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Executive Spotlight: Martha Fuller

By Buffy Filippell
TeamWork Online

Chief Financial Officer, Seattle Seahawks

"I've come to believe that each of us has a personal calling that's as unique as a fingerprint - and that the best way to succeed is to discover what you love and then find a way to offer it to others in the form of service, working hard, and also allowing the energy of the universe to lead you." - Oprah Winfrey

During this time of year, we count our blessings. Martha Fuller is one of them. Looking back many yesterdays ago, she has made a difference. At present, she's making a difference. Tomorrow, you will know she made a difference. We all hope to find our calling. We dream that our life has purpose. And young people struggle to find that right road. She did it, is doing it, and will continue to do it. Martha Fuller chose to grapple with 250 lb cross-checkers, knee-crushing clippers and long-winded filibusterers - she forged her path through public service and finance.

Among Peter Singer's Ten Ways to Make a Difference are:

1. Try to understand the public's current thinking and where it could be encouraged to go tomorrow. Above all, keep in touch with reality.
2. Select a target on the basis of vulnerabilities to public opinion, the intensity of suffering, and the opportunities for change.
3. Set goals that are achievable. Bring about meaningful change one step at a time. Raising awareness is not enough.
4. Seek dialogue and attempt to work together to solve problems. Position issues as problems with solutions. This is best done by presenting realistic alternatives.
5. Ask yourself: "Will it work?"

A Midwesterner with boundless energy and optimism, plus an agility with numbers, Martha Fuller skated swiftly through a balance sheet, leaving me counting my fingers to solve the first equation she posed. When I first met her, she was heading up finance for the soon -to-be successful Minnesota Wild, St. Paul's entry into the National Hockey League, after the beloved Minnesota North Stars moved to Dallas. She needed a controller.

When I, and thousands of others, swarmed the gorgeous Xcel Energy Center for the NHL's All-Star Game in 2003, I was taken aback by her impact. St. Paul was thriving. The poor-man's stepchild to the popular Minneapolis, St. Paul was "the happening place." Busses were crowded around this beautiful arena awash in lights. Over 100,000 people braved blustery winds and frosty temperatures to view the outdoor ice sculptures of the Winter Carnival and the in-arena, on-ice artistry carved by the National Hockey League players.

Martha began her career as an accountant with a typical Big (then) 8 accounting firm. She was always attracted to non-traditional businesses as audit clients. Soaking up knowledge from small businesses and high tech, she moved into the public sector of auditing. Her break came after eight years, when she began consulting on large computer systems projects for the state of Minnesota and Kansas. Intermingling with the local politicians such as Norm Coleman, then mayor of St. Paul, Martha was tapped to be his finance director. Here she managed a staff of 125 and departments of treasury, accounting, purchasing, real estate, risk management, and cable communications. Yet only in her early 30s, Martha helped the mayor bring forth an NHL franchise to the Twin Cities by devising a model plan for city and state financing. Once she got that going, she joined the team to organize all their finances, and within five years, moved back to the public sector as Director of Planning and Economic Development drawn by the desire to build 5,000 new housing units and continue St. Paul's economic growth.

I often counsel young wanna-be leaders in sport to latch onto those movers and shakers in the industry and follow their lead. But how do you know who will be tomorrow's leaders? "You just could tell that Tod Leiweke (the former President of the Wild) has the charisma and leadership skills to take any sports property to its zenith," Martha said. And so, it's not surprising that when Tod left the Wild to become the CEO of the Seahawks, Martha followed shortly thereafter.

There's a kind of "Polar Express" magic touch to this combination particularly around this time of the season. Within a couple of years at the helm of the Minnesota Wild, Tod helped lead his team into the playoffs of the National Hockey League. Again, not surprisingly with Martha Fuller once again by his side, Tod is leading the Seahawks in that same winning direction.

Last winter, Harvard Business School asked Martha to lead a panel of top women sports business leaders. Women from all over Boston and Harvard listened to one of the few female Chief Financial Officers in sport. Martha Fuller found her path as best described through one of my favorite poems......

"Two roads diverged in a yellow wood; And I'm sorry I could not travel both; But be one traveler long I stood; And looked down one as far as I could ...Somewhere ages and ages hence; Two roads diverged in a wood and I; I took the one less traveled by; And that has made all the difference....." - Robert Frost

A road less have traveled. You have made a difference. Keep it going, Martha.....

Buffy G. Filippell founded TeamWork Consulting, Inc., an executive search firm for the sports and event management industry in September of 1987. The firm's more than 120 clients have included: NASCAR, PGA TOUR, NBA, NFL, NHL, MLS, Indianapolis Motor Speedway, International Speedway Corporation, Major League Soccer, Olympic Governing Bodies, corporate sponsors, and sports marketing agencies. Learn more at

All TeamWork Online content copyright © 2008 Buffy Filippell, President, TeamWork Online LLC.

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