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From the Bench to the Boardroom: Michelle Kennedy, Nashville Predators President, COO, and Alternate Governor

Jun 28, 2024
Michelle Kennedy, President, COO, and Alternate Governor of the Nashville Predators, shares leadership tips and insight on her career journey with Vanderbilt Business Dean Steenburgh

By Olivia Robertson

As part of the Distinguished Speaker Series, Thomas J. Steenburgh, Ralph Owen Dean and Professor of Marketing at the Vanderbilt Owen Graduate School of Management, sat down with Michelle Kennedy, President, COO, and Alternate Governor of the Nashville Predators, to discuss her journey navigating the world of sports, entertainment, law, and business. From a small town in Kentucky to becoming a top leader in professional sports, Kennedy offers valuable and inspiring lessons and anecdotes. 


Meet Michelle Kennedy, President, COO, and Alternate Governor of the Nashville Predators

Michelle Kennedy grew up in Hawesville, a small Kentucky town, as a student-athlete who was true to the title. She was skilled in academia and basketball and landed a spot on Vanderbilt University’s Women’s Basketball team from 1988 to 1992. Kennedy jokes that she is the “most anonymous” women’s basketball player in Vanderbilt’s history, having spent most of her time taking advantage of the courtside view. During her time at Vanderbilt, she realized that a career in sports entertainment was the path she was inspired to follow. 

After her time at Vanderbilt, Kennedy landed a career at KPMG International, a network of professional services firms offering various financial services to businesses, nonprofits, and government agencies. She had a goal of gaining experiences that showed her a variety of business practices. Halfway through her fourth year at KPMG, Kennedy knew she was ready to move forward in her sports entertainment career; she transitioned to a position with Vanderbilt Athletics

Michelle Kennedy Levels Up with Vanderbilt Athletics

Kennedy joined Vanderbilt Athletics in a Business Manager role, where she developed a close relationship with Lauren Brisky, the former Vice Chancellor for Administration and CFO, Vanderbilt University. Kennedy nodded to Brisky as more than a mentor to her—she was her “professional mother.” 

In this role, Kennedy found herself in positions that, to some, may seem daunting. Being the youngest woman at a conference table full of executives in the sports entertainment world with far more experience than her, and, on her first day, being responsible for amending the contract that allowed the now Tennessee Titans to play their first game in Nashville at Vanderbilt’s football stadium. However, Kennedy never found these experiences and responsibilities daunting but rather exciting. She viewed them simply as challenges that would push her to advance in her career and experiences that kept her on her toes daily. 

Kennedy uses these experiences as an anecdote for advice, offering a note for young professionals who fear a position that they believe they are not prepared for, stating, “If you take a job that you think you are ready for, you are going to be bored in a month.” 

These challenges kept Kennedy’s new position from becoming stale; they inspired her to pursue a new level of sports entertainment by leading her toward the legal field. Her time evaluating the legal elements of what she was involved in led to her increased interest in sports law, resulting in her attending Vanderbilt Law School


Shaped by the Legal Profession

Around 5 to 6 years into her position as Vanderbilt Athletics’ Business Manager, Kennedy received offers to serve as the Athletic Director for different programs. However, she knew that was not right for her. Kennedy was aware of her fascination for the legal profession. After her successful involvement in a lawsuit surrounding the termination of a previous employee, she decided to take the leap and pursue law, despite almost everyone around her thinking she was making a mistake by leaving a once-in-a-lifetime position to return to school. At the time, she was a 32-year-old senior woman administrator in an SEC athletic department—a position that most only dream of being in. 

While Kennedy was a law student, her mentor from her role with Vanderbilt Athletics, Lauren Brisky, mentioned her name for a life-changing opportunity. Brisky was having lunch with the President of Business Operations for the Nashville Predators, who noted the program sought to hire their first-ever in-house counsel as they transitioned from sole ownership to group ownership. Without hesitation, Brisky recommended Kennedy—the only issue was that Kennedy was just in her second year of law school. This did not bother Lang, who brought Kennedy on to assist with legal matters a few times a week to gain experience and become familiar with the program. During this season, Kennedy split her time as a law student, performing consulting services for Vanderbilt and working in the legal department for the Predators; this hard work led to her receiving a job offer to become the first-ever in-house counsel for the Nashville Predators.


Impact on the Predators and the Nashville Community

Pictured: A photo taken over the Cumberland River, the Nashville city skyline is shown in the evening. The buildings are reflecting off the water and the sun is setting.For the past 15 years, Kennedy has served the Nashville Predators program. Starting as their General Counsel, upon learning that she had a knack for accounting, she was offered the position of Chief Financial Officer of the program, serving in both roles simultaneously. As her responsibilities grew, Kennedy hired a new General Counsel and Chief Financial Officer so she could pick up the title of Chief Operating Officer. Eventually, she outgrew that position, becoming President and Alternate Governor of the Nashville Predators

Now, she is as proud as ever to represent an organization that she believes wholeheartedly in, both in talent and impact. She focuses primarily on spending time with those who work with the program, creating people who will take care of what she and her colleagues have built to ensure that it continues growing far after she is gone. Additionally, she highly values what the Predators program can do for the Nashville community.

Kennedy notes a special bond between the people of Nashville and the Predators organization. She shared an anecdote, looking back on when the program was almost sold and moved to Canada. However, the community of Nashville came together to keep it in their city—something that Kennedy cannot express enough gratitude for. However, she notes that the program continually expresses its gratitude to the community of Nashville by giving back via philanthropy. The Predators regularly find ways to ensure that they make their appreciation known to their supporters through acts of service, such as donating $3 million worth of materials, services, and funds to the residents of Nashville during the COVID-19 pandemic and their Give & Go program, which allows those who are underserved in Middle Tennessee to attend Predators games.


Through Michelle Kennedy’s Eyes: The Future of Professional Sports

When asked what Kennedy saw for the future of professional sports, there was no hesitation in saying that technology was the answer. More specifically, the combination of technology and the legalization of sports betting. With technology, sports betting is more monetized than ever. Kennedy discussed how people could place bets not only on the match’s outcome but also on the smallest statistics, such as how long a particular player is active in the game and what moves they made while playing. She discusses that players now wear different technology on their uniforms, which makes it easier to keep track of these statistics so those who are betting can have more options than ever—and these options will continue to grow with more advancements. 


Leadership Tips from a Sports Executive

To close out the discussion with Dean Steenburgh, Michelle Kennedy shared words of wisdom for success in a professional setting.

Pictured: Vanderbilt Business Dean Steenburgh and Michelle Kennedy, Nashville Predators President, COO, and Alternate Governor sit together for a conversation at Vanderbilt Business. There is Always a Place for Laughter

Kennedy noted that though an executive position can often seem daunting and stuffy, there is always room for playfulness. She said that she and her colleagues often joke that they are in the business of “hotdogs and hockey tickets” as a reminder not to take themselves or their positions too seriously. This way, they can keep their relationships cordial and collaborative while making coming to work daily something they look forward to.

“Take More Responsibility Than You Take Credit”

Kennedy notes that, for those looking to succeed, it is crucial to remember that what you do is more important than what you take credit for doing. Boasting about their success is not what leads successful people to where they are; instead, it is the responsibilities they take on without the need to be recognized in return. Understanding that those who will make a difference in your career will recognize your responsibilities and reward them without you having to announce them is key to advancement. This supports another piece of advice she provides: you should never try to be something you are not. Often, those who are boastful in an attempt to gain credit for their accomplishments are seeking external validation as they are not confident in the position that they are in, proving to others that everything they are doing is performative. If you are confident in yourself and performing in a way that is true to who you are, this boastfulness and seeking of credit is not a necessary form of validation. 

Disregard Traditional Norms

One of the most significant pieces of advice that Kennedy offered is disregarding traditional workplace norms. Kennedy did not let being a woman in sports entertainment, a traditionally male-dominated profession, stop her from working to the top. Being a woman did not stop her from accepting positions traditionally held by men, from sitting at male-dominated tables, and from becoming one of the most inspiring names in professional sports entertainment. Kennedy states, “No one out there should let themselves believe that being a woman will keep you from doing anything you want to do,” and her story is a testament to this mantra. 

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