Women in leadership - Taking the reins
by Amy Martinez
Updated 2 yearss ago
General Manager Miami Marlins Miami
Ng breaks a 118-year streak in Major League Baseball.
On a mid-November morning last year at the Miami Marlins stadium in Little Havana, team co-owners Derek Jeter and Bruce Sherman introduced Kim Ng as the team’s new general manager. Jeter, CEO of the Marlins, had gotten to know Ng when he played for the New York Yankees in the late 1990s. At the time, she was an assistant general manager for the Yankees, and together they’d been part of a team that won three straight World Series titles and a fourth consecutive American League pennant from 1998 to 2001.
Jeter, sitting next to Ng at the news conference, said a few nice words about her before quickly turning over the spotlight. Ng, for her part, recalled how Jeter had played with a particular kind of fearlessness.
“That was his approach to the game,” she said. “He left it all out there, every single day. Fearlessness out on that field. And now, with this, we see it off the field. So, Derek, thank you again.”
A year later, she laughs, “You notice I didn’t talk about my fearlessness; I talked about Derek’s!”
“Look, we all have fears,” she says. “The only way you get over it is to face it over and over again, whether it’s interviewing, making presentations or getting in front of a roomful of guys. You have to know it’s not going to go perfect. And you have to give yourself a break. The guys, they make a mistake, and they just move right on. No worries.”
Ng had been turned down for the GM position at other teams a halfdozen or so times since 2005. She’d even considered not going after the Marlins job for fear of being turned down again, she says.
When Jeter offered her the job — before she even got the chance to give her spiel about why he should hire her — she felt a huge sense of relief, if only for a short time, she says.
Ng’s hiring made her the first female GM in the 118-year history of Major League Baseball — and for that matter, the first female GM across all major men’s professional sports in the U.S. As the congratulatory notes poured in, including well wishes from former U.S. first lady Michelle Obama and tennis star Billie Jean King, Ng was struck by how many people were looking to her to pave the way for future female sports leaders.
“There was a 10,000-pound weight lifted off of this shoulder, and then about a half-hour later, I realized that it had just been transferred to this shoulder,” she said, pointing from one shoulder to the other. “I do feel quite a lot of responsibility. I have for my entire career. I know I’m quite visible. The big thing for me is to just make my reputation as good as I can make it and let that carry me through.”
Ng is MLB’s second GM of Asian descent, after the San Francisco Giants’ Farhan Zaidi. Her late father, an American-born accountant, was of Chinese descent; her mother, a banker, came to the U.S. from Thailand.
Born in Indianapolis, Ng grew up in the New York area, the oldest of five daughters. She played stickball in Queens — parked cars and manhole covers were the bases — and slept under a poster of the 1978 New York Yankees.
“My dad was a big sports nut, so I grew up playing and watching a lot of different sports,” she told the University of Chicago alumni magazine in 2018. “I lived in Queens until I was 12. The Mets were right there, but I was actually a big Yankees fan because in the late ’70s, the Yankees were such a great team. I grew up with all the greats — Thurman Munson, Ron Guidry, Reggie Jackson. I think the pace of the game and the nuance of the game were the things that really drew me to it.”
Ng became a standout softball player in high school and went on to play for the University of Chicago, where she impressed her coaches and teammates as a fierce competitor. She majored in public policy and wrote her senior thesis on Title IX, the 1972 law that prohibits sex discrimination at higher-ed schools that receive federal funding.
Her mom, Virginia Cagar, wanted her to go into banking, but Ng started an internship at the Chicago White Sox instead. “Here I am paying $25,000 a year for the University of Chicago,” Cagar told Time magazine. Upon hearing that the internship was unpaid, Cagar asked her daughter, “Return on investment. What happened to it?”
A big part of Ng’s job was entering statistical information about players into a computer — a labor-intensive process that ultimately prepared her for the broader shift in baseball away from gut instinct and conventional wisdom to analytics. Her White Sox internship soon turned into a paid, full-time position, and she gained experience in contract negotiations and player development.
Early on, she faced off with legendary sports agent Scott Boras over then-pitcher Alex Fernandez. During the negotiation, she noticed Fernandez staring at her from across the table.
Ng, who won the arbitration case, rolls her eyes at the memory: “He was just trying to intimidate me, staring at me meanly. It’s all part of the game. It made me nervous, until I realized what was going on, and then I said enough of this and decided to tune him out.”
She became an assistant GM for the Yankees at 29 and took the same position at the L.A. Dodgers several years later. In a career dominated by men — particularly white men — she had to fight for respect. In 2003, former pitcher Bill Singer, then a Mets scout, mocked Ng in a singsong fake Chinese accent at a hotel bar; he was later fired for the racist tirade.
More often, however, the discrimination was subtle. MLB executive Chris Haydock remembers accompanying Ng to business meetings. Although he was fresh out of Indiana University, learning the ropes under Ng at the Dodgers, people on the other side of the table frequently assumed he was the boss and addressed him rather than Ng. “She brought me to take notes!” Haydock told Sports Illustrated. “It was crazy.”
In her nine years with the Dodgers, Ng oversaw the team’s arbitration and scouting efforts and had input in all player transactions, including trades and free-agent signings. In 2011, she joined MLB’s central office as senior vice president of baseball operations, reporting to Hall of Fame manager Joe Torre, a former colleague at the Yankees and Dodgers. (Torre was MLB’s chief baseball officer from 2011-20.)
In that role, she oversaw international baseball operations, working with the front offices of all 30 MLB clubs and with other leagues around the world. Among her accomplishments: Establishing and enforcing MLB’s rules for signing international players and raising standards for international baseball academies.
Meanwhile, speculation grew that Ng would become the game’s first female GM. Between 2005 and 2020, she turned up on the short list for GM of the Angels, Dodgers, Giants, Mariners and Padres. Eventually, the expectations and disappointment began to weigh on her.
“You feel deflated, and you think maybe it’s not going to happen, but one thing I want to make clear: Even if it hadn’t happened, I was never going to see my career as a failure,” she said last year. “I’ve had a tremendous career.”
To her supporters, the time was long overdue for her to get her shot at GM. “At some point, somebody just has to ignore the fact that she’s a woman and just make a baseball decision,” Torre told ESPN in 2017. “And if they do that, then I think she will get an opportunity. Somewhere.”
When she learned that somewhere would be Miami, she needed a moment to let the news soak in, she said on Good Morning America. Jeter chided her for her initial muted reaction: “You’re not even going to smile?”
Ng replaced longtime Marlins executive Michael Hill, who had been GM for seven seasons. Her hire came three years after the club was purchased by an ownership group led by Bruce Sherman and Jeter. Ng now must find a way to win despite one of the lowest payrolls in MLB and a lackluster fan base. The Marlins ranked dead last in 2019 attendance (an average of 10,016 per home game), behind Tampa Bay.
In a surprising 2020 run, the Marlins swept the Chicago Cubs in the first round of the playoffs — their first playoff appearance since 2003 — before being knocked out by the Atlanta Braves. The Marlins failed to build on that momentum in 2021, however, finishing fourth in the National League east division.
Late in the 2021 regular season, Ng talked on the sidelines with first base coach Keith Johnson as players warmed up for a game against the Washington Nationals. The Marlins had fallen out of playoff contention, and Ng wanted Johnson to reflect on “what just happened these last four months and think about how we want next year to be different,” she says. “We have to get players to buy into what we believe.”
She also planned to pull team manager Don Mattingly aside to discuss an odd move by a Marlins player in the prior night’s game. “Our hitter had worked himself into a 3-1 count and attempted a bunt,” she says. “It’s not orthodox. The question would be, what was he thinking? Did we put on that play, which I don’t think we did, and then just making sure that we’re having a conversation with the player and helping him learn and develop and understand why that was not necessarily appropriate.”
While disappointed with how the past year has gone, Ng points to the club’s impressive stable of young prospects and says she has time to turn things around. “The end goal is to have a winning club year in and year out. There’s not a time limit on it; I haven’t been given any specifics on that front,” she says, adding, “I think Derek and ownership are patient, but they also have certain expectations.”
Experts say the analytics movement, in which data informs everything from scouting to play calls, makes it more likely that other women will follow in Ng’s footsteps and rise through MLB’s ranks.
“This is just math,” ESPN commentator Mike Greenberg said last year when Ng became GM. “It’s just doing analytics. And obviously whether you’ve played or not has nothing to do with that, and your gender has nothing to do with that. So, I would imagine that this will be the first of many such days, but none of them will ever be quite like today.”
Ng says she wants to succeed not only for herself and Miami, but also for women and girls. She says she continues to hear from people who are excited that MLB finally has a female GM. “As the season has gone on and I’ve traveled with the club, various players from opposing teams have come up to me and said, ‘It’s an honor to meet you,’ ” she says.
She believes the vast majority of criticism against her is based on baseball, not sexism or racism. “When I have an issue, my first inclination is not to go to, ‘It’s because I’m a woman.’ I really tend not to look at that. Maybe it’s because I’m hard-headed,” she says. “Sometimes people have negative reactions just because they don’t like the decisions you’re making, which is OK. As a manager, I’m going to have to live with that.”
For fun, she and a friend recently took an online quiz to determine their “spirit animal” — a totem animal that’s supposed to reflect who they are, according to ancient shamanic traditions. Her first result was a sea turtle, which she didn’t think was very aspirational. Ng took the quiz again, changed a few answers, and got a more satisfying result: Tiger.
CEO LSF Health Systems Jacksonville
Cauffield leans on former substance abusers and those who’ve struggled with mental illness to help those in need now.
Since taking the helm of Jacksonville-based LSF Health Systems seven years ago, Christine Cauffield has become a leading advocate for certified peer recovery specialists — non-clinical professionals who use their own experiences with substance abuse or mental illness to guide others toward recovery.
Led by Cauffield, LSF has trained more than 320 peer specialists who provide mentoring and coaching to people coping with alcoholism, drug addiction and mental illness. The peers work in hospitals, clinics and private offices, where they often can connect with patients in ways that doctors and nurses cannot, she says.
“We’re able to place them in OB/GYN offices, for example, where they work with women who may be substance using and pregnant,” she says. “We place them in emergency rooms, so that when someone comes in in an overdose status and is revived, the recovery peer specialist is the first person they speak with.”
Cauffield, who grew up in Orlando, got her bachelor’s degree in communications broadcasting from the University of Central Florida and began her management career at Delta Air Lines, where she held executive management positions for 13 years. She then decided to become a licensed clinical psychologist. “My colleagues thought I had lost my mind because I had a wonderful job with excellent benefits, but it really was a calling,” she says.
Cauffield got master’s degrees from Georgia State University and Florida Institute of Technology, as well as a doctorate from FIT, and did her post-doctoral residency in geriatric neuropsychology at Harvard Medical School. She eventually established her own behavioral health firm, Sarasota-based Cauffield & Associates, which she still owns.
In 2014, Tampa-based Lutheran Services Florida (LSF) hired her to lead LSF Health Systems, a non-profit managing entity that contracts with the state Department of Children and Families to provide behavioral health services in 23 counties across Northeast and North-Central Florida. With an annual budget of $170 million, LSF Health Systems serves more than 1.2 million people a year.
Cauffield also is president of the Florida Association of Managing Entities and the Florida Council on Aging and is a member of a national panel of experts advising the White House’s Office of National Drug Control Policy.
She says the need for substance abuse and mental healthtreatment has never been greater. Last year, 7,579 people died from drug overdoses in Florida, a 37% increase over 2019, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“It’s truly heartbreaking,” she says. “Some people are turning to unhealthy coping mechanisms — drinking and drugs — and that often goes hand in hand with domestic violence. It’s really impacted communities in very profound ways.”
ANGELA GARCIA FALCONETTI
President Polk State College Winter Haven
Providing opportunities through education.
In 2017, Jacksonville native Angela Garcia Falconetti became president of Polk State College, replacing Eileen Holden, who retired after 11 years in the position.
Falconetti, who has her bachelor’s degree from New York University and a master’s and Ed.D. from the University of North Florida, came to Polk State from Virginia Western Community College in Roanoke, where she was vice president of institutional advancement and executive director of the school’s educational foundation.
She also serves as chair of the Florida College System Council of Presidents, a 28-member group that advocates on behalf of Florida’s public colleges. She spoke to Florida Trend about her early interest in becoming a college president and her priorities for the council over the next year.
Background: “My parents are Cuban exiles. They moved to the United States as children. My father left Cuba and was put on a plane by his father when he was 12 years old and was told, ‘We hope to see you again, but if we don’t, we love you.’ My mother came in through Spain to New York, the Bronx. They both ended up in Jacksonville. They went on to pursue higher education degrees and became accountants. I clearly felt and saw how an education can change the livelihood of a family.”
Expectations: “I was told by my grandmother, ‘Prepare yourself for life. You have opportunities here we didn’t have in Cuba. That’s why we moved here, so that you can have a better life.’ I always felt that if the doors opened for me to serve as president of a state or community college, then my personal mission of advancing the lives of those who might not have had an opportunity otherwise aligned beautifully.”
Diversity: “There’s a growing Hispanic population in the area, and I really wanted to see the Hispanic student population at Polk State grow. When I was named president, the Hispanic population was at 19%, and now we’re at 26%. That’ll continue to increase. We mirror the same demographic projections as those of Polk County.”
Workforce Development: “We believe that a strategic, increased investment in the Florida College System’s program fund will make it possible for every college to implement House Bill 1507, which was passed during the last legislative session and is primarily focused on workforce education. The goal is to expand nursing and additional health care programs — there’s a growing demand for quality employees in high-need medical support occupations — and to supply job-ready employees in growing areas like cyber-security, drug manufacturing and advanced technologies. Other areas are logistics, law enforcement and first responder programs.”
Upgrades: “We’ll continue to advocate for our aging buildings in the form of public education capital outlay. Our facilities are part of an 88-year-old Florida college system; they need renovations and new classroom space.”
Retraining: “We have a grant with Metallica — the band — in partnership with the American Association of Community Colleges. Because of it, there are many students who’ve learned machining skills and have secured certifications in a compressed time frame. I attended a small completion ceremony that we hosted a couple of months ago. One young lady stood up and said, ‘I was laid off from Disney. I didn’t think I could be a machinist, but now I’m going to be able to make a really good wage.’ ”
Pandemic: “The main thing we can do as higher educators at this juncture is instill hope in our students and our employees. We’ll get through this. I know firsthand, going to back to my childhood, that opportunity changes lives, and the opportunity to turn one’s life around is what we offer through our state colleges.”
President St. Petersburg College St. Petersburg
Born and raised in St. Petersburg, Tonjua Williams was the first in her family to attend college and get a degree. She often credits her mother, husband, friends, teachers, neighbors and co-workers — what she collectively calls the village — with helping her succeed.
She earned a bachelor’s in humanities from Clearwater Christian College and began her career at St. Petersburg College in the mid-1980s. Her first job was as an accounting clerk, processing financial aid checks, but she took a career survey and learned that a job working directly with people would fit her best.
She then decided to get more education and received a bachelor’s in business from Clearwater Christian, followed by a master’s in counselor education from the University of South Florida and a Ph.D. in higher education from Barry University — all while working in various roles at St. Petersburg College.
In 2017, Williams became president of SPC — its first woman and first black person to hold the position. By then, she had worked in nearly every area of the institution, including as senior vice president for student services, vice president for academic and student affairs and provost at the college’s Tarpon Springs campus.
“When I applied for the job, I didn’t apply as a black female,” she told Florida Trend in 2017. “I applied as a higher education leader who has been in the business for 30 years and who has the credentials to be president. It means a lot to be the first, but I didn’t run on that ticket. I see myself as a great leader.”
Williams also serves on the 28-member Florida College System Council of Presidents as vice chair, alongside chair Angela Garcia Falconetti, president of Polk State College (page 63).
MALLORY LYKES DIMMITT
CEO Florida Wildlife Corridor Coalition St. Petersburg
A calling to protect Florida’s natural assets.
On a July morning at Disney Wilderness Preserve in Osceola County, Gov. Ron DeSantis held a bill-signing ceremony for the Florida Wildlife Corridor Act.
The bill, which passed with unanimous support in the Legislature, provides $400 million for land conservation in Florida, including $300 million to help preserve the network comprising the Florida Wildlife Corridor. The legislation designates the corridor as a defined area of about 18 million acres, of which 10 million are protected from development, and provides incentives to further protect lands.
Among those applauding the bill signing was Mallory Lykes Dimmitt. A month later, Dimmitt began a new job as CEO of the St. Petersburg-based Florida Wildlife Corridor Coalition, a non-profit advocacy group focused on connecting the state’s wildlife habitats.
“There’s so much momentum and opportunity that I felt compelled to come back and lead the organization as its first CEO,” she says.
Dimmitt, a seventh-generation Floridian, is a great-great- granddaughter of late Lykes Bros. founder Howell Tyson Lykes. The Tampa-based agribusiness began in the 1870s as a 500-acre operation in Hernando County and now has more than 610,000 acres in Florida and Texas, including land for cattle, timber and hunting, as well as for conservation.
Dimmitt says she grew up exploring the Florida outdoors and has been an avid conservationist for as long as she can remember. She majored in natural resources at the University of the South in Tennessee and got a master’s degree in environmental management at Duke. She led a four-state conservation initiative for the Nature Conservancy in Telluride, Colo., before returning to Florida in 2013 to become executive director of the Legacy Institute for Nature & Culture (LINC), the precursor to the Florida Wildlife Corridor Coalition.
Along with her friend Carlton Ward Jr., a Tampa conservation photographer, she planned and participated in a trek from the Everglades to the Okefenokee Swamp and another from the Everglades headwaters to Alabama. “We did it on foot or kayak and a little bit on bicycle — all on our own power,” she says.
Dimmitt left the non-profit world in 2016 to become vice president of strategic development at Lykes Bros. before rejoining the wildlife corridor coalition in August as CEO, a newly created position. She says her experience at Lykes prepared her to work with forest landowners and ranchers to preserve lands within the wildlife corridor. Combined, ranch and timber lands account for nearly 7 million of the corridor’s 18 million acres; of that 7 million, about 13% is protected.
“Working in the private sector for the last five years really helps me to understand landowners’ needs and perspectives and how that interacts with conservation,” she says. “I understand the data-driven decisions they need to make to voluntarily engage in the conservation that’s ultimately going to be needed to protect the Florida Wildlife Corridor.”
Immediate past chair University of Central Florida Board of Trustees Orlando
Seay has helped make Central Florida a hub for simulation and training.
Two years ago, amid controversy over the University of Central Florida’s spending practices, Beverly Seay oversaw the search for a new UCF president.
A year earlier, the state’s auditor general had uncovered the misappropriation of $38 million by school administrators for construction of an academic building under longtime UCF President John Hitt. The scandal had ensnared Hitt’s successor, Dale Whittaker, who resigned after only eight months in the job. Meanwhile, Thad Seymour, then interim president, decided not to seek the permanent position.
Seay, a UCF trustee who chaired the board from July 2019 through June 2021, helped persuade Alexander Cartwright, then chancellor of the University of Missouri, to pursue the UCF presidency.
“We had pegged Alex early on, but he was a hard one to get,” she says. “In the 11th hour, we pulled him over the line.”
In March 2020, the board named Cartwright UCF’s sixth president, tasking him with restoring legislators’ trust in UCF while also steering the state’s largest university through COVID-19. “He walked into a situation where a lot of people needed to retire,” she says. “Change was needed, and still is.”
Over the course of her career, Seay helped develop Orlando into a global hub for computer modeling and simulation.
Born in 1953, she grew up in Hyde Park, N.Y., the daughter of an IBM engineer, and has two degrees from the University of Michigan — a bachelor’s in mathematics and a master’s in computers, information and control engineering.
As a computer engineer, she had plenty of job opportunities, she says. Once she got into management, however, she found that her gender was an issue for some of her male colleagues. “Running the business side, that’s where I saw the glass ceiling. The behavior and attitude toward women, that was all dealing with the business-people, not so much the engineers,” she says. “People think it would be the other way around, but that wasn’t my experience.”
In 1988, Seay was hired by Science Applications International Corp. (SAIC). The company moved her to Orlando to build its modeling and simulation business at the Central Florida Research Park. During the next two decades, she grew the business into an industry leader with annual sales of more than $640 million and 2,500 employees.
These days, she is working for the Department of Defense National Security Innovation Network to bring innovative solutions to the military. In addition, she helps her two daughters, who also are engineers in Central Florida, juggle work and family. “My plan was always to retire early and help my daughters” raise their children, she says. “On Mondays and Wednesdays, I go play nanny.”
Seay aims to encourage more girls and women to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math. She has donated to UCF’s Girls Excel in Math and Science and Women in Science and Engineering mentoring programs and has endowed a scholarship in computer science with the College of Engineering and Computer Science.
“I’m watching it right now because I have granddaughters who are in the eighth and ninth grades. My daughters never would have gone into computing if I weren’t their mother and hadn’t guided them into it, and then they wouldn’t have gotten their master’s in engineering if I hadn’t guided them,” she says. “You’ve really got to get them at a young age.”
DELORES BARR WEAVER
A mission to help the less fortunate.
It could easily be said that the leading philanthropist in Northeast Florida is Delores Barr Weaver, an original co-owner of the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars.
In the 1990s, she oversaw the creation of the franchise’s philanthropic arm, the Jaguars Foundation, setting its focus on disadvantaged children. Former Jacksonville Mayor John Peyton later credited the foundation’s StraightTalk sex-education program with a sharp reduction in the city’s teen pregnancy rate.
In 2012, she donated $50 million to establish the Delores Barr Weaver Fund at the Community Foundation for Northeast Florida. She’s since directed more than $100 million to local charities through the community foundation. Her philanthropic interests run the gamut from homeless military veterans and victims of domestic violence to health care and the arts.
A Jacksonville-based advocacy group for at-risk girls and young women bears her name: The Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center. In addition, Baptist Health Jacksonville named a 12-story building after her and her husband, Wayne, after the couple gave Baptist Health $10 million in 2012 to fund programs in adolescent and pediatric behavioral health — the largest donation in its history at the time.
Wayne Weaver once told the Florida Times-Union that his wife is “the philanthropist in the family. She does a lot more on her own,” he said, adding that she also gets “deeply involved. She wants to know what the outcomes are.”
At 83, Weaver continues to make philanthropic moves. She recently donated $5.5 million to help Habitat for Humanity of Jacksonville build 50 “tiny houses” of just under 600 square feet for local residents, and she endowed a fund to support black artists through Art Ventures, an initiative of The Community Foundation.
- As CEO of Neuhoff Communications, Beth Neuhoff oversees 20 radio stations and more than a dozen local websites in small and mid-sized markets in the Midwest. Neuhoff, a graduate of the University of Oklahoma, began her career selling local radio-station advertising to big brands and national ad agencies and later became executive vice president of the Midwest division of marketing firm Interep. She took the helm of her in-laws’ broadcast company in 2012 and lives in Jupiter.
- As CEO of Beasley Broadcast Group, Caroline Beasley leads a publicly traded company with 62 radio stations in 15 markets across the U.S. Beasley, a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, started at her father’s broadcast company answering phones after college and became CFO in the 1990s. In 2017, she took over as CEO of the Naples-based company.
Read more in Florida Trend's November issue.
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