influential person in my early professional development: My father's parents passed within less than a year of each other when he was just 12 years old and if he could push through that adversity and conditions, I knew that with his support and inspiring story I could overcome a lot more. His mother, my grandmother Elsie Graf (Branconnier) born in 1910, was one who pushed boundaries as a woman of her time, and it seemed like I was destined to follow in her footsteps. As I listened to the stories of her outstanding accomplishments in the '40s and '50s it proved to me that it did not matter where you came from, who you were, or gender, but to just go for it. Translating for Canadian Prime Minister John Diefenbaker and becoming one of the first female pilots were the most notable.

How I got involved in my professional career: One of the scariest teachers in my high school, Mr. Peters (science), was also the senior boy's basketball coach and knew I was playing junior girls basketball, involved in student council, cheerleading, and track, and he asked if I wanted to start taking stats for the team. I accepted. As I started to organize the team, tournaments, add on working with the football team, I knew there was a career path in sports. I saw it on TV all the time, so why couldn't it be me.

Biggest hurdle I overcame breaking into the sports industry: Perceptions can be reality at times -- not being taken seriously in some circumstances or finding I am being told what is thought to be, what I want to hear versus the facts -- can be frustrating. I have learned you can create your own perceptions, keep developing as a professional, work on positioning, patience and surround yourself with those who can communicate what is best for the business at times. Being from a small city in Canada at times I have limitations to develop my career which still exist today.

Key attributes that have helped shape my career path: Transparency, willingness to learn and share contacts, information and lessons learned. Resilience with reality, a big picture view with ability to see and do the details.

Knowing what I know now, the one thing I would do differently in college to help me on my career path: I would have taken the partial scholarship I had offered in my second year with South Carolina University to get my four-year degree and could have assisted with ability to develop my career in the U.S. in other ways.

Best advice I’d give to a young female wanting to work in sports: Go for it. Learn it all. Have multiple mentors. Travel. Be a part of the process not just the outcome.

If I could spend the day with one person (past or present), who would it be?Part of me wants to put in a current woman executive in sport, or the smart forward-thinking business leaders who come to mind in present positions. The sports fan and business person in me wants to spend the day with MJ. But I think it would be my grandmother, because if I can capture some of her drive, spirit, knowledge and ways she overcame obstacles in her time, which was much more difficult than mine, I would be even more equipped and driven reach new heights.

Favorite sports team: Memphis Grizzlies

Favorite athlete: Michael Jordan

Most memorable sports-related moment: I could choose so many great plays, shots and home runs I have seen incredible athletes do, but it would have to be my first NBA All Star Weekend with the NBA Development League Showcase sitting with the D-League President in Houston, Texas.