Katie Scallan of the Houston Dynamo: “Don’t step over the dollars to get to the pennies”

Work smarter not harder. When starting out, people tend to double their workload and double their hours in the office in an effort to either make themselves look good in front of others by burning the midnight oil, or just out of sheer ignorance. In the end you will either burn yourself out or do […]

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Work smarter not harder. When starting out, people tend to double their workload and double their hours in the office in an effort to either make themselves look good in front of others by burning the midnight oil, or just out of sheer ignorance. In the end you will either burn yourself out or do a sub-par job. Be smarter.

As a part of our series about strong women leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Katie Scallan.

As Chief Marketing Officer at the Houston Dynamo and Dash, Katie Scallan spearheads the club’s innovative branding, marketing, advertising, communications and broadcast efforts, as well strategy for events at BBVA Stadium. Throughout her more than 20 years career in the sports, entertainment and automotive industries; Scallan has been responsible for breakthrough brand launches and multi-faceted fan engagement campaigns. Scallan joins the club after spending the previous 16 years in a variety of roles with The Friedkin Group, a privately held consortium of automotive, hospitality, entertainment, golf and adventure companies, including Toyota’s second largest distributor in the world, Gulf States Toyota.

Thank you so much for joining us in this series Katie. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

My interest in marketing and sports has been in my blood as long as I can remember. While I was never particularly great at any one sport, I enjoyed playing tennis in high school, snow skiing in college and now playing golf as an adult. Upon graduation from Baylor University, where I earned a BBA in Marketing, I initially thought I wanted to be a professional sports agent. Once I realized that meant attending law school, which I had no interest in, I decided sports marketing was the avenue I wanted pursue instead. My first job out of college was in outside sales, because one of my professors told me, “no matter what you want to do in life, you need to be able to sell…whether it is yourself, a product or a service.” However, my interest in sports was still pumping through my veins and I knew I had to get into that industry eventually. Initially, I began my sports career with Major League Soccer’s Dallas Burn. This opportunity provided me an overall knowledge of what the sports business world entailed. After some time, I decided I needed to expand my advertising and branding knowledge to be more marketable and well-rounded. I worked for a variety of advertising agencies both on B2B and B2C accounts. I parlayed both of those skill sets when I joined Toyota in 2003 where I initially began as a brand manager and launched the SCION nameplate for Toyota in the Gulf States region (Texas, Oklahoma, Mississippi & Arkansas). Upon successfully launching SCION (the first new nameplate from Toyota since Lexus), a new opportunity within the organization presented itself. Toyota began to consider entering the sports marketing world, and I was ready, willing and able to jump into the role. It began with the negotiation of Toyota’s first naming rights, Toyota Center, home of the Houston Rockets. That started the successful trend of partnering with sports teams, universities and organizations across the region to leverage fan passion and affinity to promote the Toyota and SCION brands. Toyota Field, Toyota Stadium and Toyota Texas Bass Classic joined the naming rights category, while we secured various other sponsorships with University of Arkansas, Oklahoma State University, Texas Tech University, Baylor University, TCU, University of Texas, Mississippi State, Texas Parks and Wildlife, and NASCAR, just to name a few. I consistently accepted new opportunities within our organization as they were presented to me. This included a move from the Toyota business to the parent company’s wide variety of businesses that included entertainment and hospitality.

After launching over a dozen brands or rebrands within The Friedkin Group and Gulf States Toyota, the Houston Dynamo opportunity presented itself. With a new president having recently taken over the business operations and with a new minority owner, NBA star James Harden joining the ownership group, the Dynamo and Dash were ready for a new beginning. That’s when the rebranding efforts of the organization really took center stage, and it could not have been a better fit for me personally. Not only did I get to leverage my knowledge and experience in branding, but I also got to lean in further to my passion for sports. We recently launched our new brand which is the start of a new era for our club, on and off the field. This rebrand is about more than team colors or logos. It is about how we have evolved into a CLUB and how our club represents our city. We don’t want to be the soccer teams that play in Houston. We want to be Houston’s team. We are focused on putting Houston first in everything we do.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

It would have to be COVID-19. I mean, it is an unprecedented event. We had a ton of positive momentum when the 2020 season kicked off. Our first (and only) home game before the COVID shutdowns was not only sold out, but it was also the most profitable game in the history of the club, as well as the highest ratings for Univision. We felt extremely bullish about 2020 and building towards our rebrand announcement. Unfortunately, the pandemic took center stage and forced the world to call an “audible” and recalibrate our collective thinking on life in general, but more specifically, how we do business. We had to ask ourselves if we could still pull this new brand launch off that we had planned. With the support of the league office and great partners like adidas and our agency 9th Wonder, we were still able to execute to our original timing of November 2020. Brand launches take an incredible amount of time to prepare for, and the rebrand of the Houston Dynamo and Dash was no exception. This project had been worked on for almost two years. If we had had to pull it, it would have had a number of negative impacts across the business.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

My first month on the job at my first job out of college, I had just moved to Dallas, a huge city for me. I did not know my way around town, and my boss at the time was taking part in client visits with me one day. I’ll never forget…I was so stressed out both having my boss doing sales calls with me, but also driving in an unknown city for the first time. In downtown Dallas, while my boss was in the car with me, I turned the wrong way down a one-way street. After dodging oncoming cars, I was able to make a quick turn and get out of danger. I was horrified. Embarrassed. How could I have screwed up so badly in front of my new boss. In the end, it was no big deal but, in the moment…it was the worst thing that had ever happened to me. I walked away from that experience with the knowledge of never taking yourself too seriously. Everyone is human and makes mistakes. The world will keep spinning.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

This is the easiest answer I have ever given to a question in my life. First and foremost, my dad. My dad is not only a retired officer from the US Army, but at 86-years old he still works full-time as a professor at his local community college. He taught me everything about being a hard worker and a kind person. He was both a mom and dad to me since I lost my mother to breast cancer when I was nine years old. He made sure to instill in me the absolute desire and priority to get a college education before anything else I wanted to do in my personal life. His favorite saying he would tell me all the time was, “all you have in life is what is between your two ears…study, learn…so you will always be able to take care of yourself and never have to rely on anyone else.” He led by example and showed me what hard work, determination and perseverance through any situation life throws at you looks like.

Additionally, I was blessed to have the greatest bosses anyone could wish for while I was at Gulf States Toyota and The Friedkin Group; Eric Williamson, JC Fassino and Dan Friedkin. The leadership they showed me, the opportunities they provided me and the friendship they still share with me to this day absolutely makes me a better employee and leader today. Working special events like I did quite often within my various marketing roles, requires work during all hours of the day and night and in all capacities. No job is too small to ensure the greater good and successful execution of an event or campaign. While working an outdoor event in 100-degree heat in Texas, my VP and President were out in the parking lots helping fans park their cars. That was an eye opener on what it means to lead…I thought, executives don’t normally participate in the “menial” tasks…but these guys did it all and with smiles on their faces. They walked the walk and talked the talk. They also provided sound advice along the way like, “be a duck…a duck is paddling furiously underwater, but all everyone sees is it gracefully gliding across the water.” Since I was told that analogy, I have always tried to model my behavior in that vein. Whether it is customers that come to events and games to be entertained, or employees that need to see their leader resolute, neither need to see my stress.

In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?

A good night’s sleep is key! I can’t be successful if I’m running on fumes. Additionally, my faith also plays an important part in my life, so I lean on that as well. Work/life balance is more important than ever now due to COVID-19, and so many of us working from home and never “turning ourselves off”. After months of that behavior I started scheduling a little “me time” so I can get outside to go hit some golf balls or take a walk. We need to decompress to be better at work. As the one my team looks to, if I don’t lead by example, they won’t take the time off either. Therefore, I owe it to them even more so than myself. That was never more apparent than during our new brand launch this month. Every single member of my team has been burning the candle at both ends as they say, and all of us can only be productive for so long in that environment. Due to that fact, I am encouraging my entire team to take a long Thanksgiving break, as well as some quality time-off in December so they can completely check-out for a few days.

As you know, the United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?

Fundamentally, it is paramount in order to experience new and evolving perspectives. Diversity on the executive team enables an organization to be more adaptable to various environments and situations allowing innovation by having additional points of view in their arsenal. I truly believe most people genuinely are oblivious to their own biases. Having a diverse executive team helps to recognize opportunities to organically influence change and help evolve one’s ability to look outside of their own reality and take a glimpse into someone else’s.

At the Dynamo and Dash I am proud to be one of two female C-suite executives within our organization…that doesn’t happen too often in professional sports, an industry that traditionally is male dominated. Frankly, that is one of the reasons I accepted the job in the first place. A bit of a responsibility, or better yet opportunity, to be an authentic example to young women beginning their careers to see that it can be done and one doesn’t have to compromise their values in order to do so. I have been in traditionally male dominated industries for the majority of my career, both in automotive and sports. What I didn’t do is allow it to change my female perspective. I had a seat at the table and I was going to do my job to the best of my ability every day; and in the end, that is all we can ask of anyone.

As a business leader, can you please share a few steps we must take to truly create an inclusive, representative, and equitable society? Kindly share a story or example for each.

In sports we have a unique opportunity that other industries do not have. We can unite a community, through a shared love of sports, and this summer you’ve seen all number of athletes and teams leverage that to mobilize people in a commitment to justice, equality, and inclusivity. At the Houston Dynamo and Dash we prioritize that principle through our actions; most recently through the 2020 election. We participated in two bipartisan efforts to encourage voter registration and turnout; Team Up Texas (a Texas-specific initiative) and Rally the Vote (a national initiative). Additionally, we worked with voting officials to secure BBVA Stadium as a voting center on election day. Being able to provide a location to vote in the East Downtown area of Houston, enabled an otherwise underserved community the flexibility of voting close to home.

Meeting the needs of underserved communities in the greater Houston-area is paramount to our Club. Our owners, in partnership one of our former players DaMarcus Beasley, have committed to opening 15 soccer mini-pitches (imagine an old tennis court, resurfaced and lined with soccer lines) and providing free lessons at city parks located in predominantly Black and minority communities. By doing so, we are providing a safe place for kids to play year-round, as well as a steppingstone towards changing the “pay to play” model that is traditional in many youth sports activities and making soccer more accessible for kids to be able to play for free. Research shows getting kids active in the outdoors and within a team environment, helps them become better citizens and develops them into better overall contributors to society. It takes all of us to create meaningful change and create a brighter future. By treating others with dignity and respect, we can work towards a collective goal to not only learn about social justice but engage in transformational initiatives, including the development of more female leaders. A colleague of mine recently phrased this as “selling hope not soap”. Soap being solely focused on selling a product or service and hope being the act of putting a focus on social change through your business endeavors. Since our Club does have multiple female executives, and is the only professional women’s sports team in Houston, we like to engage in promoting female empowerment issues as well. Both our Houston Dash players, as well as our female executives, regularly speak to young women throughout the Houston community about their careers and growing up in sports. As one of the professional sports teams in the 4th largest city in America, I believe it is our responsibility to cultivate and empower our local community.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO or executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?

At Toyota a methodology called Kaizen exists. Kaizen or “continuous improvement” represents that all departments and all employees need to function together, from the CEO to the janitor, to ensure the most optimal performance of the organization and that everyone has a stake in the success or failure of it. I learned that style during my days at Toyota and I brought that same thinking with me to sports. While we are not manufacturing vehicles, we are still creating an experience where people are spending their hard-earned dollars to enjoy the spirit, comradery, and competition of sport. As CMO, my day-to-day roles and responsibilities run the gamut. I oversee multiple disciplines within marketing, communications, broadcasting, and community relations. With touch points within various areas of the business, I use Kaizen principles in an effort towards breaking down the silos that are traditional in sports. Principally, there is a separation of “church and state” within professional sports; the business operations (known as the front office) and the technical side i.e., product on the field…players, coaches, etc. There are also silos within business operations between sales, stadium operations, marketing, broadcasting, etc. As an executive I am trying to bridge those gaps and develop a new culture. We all work better when we work together. By underscoring the importance of communication between groups, we promote organizational synergies and efficiencies, and hopefully in the end…less stress and more productivity for everyone.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive. Can you explain what you mean?

That you can stop “hustling” once you become an executive. If you lose your drive to hustle, then you are not helping anyone; yourself, your employees or the business. If only I can become an executive, I’ll get to work less and delegate everything I hate. If only! The reality is the buck stops with you. While you delegate, you must be actively involved but not micro-managing your team. They must feel empowered and that their contributions matter. No task is too menial…and I mean it. Once at a large-scale event I oversaw, I realized the ecology team missed a cleaning. I literally did not have time to call the janitorial services team, so I did it myself all while thinking in my head…I can’t believe I went to college and I’m cleaning a mobile trailer toilet! But you cannot be bigger than anything that ensures the success of the collective whole.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?

Women tend to have to walk a fine line between being strong, but not too strong while showing compassion but not being perceived as weak. The judgement levied on women often is disproportionate to those of men when considering one’s personality, interpersonal skills, and even fashion choices. While some view that as a disadvantage I feel embracing that distinction has brought me opportunities I would not have otherwise been able to take advantage of. When I was in my first year at Toyota, I was launching SCION. I was also one of a handful of female managers at that time, not to mention new to the automotive industry as well. In my role as Brand Manager, I had to work with general managers and owners of car dealerships. These gentlemen forgot more about the car business then I would ever learn about it! So, I had to figure out how I was supposed to go in and tell them how to run their business with this new car brand. I approached each situation with confidence but also concentration that I needed them as much as they needed me for us both to be successful. I was transparent about my lack of automotive knowledge at the time, but also ensured them I was completely committed to their success and I knew my marketing and branding backwards and forwards, so they needed to believe I would not lead them astray. And a good pair of high heels so I could look everyone in the eye didn’t hurt either.

What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?

How important inspiring others is to the success of the organization, especially in today’s climate. As we all know, 2020 has been a year like no other in recent history. Staff, especially junior staff, look to their executives not only for guidance but our demeanor and perspective. I have had to fill a lot of roles for my associates; not only that of their supervisor, but more importantly their friend, their counselor, their confidant, their cheerleader and their elder stateman. Between remote working and layoffs due to COVID-19, social justice issues, a contentious election, both the Dynamo and Dash playing in “bubbles”, having games with no fans then switching to games with a limited number of fans and finally the demands of our new brand launch; the stress has piled on this year.

In sports, the front office staff tends to skew younger and a lot of these individuals are living alone and far from home. I quickly realized they needed to feel connected and inspired on a different level than what I was formerly used to providing. I made a point to set up one-on-ones with every single person within my marketing & communications teams…from the most senior to the most junior. This enabled each of them to have time with me where they could vent their frustrations and concerns. It also gave me the opportunity to lighten their emotional load through laughter and simply listening to them, which allowed them to feel validated and that their input really matters.

Certainly, not everyone is cut out to be an executive. In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive? Can you explain what you mean?

A leader needs to inspire others to be the best version of themselves, bring out their skills & traits that are inside of them that they may not even know are there. When a new executive begins working at a company, they are usually given the green light to make whatever personnel decisions they need to for the betterment of the organization. I believe it takes a strong leader to not necessarily take the easy way and just bring on all their own new people, but to truly evaluate who you have and how you can make them better. By creating a stronger culture, engaging your employees, possibly realigning roles & responsibilities that make workloads more effective and efficient, one might be able to groom an otherwise below average performer to a valuable contributor. Additionally, transitioning to the executive level means previous methods of interaction are gone. Expectations deepen and the ability to think strategically vs tactically becomes a driving force in one’s day-to-day operations. While many people believe they are capable of this, not all are.

What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?

Don’t look at yourself as a woman leader, you are simply a leader. It never occurred to me to view things through a different lens simply because I’m a woman. Never question if you are as good or equal to a man, be the best version of you that you can be. Additionally, don’t be apologetic for being a strong woman, but don’t let it be the full definition of who you are either. Too many female leaders overcompensate for being a woman and it ends up back-firing because they become too bossy and not a team player; be open to other’s ideas and points of view. You don’t always have to “win” the debate, decision or discussion. Understanding others’ point of view, whether you agree with it or not, (or can understand it or not), enables you to be better as you understand it is their reality and you can then figure out how to better address their needs.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

I find giving of myself and my personal time to help develop future leaders is not only rewarding for me personally, but helpful to those I mentor so they can learn from my mistakes and successes. I sit on the boards for WISE (Women In Sports & Events), Baylor University’s Hankamer School of Business Center for Sports Strategy & Sales (S3) and Austin Community College’s Marketing & Fashion Advisory Committee. In addition to the professional and academic development boards I sit on, I also volunteer my time and services with civic organizations and philanthropic causes related to cancer research and support services. Finding a cure for cancer is a cause near and dear to me after losing my mom to that horrible disease at such a young age. Therefore, anything I can do to be of service towards that goal…count me in!

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Look for opportunities. I believe that sometimes we simply miss opportunities because we aren’t looking for them. Sometimes it’s hard to see what’s right in front of us. Look for opportunities.
  2. Enjoy the people you work with. We spend more time with our work colleagues than our own families; its better when you like those individuals.
  3. Work smarter not harder. When starting out, people tend to double their workload and double their hours in the office in an effort to either make themselves look good in front of others by burning the midnight oil, or just out of sheer ignorance. In the end you will either burn yourself out or do a sub-par job. Be smarter.
  4. Don’t step over the dollars to get to the pennies. Always keep sight of the big picture. Saving money today can cost you more in the long-run or conversely, nickel and diming a client today can hurt a more profitable relationship down the road.
  5. Work/life balance is not just a nice saying, it is fundamental for your mental health and productivity, as well as a successful personal life. Be cognizant of the efforts you put into both.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

For everyone to have a “servant’s heart.” Having a servant’s heart means putting other people first. They would ask, how can I serve you instead of how can you serve me. Being a servant leader does not mean you are weak. It means that you lead by putting others’ needs ahead of your own. It is a leader who cares about the people he/she leads.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog. — Mark Twain

When you’re up against a wall you don’t always have all the knowledge or resources or power or money to accomplish what you need to, but you can’t give up. Flip the script…look at the problem differently…how can you address it in another way and still accomplish your ultimate goal? I’ve lived by this premise throughout my life. Upon my initial application to Baylor University, I was not accepted based on my GPA or SAT scores. But my goal was to attend that university, so I drove to Waco, TX to work with university administrators to develop a plan allowing me admission without meeting the “standard requirements”. We came to terms that I would have probationary status and have to meet specific academic requirements before I would be granted full admission. I exceeded the metrics and went on to a successful collegiate career there. At the Dynamo and Dash, like most businesses, we have a lot of financial constraints due to COVID affecting our business. Therefore, we had to think outside the box regarding our launch plans. We worked with our partners and developed key strategies that were different than other brand launches I had been a part of, but none the less successful.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them

It would be amazing to meet Oprah or Warren Buffet. They both transcend the standard of being a great businessperson and have created empires! To have even a small piece of the knowledge they have that enabled them to accomplish that and apply it to my life, would be life changing. Also, Dan Cathy of Chick-Fil-A. His focus on customer service in fast food is second to none. The fact that he does it while staying true to his values and producing some of the best tasting and most popular fast food in America is astonishing.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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