Why Deloitte CEO Cathy Engelbert was named WNBA commissioner

Engelbert takes over during one of the most pivotal times in the league’s 23-year history.

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Cathy Engelbert made history when she was named one of the Big Four’s first female CEO. She’s made more history with the WNBA.

The Deloitte CEO was hired as the commissioner of the WNBA on Wednesday, making her the first person to hold the new position, which was previously only had a title as president.

Engelbert, whose headed Deloitte since 2005, replaces Lisa Borders, who stepped down as WNBA President in October. Engelbert takes over during one of the most pivotal times in the league’s 23-year history as it’s currently in labor negotiations and in the midst of a rebrand to reinvigorate interest.


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“I wanted to do something different, something with a broad women’s leadership platform, and something I had a passion for,” Engelbert said in a Q&A with the WNBA’s website. “This was a really good match where I thought I could bring my business leadership skills for over three decades to the WNBA and really drive a platform for these women, the owners, coaches. I’m really excited and it was just a really good match. Hopefully, we’ll be something where my business leadership skills and my women’s leadership platform that I’ve been able to build for the past couple of decades will be very much of use.”

Engelbert said she wants to bring the same passion she’s had in her past endeavors to the new position, which starts on July 17 when her term as Deloitte’s CEO comes to an end.

She captained both the college basketball and women’s lacrosse teams at Lehigh.

“Cathy is a world-class business leader with a deep connection to women’s basketball, which makes her the ideal person to lead the WNBA into its next phase of growth,” said NBA commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement. “The WNBA will benefit significantly from her more than 30 years of business and operational experience including revenue generation, sharp entrepreneurial instincts, and proven management abilities.

“With Cathy’s hiring, we wanted to signal to the broadest possible audience that the WNBA is a major league and that she has the same status as the heads of other U.S.-based sports leagues.”

The WNBA’s current collective bargaining agreement ends on Oct. 31, after the league’s players opted out of the current agreement last season. In an attempt to rebrand itself, the league snatched up AT&T as its top sponsor while creating a new logo and inking Nike as its uniform supplier. The WNBA also announced an agreement with CBS Sports Network to broadcast its games last month.

“We have world-class athletes, most of them are college graduates. The voice they can have, the strength of their convictions and their voice,” Engelbert said. “Obviously we live in a divisive society. Why not the women of the WNBA, that voice, especially at a pivotal time around women’s leadership where there’s a lot of conversation in the marketplace around how important it is to have role models, to thrive in a man’s world that everyone talks about.”

Deloitte announced it had elected Joseph Ucuzoglu as its new CEO in March.


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Kyle Schnitzer|is a reporter for Ladders and can be reached at kschnitzer@theladders.com.