Every Wednesday, Shannon Kelly will sit down with a coach's wife, a former Wolf Pack athlete or a woman in the Northern Nevada community to have a conversation over a glass of wine (or whatever drink they choose). This week, she sat down with Reno Aces General Manager Emily Jaenson. They talked about her career path to the Reno Aces; getting the call to be named the only active general manager in Triple-A baseball; pursuing a career in sports as woman; being a full-time mom; and how she has spent the last few months during quarantine, among other topics.
'Every setback becomes an opportunity'
Jaenson grew up in a small town outside of Chicago. She attended the University of Illinois and was originally a physical therapy major because she thought that was the only way to work in sports. Growing up in a small town, Jaenson didn’t understand what it was like to work in the front office. She eventually graduated with a degree in advertising but still had a career in sports in mind.
“I had every internship I feel like under the sun," Jaenson said. "I worked for a radio marketing group in college. They literally paid me in Taco Bell coupons. I worked for free doing just about everything in marketing and advertising and what still continued to tug at my heart was, 'How do I work in sports? As much as I’m enjoying advertising, marketing and media, how do I work in sports? And how do I make that dream a reality.'"
“Fast forward to my senior year of college, an alumni from the University of Illinois and a friend of mine worked for the Bulls and she said, 'Hey, there’s this internship program. You should apply.' So I threw my résumé in the hat with about 1,000 other people applying for one of 14 positions, and that internship program was eight months of ticket sales, selling season and group tickets. It was also one big competition at the end of the line. There were two jobs. So while we were friends and drinking buddies, we were competing for a final position and we had a big chart in the office that ranked our sales and how well we were doing. I ended up finishing first in group sales, however I didn’t get a full-time job. Number 1 and 2 in season tickets won the position, and man I was devastated. It was my first epic failure of a career. What I came to realize is it wasn’t an epic failure. Every setback comes an opportunity.
“From there, I worked for a major non-profit in sponsorship event planning, I ran my own marketing agency for a short time, I worked for another non-profit, and then I found myself in Reno. I had about eight years of experience working in partnerships, sponsorships, marketing and sales. I was introduced to the Reno Aces. The only role available was an account executive of corporate partnerships. Typically, that role we ask for two to three years of experience, and here I was walking in with eight and that was the only role available. It was at that point I realized sometimes you have to take a step back to take a step forward. I took that job and when I signed my offer letter, I said, 'This is not the be all end all.' I said, 'I’m going to be the vice president of this company, and I’m going to do it quickly,' and I worked my tail off pursuing my revenue goals for the company. Two years later, I was vice president of corporate partnerships.”
'Be so good they won't forget you'
Jaenson followed her husband to Reno after he had an opportunity to work at NAS Fallon in one of their training centers.
“He was in the Navy for 10 years and it was a pretty special opportunity for him, and he had just come off of deployment," Jaenson said. "It was our chance to be together, live together and start our life together. I moved from living in major cities to Fernley, Nev.”
Jaenson soon realized the dirt and blooming tumbleweed in the backyard was not built-in landscaping. After spending some time in Northern Nevada, the Jaensons moved to Houston before making the trek back to the Biggest Little City.
“During that time in Houston, I had a lot of really incredible opportunities to add to my résumé," Jaenson said. "One of the most important things I did while I was in Houston was I kept in touch. I formed some pretty great relationships with the Aces and within the sports industry over my career. I didn’t let those fall to the wayside. I would continue to talk to the president of our company, Eric Edelstein, almost quarterly, catching up on all the work I was doing in Texas, understanding what they were doing with the Aces, how the launch with 1868 went. and we would just hold these again quarterly and catch up. I was about two years into our Texas life and I had just taken another great opportunity with the number one hospital in Texas helping them to maximize their sports partnerships as they were the official healthcare provider of every team in town."
Little did she know, another opportunity was about to coming knocking on the door.
"My phone rings, and it was Eric, and he asks me if I would consider coming back to Reno to be the general manager of the Reno Aces," she said. "I about fell out of my chair. My husband and I made the pros and cons list. At the time, my husband was traveling a lot, I had a 6-month-old son and my older son, Magnus, I was commuting. Life in Houston was wonderful, but difficult. The day-to-day with traffic, bugs and rushing was just hard. All the while we lived in Houston, we thought, 'Man, why can't we just find a really awesome mountain town that has a lot of industry, a city but not as big as a city, but in the mountains with all the outdoor stuff we love to do.' It literally took us two years to hand smack our foreheads and say, 'We’ve already lived there. It’s Reno, Nev.' It wasn’t until I was fortunate enough to get the call to get the job that I said, 'Yes,' and a couple months later we were moving across the country again, and we are thrilled to be back.”
On May 3, 2018, Jaenson was named the second general manger in Aces history.
“I didn’t really fully realize ... I would be the first general manager in Triple-A in almost 20 years," she said. "While I realized the importance of that designation and what I owed to that designation, I didn’t fully realize the opportunity and how much I would lean into and love that opportunity. I’ve been in this role about two years, but it’s really been in the past 18 months that I’ve really spent a lot of time trying to speak to and mentor women in their career to help them have the tools to reach the next level and have mindset to reach the next level. I think we as women sometimes sell ourselves short or set our bar too low for our goals.
“My best piece of advice is my go-to saying: 'Be so good they won’t forget you.' What that means is putting in your all and letting your work speak for itself. There’s a lot of layers to that and being prepared, being the one with the plan, showing up, owning up to what you said you would do. There’s a lot of pieces of that puzzle that ultimately line up to the reason I got this job. It’s because I did such a good job in my previous role, when a bigger opportunity came up, I popped into mind as somebody who would be a good candidate to fit the role.”
Mom of two boys
Not only does Jaenson have a full-time career, she is also a full-time mom. Jaenson said the biggest thing in juggling both is trying not to do everything yourself.
“My first tip is to make sure you marry well and remember there’s two people in this parenting universe," Jaenson said. "A lot of times as women or as moms, we model our behavior after what we’ve seen and our moms. We model our behavior over what they’ve seen. What a lot of that behavior has been for most women is domesticity. But today, more women are working than ever before. We compromise about 50 percent of the workforce. You can’t be expected to work full-time and take care of everything at home. Being able to have conversations with your spouse or significant other to share the workload is really important. Also, not being afraid to ask for help from your friends, neighbors, parents, your tribe, whoever it is who can help you and you can help them, I think that’s great.
"I also wouldn’t be able to do what I do without having an incredible school with my kids, that I trust so much to watch them and help them grow each day. Some of the teachers at the schools are like big sisters and aunts to my boys. If you’re going to work full-time as a husband or a wife or partner with children, there’s no way to go to your office every day and bring your kids to work. You have to find reliable care and help to help you 'do it all.'
"I'm comfortable with the 'do it all saying' because I think we need to embrace what that means for each one of us. I think sometimes we set this bar for what 'doing it all' means when really if we just look at our own life and realize all the things we accomplish every day, every week, every month, every year, we're doing a really great job and we really need to lean into those gifts into our accomplishments and celebrate ourselves and instead of looking at 'doing it all' as something that's aspirational or something that's negative, I think we can look and say, 'Yeah, I do it all' and 'This is what doing it all means to me,' and really being proud of that, whatever your definition of 'doing it all' is."
Wine Wednesday topics with Emily Jaenson
- Quarantine life/spending more time with family - 0:00
- Emily’s career path – 6:40
- Stepping away from the sports industry – 10:43
- Thoughts on the Last Dance 11:56
- First time moving to Reno – 13:54
- Becoming the only female GM in triple A baseball – 16:27
- Advice to women pursuing a career in sports - 22:05
- Changes in the sports industry & Reno Aces – 23:45
- Being a full time Mom - 30:52
- Some of Emily’s favorite things – 34:22