Episode 014 – Tera Black, COO of the Charlotte Checkers

Tera Black

Since it is January and I am quite literally freezing here in Tampa, it seems apropos that I have this guest on.  With me today is Tera Black, the Chief Operating Officer for the Charlotte Checkers, the American Hockey league affiliate of the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes. Her career in hockey is expansive and includes roles in everything from travel coordinator to athletic trainer to equipment manager. in 2016 she was named the first-ever female winner of James C. Hendy Award as the American Hockey League’s Oustanding Executive, an award that has existed since 1962. Also in 2016. she was named to the Sports Business Journal Game Changers class.

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Additional Show Notes:
  • Don’t forget to submit your applications by February 1 for The Winning Edge Leadership Academy retreat in June.
  • Bobbi-Sue’s friend wrote a book and she’s super excited about it!!  It’s a great read, super engrossing. Go get it!
  • Tera grew up in a very active environment, loved participating.
  • Tera began her career as an athletic trainer. She took a very non-traditional route to graduating from San Diego State University.
    • Started in junior college because she wasn’t sure what she wanted to do.
    • Was a student trainer in junior college, which led to her first job.
  • By the time she graduated from college, she was married and expecting a child.
  • Tera met her husband, a former pro hockey player, through work. However, they didn’t start a relationship for years (after he stopped playing).
  • What is roller hockey? Sacramento River Rats is an amazing team name.
    • Legit league but very 90s
    • She was the only female athletic trainer in the league.
  • When the equipment manager left, she took on that role and learned how to do everything. Team doctor taught her how to do stitches – a skill she uses to this day.
  • Growing up in hockey makes you tough and hockey guys are the best.
  • Tera’s husband ended up being one of her lifelong mentors in the industry. She had to “pass a quiz” by his family before she was allowed to marry into it.
  • Key to success in Tera’s life has been surrounding herself with great people, including her boss Michael Kahn, the owner of the Checkers. He has surrounded himself with great, strong female leaders, and he gives Tera the tools she needs to be successful.
  • Tera’s next logical move could be to an NHL team but she is so happy at the AHL level. There is so much creativity they are allowed to pursue and they aren’t required to fit in a box.
  • Charlotte Checkers have done some things to give their employees more flexibility: flex schedule of 4 days a week, close the office at end of season and Christmas.
  • Cam Newton attended his first hockey game at Charlotte recently as a fundraiser for his foundation and he even designed the jerseys that the team wore.
  • AHL is akin to AAA baseball. The turnover of players is huge, however. The guys go back and forth between NHL and AHL often.
  • Working with an ECHL  team gives you great exposure to the different roles and people wear many hats. AHL is a little less of that but there’s always a need for someone to throw on the mascot outfit.
    • Bobbi-Sue and Tera talk about how everyone in sport needs to at one point or another put on a mascot costume.
  • Hockey and the stench that occurs is a real thing – a love story.
  • Tera worked to transition the team from the ECHL to the AHL. It was a large brand identity change. Part of the campaign included moving a family from Albany, NY (where the AHL franchise had previously been located) to Charlotte. They even bought the family a home, which engaged their sponsors who donated various things for the home.
  • The next big project was moving from the Time Warner Cable Arena to the 60-year-old building where the team started. This included a large renovation which is never easy.
    • 10 days before the home opener, the ice failed. They brought in a temporary ice rink, built it on the existing rink, and played on that all season.
    • There was a doorway that the players would need to walk through to get to the ice, and during construction, it was built too short. It was something that, thankfully, Tera caught.
  • Wintry is the creative services business that Tera started as an offshoot. It helps to engage their sponsors, get new clients, and keep great talent.
  • What can be done to help with retention of employees in sports? Create an environment with additional non-monetary benefits. Help employees feel joy!
  • Tera makes an effort to be at all of her daughters’ games/meets.
    • She thinks the reason there are so few women in hockey and other areas of sports is due to starting a  family.
    • It’s hard. Sometimes you unravel
  • Being self-aware of your own limitations and reactions to stress related to trying to do all the things is a really important.
  • Tera carves out one hour a day for yoga. In addition, each one of the staff members has a membership at a gym and they are all mandated to use it each day.
  • Bobbi-Sue talks about goat yoga… again. And then they both talk about wanting to go to cat yoga.
  • Tera has two famous cats: Rick and Cheeto. This turns into a long convo about Rick and Cheeto, Bobbi-Sue’s two cats, and the bright line “crazy cat person” rule. No one has use for birds or fish as pets.
  • There was a “Caturday” promotion at the Checkers last year and this blows Bobbi-Sue’s mind.
  • Our quirkiness makes us the great people we are!
  • Sports Business Journal is based in Charlotte, they have lots of mentoring and event opportunities.
  • Tera also has a group of female business leaders that she meets up with from time to time.
  • Bobbi-Sue and Tera talk about the LTPF Tribe and how these relationships end up being lifelong.

Quotable moments:

  • “I can figure it out. It can’t be that complicated, right?”
  • “It has never felt like work to me”
  • “I believe vehemently and fiercely that surrounding yourself by great people is the success to life and every category of it.”
  • “I’ve been in Charlotte for 11 years as a result of great people, great ownership, and really, truly loving, loving my job!”
  • “In any given day, somebody can throw the mascot costume on and head on out to shake hands at a school carpool line. I’m proud to say that I think the majority of my staff have done that at one point or another.”
  • “In leadership, it’s not about the final product. It’s how you get to the final product that makes a great leadership team.”
  • “Duck!”
  • “Like every business, we are facing the characteristics of the millennial generation.”
  • “You can have all the right people on the bus, and making sure they’re in the right seat is the second level of leadership.”
  • “When they feel joy, they work harder.”
  • “Sometimes it’s like you have too many tabs open on your computer but that’s in your brain. And it just crashes.”
  • “Nobody knows how hard that somedays I struggle to be really great at all things. And the expectation that you can do that is really unreasonable but I worry about my reputation as a parent to my kids, my reputation as a leader to my staff, my reputation as the person that our owner has put me in charge of his asset. And if they knew how uncertain I feel at this one moment, I fear it will damage my reputation. I worry about that a lot, unnecessarily.”
  • “We had our first Caturday last year.”

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