#BLINK highlights reflections from inspirational Executive leaders across the globe who share a significant moment in their journeys that led them to success, and helped them define their purpose.
We meet with Kiesha C. Nix from the Los Angeles Lakers, and learn about her incredible aspirational journey, which includes becoming the first Black Woman Vice President with the Lakers organization.
As the current VP of Charitable Affairs and the Executive Director of the Lakers Youth Foundation, Kiesha reflects and takes us through how it started, and the impact of her ambition, drive and leadership on where it’s going.
HOW IT STARTED…
“I was born to a single mom at seventeen years old. In 1970, that was not a very popular decision to make. My grandparents raised me on a fixed income, but they were so good at what they did that I didn’t even know that we were on a fixed income. They were very much involved in our community, so I learned from an early age the importance of giving back and how to support our community. My grandparents ran the neighborhood watch, they ran the voting polls, they volunteered at church and at food distributions - everyone came to our house for whatever it was that they needed. I didn’t even realize that they were instilling those values in me…and I learned from an early age that we were servant leaders. We were blessed and we worked hard; but we also shared what we had. So, this is where my foundation has been built from.”
“I attended private school on my grandparents’ very tight budget, and then went away to college to major in English. When I returned, I took a role with Merrill Lynch (which made no sense because I hated math business, and economics!). But, I was proud to end up in a Fortune 500 company on Wall Street. It was only about two weeks into my career at Merrill Lynch that I had learned I was pregnant with my son. In 1994, that was not a popular decision, either. I was very afraid and I didn’t understand the laws or the rules, and I was scared that I would lose my job, so I didn’t tell anyone until about six months into the pregnancy. I was new and couldn’t afford to lose this job. I worked until literally about the week before my son was born - he was almost born at Merrill Lynch! And, I had very, very little maternity leave - six weeks. When I returned, I was demoted from the position that I had been hired for, and complaining about it only resulted in disappointment. So, I worked in the demoted position, reluctantly, for two years. I was very unhappy; but it was the only way to support my son. I was a single mom and I had no child support or any other means of income coming in. After about two years, a manager recognized my skill, and moved me to another office, which changed my life. I was placed into a position to work with a financial partner, whom I ended up working with for the next sixteen years of my career! It was just amazing - I went from barely hanging on to supporting the opening of the first high net worth office in the history of Merrill Lynch. I was doing some amazing work with some amazing people.”
“Over those 18 years of my career at Merrill Lynch, I did not feel confident in making a move elsewhere while raising my son. Plus, it was special because he was nearly born there, which created a comfort zone for me. So over those 18 years, I also began volunteering in the community. It benefitted my employer and my office, as I was effectively doing community relations for our office with no pay. But, I had no idea that I was creating a career path for myself; I just saw it as an opportunity to take these very wealthy, affluent individuals who had big hearts to give, but they didn’t know how or where to offer their goodness. I was able to introduce them and their resources to help some grassroots organizations. There was not really a tangible benefit associated with that work, I was doing it because it was my passion.”
“In 2007-2008, the mortgage crisis hit and everything changed. It was a tough time. Bank of America bought out Merrill Lynch, and my son was going off to college as well at this time. I had learned of a role that Bank of America had in community relations, and my mentors and good friends helped me apply. It is important for me to say that these individuals were male and Caucasian…and sometimes help does not come from who you think or expect it to come from. Help does not always come from people who look like you. These individuals believed in me. They said ‘you will never get to be where you ultimately deserve to be if you don’t take this position.’ So I rook the role and moved to Bank of America, with my first assignment being to manage the bank’s ‘sponsorship’ of the Los Angeles Dodgers, where Magic Johnson had just become one of the owners. It was a significant relationship - the bank was managing about nine major league baseball franchises in different cities, including Los Angeles as one of the largest. I worked hard to engrain myself in the partnership, so much so that I ended up helping to negotiate the contract for the Dodgers to cover five million dollars a year for a guaranteed five years with our bank! I didn’t even belong at that table, but I made myself fit and I got a seat. I didn’t work for the Dodgers - I worked for Bank of America – but I was the only non-staff member to receive a credential from the Dodgers. This meant that I could attend events at Dodgers stadium whenever I wanted; and all of this was a result of the fact that I made it a mission to do that job as best as I could.”
“Over these years with Bank of America, I realized that I had to become my own biggest cheerleader. I had to take hold of my own career; otherwise, it was not going to go anywhere and it was going to stay exactly where it was, despite my talent and growing skill in community relations. I needed to be recognized for my full potential, and not just handed a title. It was at this time that the Dodgers had a position, and I worked hard on creating my application for it, but by the time I raised my hand, the Dodgers had filled that role. I was devastated. I didn’t know, however, that in just a short few weeks, I would be meeting with Jeanie Buss, the owner of the Los Angeles Lakers, who was in need of someone to help run their foundation. The Lakers organization called me on a Monday, and by Friday of that same week I had a whole new career. It was fate - a combination of timing. The gentleman who recommended me to Jeanie knew my reputation and my work ethic with the Dodgers, and he had the confidence in me to believe that I could make the same impact for the Lakers. I applaud him, and to this day, he still checks in on me. He had the integrity to put forward the right person for that position, despite knowing several people that could have easily been given the role due to connections alone. I applaud him for recognizing my experience and skill, and helping me take that leap of faith."
"When I left Bank of America, I closed my journey with confidence. And, that same journey that I had started at twenty-four years of age was now paralleling my son’s career journey that he was starting in as a financial advisor at Merrill Lynch, in the exact same office at twenty-four years of age! I couldn’t have been more proud. There were colleagues there who would say to him: ‘We knew you when you were in your mom’s belly.’ We both came full circle. I didn’t just arrive here, and not everyone has the same journey. For me, it took 24 years to reach my goal for a reason. Hopefully, it doesn’t take that long for someone else. We’re in a different time period now.”
WHERE IT'S GOING…
“Today, in this role with the Lakers, it’s an incredibly proud moment for me each time I am able to go out to the city to help fund and provide resources to the community that I grew up in. This role is an honor. It is the first time that the foundation has been run by someone outside of the family and outside of the ownership for twenty-five years. It took a lot of growth and trust, and I thank the organization for believing in me and for empowering me to really get entrenched into everything. Again, it was different from what they were used to, so I was determined to make sure that the community recognized how committed the Lakers were in investing in them. I needed to take it all the way back to those grassroots organizations and to those communities in LA where nobody wanted to go…even if we required the support of police escorts, I didn’t stop. These communities deserved what the Lakers were offering. The Lakers are extremely generous; every dime raised is placed back into the community, on top of what they already give. Over COVID, we recognized how much the community needed us, but we also recognized that the frontline workers needed us as well. We formed alliances with eleven other sports teams in Los Angeles; despite the sports rivalries, we all decided to come together to support our city through the pandemic.”
“In 2021, I was promoted to become the first Black female Vice President in the history of the Lakers organization. I am so proud and so grateful to Jeanie Buss, our owner, and Linda Rambis, who oversees so much at the organization, for believing in me. When Jeanie won the championship in 2020 and was asked, ‘What does it feel like to be the first female owner of a championship?’ she said, ‘It’s okay to be the first, but it’s not okay to be the only.’ That was a powerful statement, and when I became the first black female VP, I also realized that it is okay to be the first, but I cannot rest at being the only. I have to keep going, I have to keep helping, and I have to keep developing. My goal is to find someone who is going to, eventually, take my place; someone that I could mentor. It would be an absolute joy to see one of the young people from my community become me; because more of them can be me than they can be Lebron James or Magic Johnson - those opportunities are so far and few, and I hope that they can do that too, but let’s have a backup plan. You can still be involved in sports and still be a part of this amazing world, but you don’t have to play the actual sport to be successful.”
“The Lakers’ history and the family is important. It’s a family organization. The late Dr. Buss believed in the community, he believed in our fans, he believed in giving people opportunities, he believed in diversity, and he believed in inclusion. To see his children, who now run the organization, and to see Jeanie and to see her family, I feel like I am a part of that family. That’s how we conduct business. At the end of the day, the Lakers are a family. We are always expanding and looking to bring others into the family. Our Laker Legends, who we have so much respect for, that’s one of the most important parts of my job. I grew up a fan watching them, but now, they’re my colleagues. Working with our legends, I have learned so much. They are such givers because it was programs like the ones that I help to run that helped get them to where they are. I feel like Mrs. Claus 365 days of the year! When I call, I’m usually calling with good news - when you receive a call from me, it’s an opportunity to bring so much more than a smile to a youth; I get to bring them an opportunity to experience something they never have before. This is what gets me out of bed every morning - knowing that I have the power to literally change someone’s life every day with whatever resources have been entrusted to me. Everyone is equal, and we’re all in this together to help one another. And that’s one thing people can say about me, and the legacy I choose to leave.”
“When I reflect, there are definitely moments where I wasn’t sure if I could do this. Sometimes, you lack the confidence that you need in that moment, or you end up questioning your ability. Although I am and choose to be confident, I am also very humble and realistic. I have realized that hard work is the great equalizer. I really, really believe, optimistically, that we can’t choose where we’re born, who we’re born to, and whether we’re in privilege or not, but I do believe that hard work makes us equal. I’m certainly not saying that if you work hard with your head down, that someone is going to tap you on the shoulder - it doesn’t always work like that. But, you have to find a balance where you’re saying, ‘Hey, look at me’ without being too aggressive, but also ensuring that you work hard and believe that your hard work will make someone pay attention to you. I’m also a believer that the smartest people ask for help. You cannot do this journey alone, and you cannot claim to know or be equipped with everything. It’s okay to ask for help. We sometimes think that by asking for help, it makes us look weak; but it doesn’t. Asking for help actually makes you look smarter. You realize that something wasn’t going right and you want to do your best. Especially for women. We believe that we have to be confident enough to ask for help, but we’re so afraid that if we ask, we look like the weaker sex. As a woman, I encourage women, especially single moms, to ask for help. Bring your true, authentic self to work and be okay with being vulnerable. Letting people know what was going on, as opposed to keeping it all to yourself and not being vulnerable.”
“Magic Johnson is a mentor of mine, and his words ‘Your network is your net worth’ are so important. When I look around at the people who have helped me along my journey, and the advice that I was given, it has been so invaluable. I am always networking because it’s important. I said to someone the other day, ‘Sometimes, just sending the resources is not enough. I have to be the resource and I have to show up.’ Networking is everything. When you’re doing it authentically, you’re not looking for your next opportunity, you’re looking at that opportunity and whatever it entails. I don’t know how things will play out, but knowing that I did a good thing has to be enough - it can’t just be propelled by money, titles, and prestige. Just feeling good at the end of the day and knowing that I did something worthwhile is what fuels my purpose. When students come back and tell me that they've accomplished something, that’s worth more than a bonus. That is the bonus! Realistically, of course we need money and resources to live; but, never hang your hat on something just because it has a dollar sign attached to it."
"These organizations and the roles I have had with them has helped me change people’s lives. I even received my first championship ring during the pandemic! I wear this ring so proudly because I want the children and women in the inner city, especially women, to know that I have never dribbled a basketball; but that it didn’t matter because I have worked just as hard off the court as the team does on the court. I, too, am a champion.”
Written by Reena Khullar, Founder & CEO
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