Executive Profile: Natara Holloway, NFL Vice President Business Operations + Strategy

If you are a young woman hoping to someday lead an esports organization, a videogame company, guide a football club, or become an executive at a multinational entertainment conglomerate, Natara Holloway may have the equation on how to succeed in your dreams no matter where you want to go. 

Holloway initially joined the National Football League as an auditor, and 17 years and nine job titles later, she finds herself part of the NFL’s special operations team touching every aspect of the sport and finding innovative ways to improve it using analytics and new technology — including esports and gaming – while finding a balance that maintains the important traditions that fans value  She was the first black woman in the NFL’s history to be appointed to a vice president post at the league office, and has been consistently promoted since joining in 2004. 

But the funny part of this story is that Holloway never aspired to work for the NFL at all, let alone for 17 years. All she ever really wanted to do to focus on as a career was business. 

Oil & Gas, BBQ, and Football 

Hollway’s father spent more than 30 years as an officer in the Air Force, and so being a military kid, she moved around a lot growing up. Eventually, the family would settle in Texas, where she would be immersed in the state’s favorite pastime: football. 

“I grew up around football, love the game, and now I have an extreme appreciation for what it can do in communities like the one I grew up in, as well as [what it can do for] individuals who play,” Holloway said.

She joked about what’s important in Texas: “Oil & gas, and football. When I retire, I’m opening up a barbecue restaurant. That’s the Texas trifecta.”

While Holloway respected her father’s commitment to the military, she wanted to take a different path that focused on corporate America and accounting. In interviews, she is often fond of saying that if you cut her she would “bleed numbers.” 

“I’ve always had a mind for business; I was on the accounting team in high school, which is an unheard-of thing, but it was one of those things I did because I just love the industry of business,” Hollway said. “I’m from a very big military family and I wanted to do the opposite of that and go into corporate America.”

Pursuing that dream, she went to college at the University of Houston, earned a degree in accounting, and eventually landed at Exxon Mobile in its controller’s group doing audits. Holloway stayed in that position for more than five years, then at some point before February of 2004, the NFL came knocking.

One Year and I’ll Go Back Home

Holloway never expected at the time that she would stay there more than a year, because her career was going pretty well at the time, but as she settled into the NFL, she learned just how vast of a business professional football is and was fascinated by all the different components and moving parts of it. 

“When I got the offer to come to the NFL, I didn’t think that it was a long-term thing,” she said. “I thought I was going to actually move up to New York for one year and I’ve been at the league now for 17. But I just thought ‘Oh, I’ll take a brief year out of my career.’ I was doing really, really well in my career and I thought I would go up and do something fun in New York and come back.”

While she was working at the NFL crunching numbers, she became fascinated with forensic accounting, her interest piqued by the fraud that occurred at Enron. She thought about writing books about fraud, accounting, things about numbers and business. That changed when her mentors in the company gave her some career advice. Instead of chasing promotions, she should change her focus to how she could use her skillset to help improve the company.

“I had a mentor who really challenged me to ‘see outside of my calculator,’ if you will, and thought that I could do a lot more. A great mentor of mine said, “You know, explore other opportunities and don’t ever get attached to one thing.” Two of my mentors told me, “Don’t ever get attached to a role; you should really seek challenges.’ And that really shifted my thinking on my career. So I stopped pursuing the titles, the idea that ‘I want to be the SVP of X, Y, and Z.’”

This refocus of priorities would lead Hollway to her first VP position in the company (the first of many), NFL’s retail operations, youth football outreach, and then in 2019, her current role as vice president of business operations + strategy as a member of the special operations team. It is in this current role where Holloway helps the team of executives look at everything that touches the game of football and finds new and innovative ways to make it better for current and future fans. Part of that role includes working on initiatives that are related to gaming, esports, Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), diversity inside the league office, exploring new technologies that streamline the games we watch on TV, and analyzing the ways younger viewers consume content on streaming platforms such as Twitch.

Halloway said that, while her drive and ambition in each challenge she has tackled over the years at the league office has played a part in her success there (along with her accounting background and business acumen), the fostering environment at the NFL was also a key factor. 

“I think the NFL is extremely competitive, from the standpoint of there are a lot of individuals who were not like me, who understood that the NFL is a big business, and wanted to be there,” Hollway said. “I don’t think that I could’ve gotten as far as I have without somebody, without an environment that says, “OK, this young lady wants to do more, be more, see more. We’re going to have to give her that avenue to do that, work with her, and have her be a part of this as a value add.’ I have to have the drive, but I also have to have the environment that allows me to pursue new opportunities.”

At the end of the day, Holloway’s blueprint for success is fairly simple: don’t define yourself by your job title, take on new challenges, and work in an environment where your company values you as a person and understands that its workforce should be a representation of society and the customers that consume your product. 

And of course, having good mentors always helps. Halloway does this on a regular basis, talking to children in schools, college students, and athletes, trying to reach those who do not know all the opportunities that are available in and around the business of sports. Also seeing someone that looks like you speaks volumes to young people. 

“I just always try to make sure that I am speaking to that young Natara Holloway on the East side of Austin and trying to give her any pointer that I can to make sure that she’s getting exposed and getting awareness to what the possibilities are,” Halloway said. “Because I really do think that that’s a difference-maker in a lot of careers. What are you being exposed to? What are you being made aware of?  I  do a lot of work in the community focused around just that – people who may not be aware of what opportunities there are. Also, they can see me and know that they can be me, and be even better.”     

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