Today I had the pleasure of interviewingColie Edison, the first female CEO of the Professional Bowlers Association, the major league of the sport of bowling. She also serves as the Chief Customer Officer for Bowlero Corp, the world’s largest owner and operator of bowling centers. In Edison’s roles, her focus is on reinvigorating bowling — both as an entertainment experience for the 28 million plus guests at Bowlero Corp centers each year and the thousands of PBA members globally.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Bowling has always played a part in my life. Growing up we all went to bowling birthday parties and that’s where I, like many people, first experienced the sport. When I moved to New York City after college, I discovered this unique opportunity to work on the branding for a boutique bowling company that had taken the city by storm. That company was Bowlmor Lanes which would go on to acquire AMF and Brunswick’s bowling center business, become Bowlero Corp, and, most recently, acquire the PBA.
Can you share one of the major challenges you encountered when first leading the company? What lesson did you learn from that?
The merger with AMF was one of the first major challenges of my career with Bowlero Corp. Our marketing department was responsible for the branding of six high-end bowling venues in the US prior to the merger and then, overnight, that swelled to more than 270 centers. I had to reevaluate our entire marketing strategy, bring on additional staff, liaise more with outside partners, and set up systems that would make the transition as seamless and fluid as possible for the department. What I learned was that my entertainment background was exactly the business background I needed for the bowling industry; the fast-paced, quick-thinking chops that I developed in entertainment became one of my strongest assets for leading Bowlero Corp’s marketing team.
What are some of the factors that you believe led to your eventual success?
I credit my journey towards becoming CEO of the PBA largely to my receptiveness of and adaptability to new trends and technology. The world is changing rapidly — across every sector and industry — and if you’re not ahead of these developments and open to evolving with them, then you risk becoming irrelevant. Pivoting isn’t just a contemporary buzzword, it’s an acquired skill; I’ve done it in my own career and Bowlero Corp has done the same during its lifecycle. We began as a small business headquartered out of Union Square in New York City and now we’re the industry leader, expanding from entertainment and events to media with our recent PBA acquisition. It’s the same story with the sport of bowling — a timeless, classic American activity that continues to change and grow with an audience of consumers that is also evolving.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO”?
My “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO” are:
1) Think Beyond Big. There’s nothing too “out there” for you to accomplish. In fact, sometimes those ideas are exactly what you need. It’s the kind of thinking that guided me in the process of purchasing the PBA — an idea that no one might have thought imaginable just a few years ago, but now is a reality.
2) Being CEO Means Learning to be CEO Every Day. Understanding that you’re not expected to know and master the role from day one is probably the most helpful advice any soon-to-be CEO can receive and it’s that mindset which has helped me the most in my current role.
3) Big Picture Thinking is More Important Than Ever. This all comes down to knowing how and when to delegate, but it’s also about being familiar enough with your brand to have that long-range vision for where it needs to go. For me, being a part of the Bowlero brand from the very beginning and watching it grow and evolve has been a vital part of developing this big picture thinking. It’s a strength that I continue to develop as we take on new brands like the PBA and expand on existing brands like Bowlero and AMF.
4) Finding the Right People is Just as Important. You can’t delegate unless you have competent, diligent, genuine, hardworking people working for you. You have to surround yourself with a talented and intelligent team that you can trust. We’ve done just that over the years at Bowlero Corp and I really believe it’s what has allowed us to become and remain the industry leader.
5) Big Wins Take Time. Patience is a Must. This is probably the most valuable lesson but also the hardest one to follow. Because we all want those immediate results; and sometimes it seems like the setbacks we encounter are more like body blows. But they’re not. The PBA acquisition is a perfect example: it took multiple attempts to arrange that deal and get to where we are today. It was a huge achievement, but it required a tremendous amount of patience. Nobody bowls a perfect game when they first step on the lanes; but, if you’re patient with your team and yourself, you’ll be surprised at what you’re able to accomplish.
What advice would you give to your colleagues to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
The best advice I received and continue to share with colleagues is to treat every situation as a lesson. Every meeting has something that you can gain insight from and use in the future. And while it’s important to learn from every success, you also have to pay attention to all the challenges — to think about what made those challenging moments so difficult and how you overcame them. Approaching business in this way is what helps you embrace the journey and enjoy your growth. I think burnout occurs when we don’t actively assess or understand what’s happening; when we can’t see how our present fits in with our long-term objectives.
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Throughout my career I’ve been very fortunate to have had some truly great mentors who have provided me with very meaningful opportunities. But one person in particular has been instrumental to my career trajectory — and that person is my friend, mentor, and boss Tom Shannon, the Founder, Chairman and CEO of Bowlero Corp. For me, there has been no better model of how to lead a world-renowned organization than someone like him who has already achieved so much success. From the very first day I joined the Bowlero Corp family, Tom believed in me — in my talent and promise and vision for the future of the sport. And he’s supported me every step of the way. My path to becoming the CEO of the PBA — is due almost entirely to his guidance and mentorship throughout the years.
What are some of the goals you still have and are working to accomplish, both personally and professionally?
Personally, my goals have changed dramatically since when I began this job. When I started, I was single and living in Manhattan. Now, I’m happily married, living in Brooklyn, and just last year I became a mom for the very first time — and let me tell you, that is one of the most demanding jobs I’ve ever had (Bowlero Corp and the PBA included). But it’s been incredibly rewarding and I’m grateful for it all.
Professionally, my goal is to elevate bowling to become the kind of professional sports property that I know it can be — one that can gain market share and compete against sports like basketball, baseball, football, etc. Most may not know, but bowling is actually the largest participatory sport in the U.S. Last year, 70 million people bowled — and of that total, 28 million did so at one of our Bowlero Corp centers; that’s 40 percent! Bowling is in the middle of a renaissance right now, and my professional duty and goal is to continue driving this growth to ensure that it achieves its potential as one of America’s premier competitive league sports.
What do you hope to leave as your lasting legacy?
My mission is to advance the sport and build upon it for the future. It’s been my personal privilege to lead Bowlero Corp’s acquisition of the PBA and help usher in this new era in bowling. We’re infusing capital and resources in an effort to expand the sport to a wider audience — and we’re gaining visibility and utilizing digital innovation in a way the league has never seen before. The best legacy that I can possibly hope for is to be able to lead bowling once again through a new golden age. Step One was to acquire the PBA — and now, we’re on our way.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would enhance people’s lives in some way, what would it be? You never know what your idea can trigger!
If I could start a movement, it would be to increase education about the precision and skill that go into competitive bowling. The average spectator might not understand the oil patterns and technique that all contribute to someone bowling a perfect game. I think that if more people understood all the nuances that are part of the sport, we’d see more of an appreciation for competitive bowling — even on the same level as we see it for other professional leagues. It’s a movement that would welcome a new wave of talent and interest in the sport and would, in turn, create a new generation of professional bowlers.