WWE’s Branding Powerhouse with Stephanie McMahon
A lot of you have asked me, “Can you please feature more prominent, beautiful business women?” Well, I heard you loud and clear. Strap in, because I’ve got a truly BADASS woman on The Ed Mylett Show today.
I have, in my opinion, one of the great marketing minds, man or woman, in American business today. Many of you may already be familiar with her – my guest today is Stephanie McMahon. Stephanie is a very unique woman, and she’s going to bring you a lot of inspiration today.
Who Is Stephanie McMahon?
Stephanie is the Chief Brand Officer for WWE, a huge global brand. She also appears on-screen for both the Raw and SmackDown WWE brands.
Stephanie has been working for the WWE since she was young, working her way up from receptionist to Chief Brand Officer. She started marking appearances on-air for the WWE in 1999, and had a brief on-screen “relationship” with Triple H – which later turned into an offscreen marriage. She and her husband are now involved with many different philanthropic efforts, as well as running the WWE brand.
Stephanie is an absolutely incredible woman. Beyond being a business boss, she’s also a character and athlete in the WWE, competing currently as the Raw Commissioner. She often plays the villain in WWE episodes – according to Stephanie, no one bought the “super sweet vanilla little daddy’s girl” act.
“I love being the heel. I love interacting with our audience and them getting me and me getting them. That’s what it’s all about, you know? I just play into the stereotype and have fun. That’s when I think we’re at our best in our business, is when we’re having fun. Our audience can feel it. When you talk about the energy, there is no greater energy on earth than interacting with a live crowd of hundreds of thousands of people. It’s an amazing rush.” – Stephanie McMahon
The heel, in wrestling lingo, is the villain. But as you’ll hear in our conversation, Stephanie’s no supervillain: she’s a philanthropist, a wife, and a mother.
Growing Up WWE
Stephanie had a pretty unique childhood. Her parents, Vince and Linda McMahon, were executives and owners of WWE. She grew up surrounded by these brand names who I consider my heroes. Case in point: one of her best friends was Andre the Giant.
“My mom told me this story about when I met Andre the Giant for the first time. Andre came into our driveway in this customized van he drove because of how big he was. He gets out and he’s so big. It’s almost like his head blocked out the sun. I’m three years old, jumping on the trampoline and he’s walking towards me. It’s as if the ground is shaking! Here comes this giant. What’s funny is that I just wasn’t scared of him at all. Why do you think that was? I think we were meant to be friends, I don’t know. He never scared me.” – Stephanie McMahon
Despite being a global powerhouse brand, the WWE is a family business. Stephanie idolized her father growing up – and the women in her life are equally admirable. Her grandmother was a budget analyst for the Navy at a time when it wasn’t common for women to be working out of the home. And, Linda McMahon was the CEO of the WWE – so Stephanie has grown up surrounded by strong women.
Stephanie says it always seemed natural that she would join the family business.
“Dinner conversations were always about business. I was always listening to them talk about business. We didn’t have nannies or anything like that, so I was always with my parents. Saturday mornings, I’d go with them to the office and I’d sit with the receptionist.” – Stephanie McMahon
While it seems inevitable now that Stephanie would join the WWE, it never seemed obvious to her. But she started selling t-shirts for the brand, and the rest is history.
Keeping it in the Family at the WWE
Family is pretty central to Stephanie’s life, as well as her approach to branding at the WWE. She’s focused not just on the inner workings of the company: the show, the talent, recruitment, and social media – but also the culture. Stephanie says that the notion of family impacts both how she relates to the WWE audience and the WWE talent.
“We actually call our audience, ‘the WWE universe.’ They are fans, but fans seems to be an exclusive term, whereas the universe is inclusive. I’ve taken that term even more broadly because I think it’s not just our fan base. I think it’s also our talent. I think it’s also our employees. It’s anybody who loves or touches our brand, our business partners, anybody who’s a part of WWE is a part of the WWE universe.” – Stephanie McMahon
Inclusivity is the name of the game for Stephanie. Her husband, Triple H, extends that inclusivity to the WWE training center. He’s the Executive Vice President of Global Talent Strategy & Development for the WWE.
“From a talent standpoint, my husband has taken great care actually to cultivate this culture, even in our performance center where we’re developing future stars. It’s all about professionalism. The way you dress, the way you shake people’s hands, that you look them in the eye, you pick up trash, you support one another. He’s looking for emergent leaders – not just, ‘are you going to make it physically.’ Once you’re really worn down, who are the ones who are in it for themselves and who are the ones that try to pick other people up? – Stephanie McMahon
What I love about this is that the WWE isn’t just developing incredible athletes. As Stephanie points out, the training doesn’t stop once you leave the ring. Take celebrities like The Rock, John Cena, and the Bella Twins. They got their start in the WWE, but they’re prepared for massive careers outside the ring as well. The WWE is super invested in their talent from all different angles.
“We’re training you constantly on all different platforms and all different avenues. We are training you to build your brand in social media, we’re training you to do other types of media interviews, radio, TV, etc. We’re training at the national level and then the global level. When you become a WWE superstar, you are one of the most well-rounded businesspeople and entertainers and athletes that you could possibly be.” – Stephanie McMahon
WWE looks at each performer as a whole person, and it shows. The talent in the WWE is crazy good – and women are a big part of that talent pool.
The Strong Women of the WWE
Stephanie’s family history has translated into more than just the culture at WWE. The strong women of the McMahon family have played a role in elevating women wrestlers and inspiring young women all over the world.
“In December, for the first time ever, our women competed in Abu Dhabi. They had to wear different gear because they had to cover a lot of their skin, and that’s totally fine. Actually, their gear was so cool. The audience started a chant. Sasha Banks was wrestling Alexa Bliss. She said at the time she saw tears in the eyes of little girls in the audience. Can you imagine that? That’s transformative. It’s the kind of impact that can be possible in the WWE.” – Stephanie McMahon
It’s amazing to me how much hope the WWE can give to people. We talked about the WWE’s latest signing, the incredible Ronda Rousey. Stephanie was there – in character – to introduce Ronda to the WWE Universe.
“Take a step back right out of the storyline, here’s Ronda Rousey, a woman who has built her own empire. Talk about empowerment! Just by being who she is, the way she does things, there’s nothing false about her. She is who she is. She speaks her mind. She stays true to herself. She’s a shining example for girls everywhere, and for boys – really for everyone, Ronda is an inspiration. And she’s signing with WWE.” – Stephanie McMahon
Stephanie has a lot of respect for Rhonda’s authenticity. And, as someone who juggles multiple roles – wife, mother, heel, business woman – I wondered how Stephanie felt about being her truly authentic self. How does she keep it all straight?
“I think the best strategy is to prioritize. My mom taught me this a long time ago. That pendulum is never going to be in the middle. It’s always swinging. It’s not a balance as you would think, it’s a balance in essence, but it’s always shifting. Life is never balanced, and I just do everything I can. Me and my husband both do as much as we can to maximize our time with our kids and prioritize each other as well.” – Stephanie McMahon
It’s a good lesson for anyone trying to juggle training and life and business. Life is never going to be completely in balance: it’s up to you to prioritize what’s important. What’s crazy about Stephanie’s version of prioritizing is that she regularly trains for her WWE shows at midnight. I’m not kidding. Go to her Instagram and you’ll see what I mean by midnight workouts.
“Training is my church. I think it is important to accomplish goals. They make you feel good about yourself. It builds confidence when you set goals and you can achieve them. Even though it’s a set, it’s a rep, whatever that goal is that night, no matter how simple it might be, I’m killing my goals. I’m pushing myself past where I think I can go. I love that training is as much a mental challenge as it is a physical one. I love that feeling.” – Stephanie McMahon
Stephanie loves a challenge, which is good because she’s working on her biggest challenge yet: fundraising for a cure for children’s cancer.
Stephanie and her husband are very involved in philanthropy. She’s received all kinds of humanitarian awards for her philanthropic efforts over the years. There’s a very important effort Stephanie has been involved in recently that I’d love our listeners to hear more about: Connor’s Cure.
Stephanie and Triple H met WWE fan Connor Michalek as he was battling a rare cancer that affects the brain and spinal cord at just eight years old. Connor was a huge fan of Daniel Bryan and many other WWE Superstars and Divas. Stephanie formed a special bond with Connor, and when he lost his battle with cancer in April 2014, Stephanie and Paul decided to honor him by creating Connor’s Cure, a fund at the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.
“I truly do believe Connor came to WWE for a reason, and that we could help. We’ve now partnered with the foundation and raised over $2 million. We’ve helped over 200 families with things like parking vouchers, food vouchers, things you don’t anticipate you’re going to need. Children should not get cancer. They should not be sick with cancer.” – Stephanie McMahon
Connor’s Cure is what we call a pure foundation, meaning every dollar donated goes straight to the cause. You can read more about the effort on the WWE website, and I definitely recommend listening to this episode – Stephanie talks more about her work fighting children’s cancer with the Aspen Institute.
Why You Should Listen to This Episode With Stephanie McMahon Today
I don’t care who you are, this episode with Stephanie McMahon will inspire you. Before we signed off, I asked her what she would say to the young women and men who are still pursuing their dreams. Her answer was pure gold:
“Turn your dream into a goal. Goals you can achieve – it’s all about how you think about it, the way you formulate it. Turn your dream into a goal, and then you can develop your plan and your strategy to get there, to achieve it. How are you going to make it happen? I would also say to them to believe in yourself. I’ve heard this quote that confidence is like 90% of the journey. You’ve got to bring your whole self and then some. Believe in yourself, know that you belong anywhere you want to be. You belong in the room.” – Stephanie McMahon
We covered so much in our conversation: branding at the WWE, building an authentic culture, bringing your authentic self to the table, philanthropy, practicing gratitude, and more. If you’re new to the WWE, check out their flagship programming on Monday nights, 8 – 11 PM on USA Network. SmackDown Live is on USA Network on Tuesdays, and there are lots of pay-per-view options available as well.
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