Cathy Engelbert perfect choice for WNBA commissioner

  • Cathy Engelbert is the new commissioner of the WNBA, and Patricia Babcock McGraw feels the league could not have made a better choice.

    Cathy Engelbert is the new commissioner of the WNBA, and Patricia Babcock McGraw feels the league could not have made a better choice. Courtesy of Christa Neu/Lehigh University

 
 
Updated 5/17/2019 7:42 PM

The WNBA seems to have hit the jackpot with the hiring of its new commissioner.

Cathy Engelbert is the whole package.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

She knows business. She knows families. And she knows basketball.

Finding a business leader with a basketball background who could relate to one of the league's most targeted demographics -- families -- was a must for the WNBA in its quest to find a new leader.

Engelbert is a former college basketball player who raised two (now young adult) children, including a daughter, while ascending to unprecedented heights in the business world.

Four years ago in 2015, Engelbert made national news when she was named the first female CEO of a major American audit and consulting firm, Deloitte LLP.

Now, Engelbert, who was a heady point guard for Muffet McGraw at Lehigh University in the mid-1980s before McGraw left for great successes at Notre Dame, is taking over as top leader of the WNBA.

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The WNBA, which opens the 2019 season May 24, had been without a leader since October, when Lisa Borders resigned. Engelbert was named commissioner Wednesday, and she will join the WNBA on July 17 once her term as CEO at Deloitte concludes.

"My confidence and leadership ability are rooted in sports," Engelbert has said.

She competed in lacrosse and basketball in high school and college while fighting with her seven siblings for the approval and attention of her high-achieving parents.

Engelbert's father, Kurt, played in the NBA for the Detroit Pistons and went on to become an IT manager. Her mother was a medical practice administrator. She says she and her siblings (five brothers, two sisters) played fiercely contested basketball games regularly on the half court in their backyard, and even fought for little things such as cereal.

Now, Engelbert will be fighting to keep the WNBA moving in the right direction. Her top goals are to "drive higher revenue and higher player pay and to get the fan and player experience to where it needs to be."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Over her entire career, Engelbert frequently has drawn on lessons she has learned on the basketball court, and particularly from McGraw.

"She relied upon me as a leader and captain," Engelbert said of McGraw and their days at Lehigh. "Little did I know, those were early leadership lessons. She would say, 'you need to be your best in your ordinary moments. Not just in the games, but in practice.' She talked about how important practice was.

"It was her first head-coaching job, but I have huge respect for what she's gone on to do. Very much admire the platform she's tried to build for her players and women as future leaders.

"I was actually out at Notre Dame's business school and Muffet took me to a practice. I spoke to the women about how important it was. I'm such a proponent that sports give you the confidence to rise in your career."

Engelbert has been a relentless worker in her rise. It's what she's been used to since her days of fighting for cereal.

She says that you can't always "have it all (at the same time), but you can do it all," and for that she became a role model in corporate America.

"I think it's important that I can be a role model," Engelbert said. "You'd be surprised at how many young women and men say, 'Cathy, it's great that you raise two kids, coach their sport teams, attend everything."

Now Engelbert will try to inspire a generation of WNBA players and fans.

The job seems to suit her perfectly.

• pbabcock@dailyherald.com

• Follow Patricia on Twitter: @babcockmcgraw

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