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Saturday, March 2, 2024

Kathryn Dobbs and Her Unique Path to Executive Leadership

Landing her dream job didn’t come easy.

Kathryn Dobbs leads the Blue Jackets’ community efforts (image via bluejackets.com)

In the sports industry, young professionals are always searching for new ways to get their foot in the door. There is no how-to manual for breaking into the industry. However, it can be said with confidence that there are plenty of different paths that can lead to a career in sports.

Kathryn Dobbs, Vice President of Community Relations with the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Executive Director of the Blue Jackets Foundation, is one of those with a unique path.

While her career path has been less than conventional, a combination of clear goals, hard work and a little bit of good fortune have helped propel Dobbs to the executive level.

For Dobbs, the road to her role with the Blue Jackets has involved multiple relocations and a great deal of work outside of sports.

If you ask her, it is that experience that helped her develop into the executive that she is today.

“I studied marketing in college, and moved to Ohio out of college from Georgia. I worked in a manufacturing company doing marketing, which is what I thought I wanted to do,” Dobbs explains.

After some time working in marketing, she was looking for something different. As she explored her options, she became interested in work with a community foundation. At this point, a friend directed her attention to the YMCA.

“I had never thought about working for a nonprofit,” Dobbs says.

Nevertheless, she reached out to the organization and in 2003, Dobbs got involved with the YMCA. Through her work there, she discovered a dream job that she kept her eye on for years to come. “I found out that the Blue Jackets had a Foundation,” Dobbs says.

“So, in 2005, I’m thinking, ‘wow, that is my dream job!’ I had fallen in love with working in nonprofit work, and this was not just in hockey, but with my favorite hockey team.”

For Dobbs though, it was not her time yet. She had identified a position of interest for the future, but knew she did not have the experience to pursue it.

She eventually moved to Virginia and then New York working with the YMCA while doing nonprofit work. It was around that time that she got a call that would change her life and lead to a new world of opportunities in Columbus.

“I happened to be in New York when I got a call from the YMCA of the USA, a Blackhawks fan,” she adds.

He was calling to gauge her interest in the Chief Development Officer position at the YMCA of Columbus. This was a no-brainer for Dobbs.

The position gave her the opportunity to work for the community she had fallen in love with and with the Blue Jackets to get kids active and grow the game of hockey.

Dobbs called the predecessor of her current position and asked if she would like to meet.

“She said, ‘Okay, when do you want to meet?’”

“I said how about now? So I got up from my office, and I walked a few blocks down to the arena.”

This particular opportunity meant a lot to her.

“I thought I lived my dream that day. For ten years I’ve been thinking, here’s how the YMCA and the Columbus Blue Jackets can work together,” Dobbs says.

Her goal was to get sticks in hand and grow the game by connecting the two organizations for the betterment of the community.

As it turned out, this meeting was the beginning of Skills and Drills, a Blue Jackets youth hockey program that brings kids out to local YMCAs and teaches them the game of hockey.

Other programs, such as Timeout to Read, have been made possible by the work of Dobbs with the Blue Jackets Foundation and the YMCA of Columbus.

During the 2014–2015 season, the position to lead the Blue Jackets’ community and Foundation efforts came open, and Dobbs was the ideal candidate. The Foundation Board Chair reached out to see if she would be interested in having a conversation about the position.

“I was literally speechless,” Dobbs says. “She will tell you to this day, she asked ‘are you there?’ And I said, the only thing I would ever leave the YMCA for is this job with the Columbus Blue Jackets.”

The rest is history. The Blue Jackets brought her on in early 2015, and she has never looked back.

Since then, she has helped lead the charge in the community through education programs and youth hockey initiatives. Not to mention, the Blue Jackets Foundation gave over $1 million in grant money to support nonprofit organizations in Central Ohio for the second year in a row in 2017.

Almost three years into her role, Dobbs continues to look for ways to grow the Foundation and positively impact the Columbus community.

“I think there continues to be opportunity for more responsibility, new program development and growth within our areas of focus,” Dobbs says of the role of her department.

Her dream job is not without challenges though.

“It can be challenging to wear both those hats at the same time,” she says.

“But I think the reason it’s important and arguably more successful is because I can see everything that is going on.”

The challenges arise in looking at where to re-invest in the community, and factoring in what resources are being used in the community on the business side.

Dobbs talks of the advantages of overseeing both the philanthropic and business side of the department when addressing these challenges.

“It allows me to make sure the philanthropic strategy is helping the community while also supporting the business model.”

At the end of the day, Dobbs understands how fortunate she is to be living out her dream.

“It’s crazy for me, I lived in how many states, moved around, came back here, and 10-plus years later someone calls me and asks would you be interested? That’s not normal, I don’t think.”

Her unconventional career path and experience with the Blue Jackets has taught her many lessons along the way, lessons she hopes can be passed down to aspiring professionals today.

“The opportunity you have while you are here to interact not even just within the department that you’re working in but within others is important,” Dobbs says of working internships with the Blue Jackets and other organizations as well.

“The best of the best are the ones that stay in touch. It’s simple communication and if you are going to make a contact, then manage the contact.”

Amidst all the responsibility and chaos of her busy schedule, she has not lost sight of where she came from and how she got to where she is today.

“My first job was in a hockey rink. I grew up in a hockey family. As I always say, my family hoped someone would make it to the NHL, they just didn’t think it would be me.”

This piece has been presented to you by SMU’s Master of Science in Sport Management.

Front Office Sports is a leading multi-platform publication and industry resource that covers the intersection of business and sports.

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