McMahon and her partners, social media design strategist Debbie Saviano and ybf Beauty founder and president Stacey Schieffelin, are the founders of Women’s Leadership Live, a series of events with workshops, keynote speakers, panel discussions and monitorship opportunities to promote leadership opportunities for women. The first conference will be held in at the Omni Mandalay Hotel at Las Colinas from May 19 to May 22.
WLL is similar to “Women Can have it All,” an event series founded by McMahon in 2014. Held at Sacred Heart University, it also focuses on women’s leadership issues.
Talking to women during her two unsuccessful bids for the U.S. Senate in 2010 and 2012 inspired McMahon to create organizations aimed at helping women overcome gender barriers in the business world.
“Women talked to me about the glass ceiling … how they felt they could be leaders, but weren’t always seen as leaders,” she told attendees at a Greater Irving-Las Colinas Chamber of Commerce breakfast held at the Omni Mandalay. “We need to support each other and help each other, bring our expertise to the table.”
While in Irving, McMahon also discussed her time as CEO of Stamford, Connecticut-based WWE and how she lead a company in the male-dominated wrestling industry. Here are some of the highlights:
Founding the company with her husband
McMahon, who graduated from college certified to teach French, did not plan to get into the wrestling industry. It was the dream of her husband, Vince, to own his own wrestling company.
The pair created WWE in 1979, building off Vince’s father’s company, Capitol Wrestling Corporation, which was founded in 1952. Vince focused on the creative side of the business, including recruiting performers and convincing television stations to broadcast WWE events. Before leaving the company in 2009 to pursue her Senate bids, McMahon focused on the operations side, including finance and human resources.
“It was trying sometimes,” she said of working with her husband. “But we had such different responsibilities, there were times during the day that I wouldn’t see him.”
The pair initially struggled to establish WWE. McMahon said she and her husband poured all of their money into the company and at times went without pay. Her goals were to pay taxes and their employees’ salaries.
Nearly 40 years later, WWE is an international sports entertainment business with 800 employees worldwide and more than $542 million in annual revenue. It was one of the first programs to run on nationwide television and, to this day, is the longest-running drama series on TV.
Being a liaison to Wall Street
WWE listed on the New York Stock Exchange in 1999. As CEO, McMahon served as her company’s liaison to Wall Street. Though she was one of few females running publicly traded companies at that time, McMahon said her gender wasn’t a problem.
“Wall Street was incredibly receptive to my being the CEO,” she said. “They respected what we were doing, they were very supportive, so I never had any issues.”
Despite McMahon’s departure in 2009, WWE is still focused on hiring women in executive positions. The company’s chief revenue and marketing officer and head of human resources are women, and Vince and McMahon’s daughter, Stephanie, serves as chief brand officer.
The company also employs female wrestlers, known in the promotion as “divas.”
“Women have always been really important and there have always been women performers in the ring, but not to the level that WWE allowed them to compete,” McMahon added.