Auburn alumna McKenna-Doyle tackling a high-profile position in the NFL

Published: April 30, 2015
Updated: May 01, 2015
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Though she is quick to point out that she bleeds orange and blue today, Auburn University alumna Michelle McKenna-Doyle grew up in a decidedly crimson household in Enterprise, Alabama. Her talented brother attended "that other school" on a full-ride football scholarship, and her father—a devout fan of the legendary Joe Namath—was certain he would have a kid make it to the NFL one day.

Turns out he was right, but it was not the one he thought.

In September 2012, it was daughter Michelle breaking through the league's glass ceiling when she was named senior vice president and chief information officer, at the time the highest office for a woman in the male-dominated league.

"Initially, the toughest part was not having many peers," McKenna-Doyle said. "We've since added four more female senior vice presidents and it's amazing what having other women around does."

McKenna-Doyle, who earned her accounting degree from Auburn in 1987, and her colleagues serve as mentors for younger women following a similar career path with similar questions: Can I have a career? Can I have kids? Can I do both? From the time she graduated from Auburn, worked her way up the corporate ladder, finally landing a role with the NFL, her answer to each of these questions was yes.

A Fantasy Becomes Reality

Everyone who makes it to the NFL has a different story and a different path. McKenna-Doyle's love for football began at an early age, and although her career began in accounting and later information technology, it was her love for the game that ended up connecting her with her current job with the league.

After beginning her career with two years as a CPA with Coopers & Lybrand and three years as a controller for Metropolitan Life, she eventually found her way to The Walt Disney Company, where she spent 14 years working on various projects including the building of the company's sports enterprise. Her interest, expertise and responsibility in information technology grew, eventually landing her in Baltimore as chief information officer for another Fortune 500 company, Constellation Energy. Call it divine intervention, coincidence or just blind luck, her dream opportunity was staring squarely at her as she was "poking around" the NFL website.

"I was actually online checking on my fantasy football team and saw the link for 'Careers' at the bottom. There was a listing for an open position for CIO and my husband said, 'Michelle, that sounds like your resume,'" she recalled. "So I applied, interviewed, and months later here I am."

Building a Winning Team

In the past few years, technology has completely revolutionized and greatly improved professional football for all parties involved. The fan experience features over-the-top scoreboard graphics in all stadiums, instantaneous access to in-game statistics to feed fantasy players' appetites, and high-definition instant replays of every play that ensure game officials make the right calls. Coaches benefit from better sideline communication systems that now include Surface tablets in addition to their headsets, and recently player safety has received a boost from injury video review.

McKenna-Doyle's team is responsible for making all of it work seamlessly. Throw in the technological needs of the business side of the league—scheduling, marketing, sales, operations, email, payroll and other human resource systems, all of which she is also responsible for—the challenge becomes even greater.

Three years into the position, McKenna-Doyle has earned the respect of not only her peers, but also her boss, Commissioner Roger Goodell.

"Michelle has advanced the NFL both on and off the field, from improving the game operations through technology to serving as a mentor for women in the NFL," Goodell said.

"She is an innovative and collaborative leader and represents the values like respect, integrity and responsibility to a team that we try to instill throughout our organization," he added.

Like any successful offense or defense, it takes the right people in the right positions to execute a winning game plan. Moving away from the piecemeal approach in technological advances of previous years, McKenna-Doyle in 2014 introduced a more integrated plan called Sideline of the Future. The move placed her team of technology experts at the table with football operations, officiating, broadcasting and digital media and others. The result has made information technology less of a service and more of a partner in building a better road map for all football technology.

"Michelle knows the importance of people. People in technology often forget about the human element, but that's not Michelle," said John Cave, NFL vice president for information technology. "She is a strategist who knows how to build key alliances and has really elevated our team."

Building alliances with those at the upper echelons of the NFL takes great people skills and great confidence. Whether it's having a discussion with John Madden about appropriate technology for sidelines or making a presentation about new tools to Denver Broncos owner John Elway, it is all a part of McKenna-Doyle's routine.

Part of her team's responsibility is the league's instant replay system, which is put to the test in front of millions of viewers during each Thursday, Sunday and Monday football game. Because outcomes of games potentially ride on each call, failure of the system is not an option. The system has improved in each of McKenna-Doyle's three seasons.

"Michelle's leadership has contributed greatly to the instant replay process," said NFL Vice President of Officiating Dean Blandino. "Her leadership allowed us to bring multiple groups together from information technology to engineering to broadcasting to come together to work on a common goal and that is to improve the system."

"We have become more efficient and more accurate and it was through Michelle's leadership that we were able to get there. I'm very thankful for everything she has done for us and the NFL," he said.

A Little Auburn in the Middle of Manhattan

The piece of paper next to the computer monitor is small, four-by-eight inches, if that. It has been on or above McKenna-Doyle's desk everywhere she has worked in the professional world. On the paper is a statement of beliefs that Auburn men and women are familiar with and live by—The Auburn Creed, written by George Petrie. It is one way she remembers the special place that gave her a foundation for success.

"I always think about the Creed. If you read it, line by line, those are the values that live at Auburn, and those can guide you in life," McKenna-Doyle said. "I internalize those without even realizing it. It was at Auburn I learned how to grow up and be mature, and more than that I learned just an incredible work ethic and incredible relationship skills. I got a really strong education at Auburn."

McKenna-Doyle spent many hours as a student working in the Auburn Athletics Department under Coach Pat Dye and On-campus Recruiting Coordinator Sue Locklar. Her responsibilities of hosting families and tutoring young athletes left little time for enjoying game days the way most college students did, but it helped better prepare her in the long run.

"Even as a college student Michelle had a strong knowledge of football and a love for the game itself," Locklar said. "Her drive, determination and relentless pursuit to do her best put her to the top. I never doubted she would chase her dreams and set her goals high."

"Those kinds of things (at Auburn) gave me a lot of responsibility at a young age, and every time I mastered a little bit, Sue would give me more," McKenna-Doyle said. "She was very demanding, but that really prepared me. After that, my first job was a piece of cake."

Not that every day in her current job is that easy. Changing technology means greater challenges, but it brings with it new opportunities. McKenna-Doyle says her favorite part about working in technology is solving problems. The best days are those that allow her to work closely with her team—engineers and developers who come up with unique and creative situations. Months of hard work make the pressures of Sundays in the fall manageable, and together, the team shares the successes and works hard to correct and overcome any failures.

"At the end of the day, you have to really own your own future," McKenna-Doyle said. "This team can do in months what my previous employers would have taken years to do. This team understands the urgency and they're all fired up about the product and totally committed to the NFL."

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