Gabby Kitney – The corporate athlete #IWD2023
Gabby Kitney is the Head of Marketing – North America at The SR Group and has been working within the marcomms field for over ten years having worked for brands like Vistra, CFA Institute and Deloitte. But long before getting into marcomms, she started playing field hockey at the age of six – going on to play for the national Hong Kong team for over a decade. Gabby played in numerous FIH tournaments across Asia, as well as in various friendlies against teams warming up on their way to the Beijing Olympics. Throughout school and university, she was also involved in competitive football, boxing, athletics and cross country. Although injury meant pivoting her approach to competitive sport, she continued to both play and coach hockey in Hong Kong and now in New York.
What have sports meant to you?
Playing sport and being part of the sporting community has been integral to where I am today. I’m constantly in awe of what sport – particularly my involvement in hockey – has done for both my personal and professional journey. Sport, and its core values have moulded me, as well as provided me with a much-needed release to ensure my mental and physical health have always been in a relatively good state. And, if not in some ways most importantly, sport has given me some of my greatest friends and colleagues – who have quickly become family.
Recently, I once again experienced the true power of sport. After moving across the world to a city where I knew very few people – settling in was made so much easier after I went down to a pick-up hockey game on the Friday after Thanksgiving. Although I’d only been here seven days and that evening it was the coldest conditions I’d ever played in – I quickly went on to meet friends that I now consider to be my New York family. I honestly don’t know where I’d be without sport.
What characteristics do you think female athletes possess that translate well to leadership in a corporate environment?
There are so many, but I think the ones that I’ve really benefitted from are anticipation and resilience. Like in every game of hockey, you need to be anticipating they next play – whether that’s where you need to be to support your teammates, what the opposition are going to do or where you need to pass the ball next – the key is anticipation, whilst also realising that you may not always get it right. I think this translates well in any function or industry, but it’s definitely been advantageous in marketing and communications – staying ahead of the game, trying to predict the next move to keep an audience engaged and in particular, in PR – making sure you can predict and prevent possible PR nightmares from occurring…
Female athletes also develop a true resilience and ability to really hold their own – the constant feedback loop and mindset of always showing up, no matter the mood you’re in, helps you quickly build a thick skin. As you would playing sport, in the corporate world, you always strive to be better, accept feedback constructively and quickly get up when you get knocked down. The experience you gain from playing sport, particularly team sport, is invaluable and something I don’t think you can learn elsewhere.
What lesson have you learned the hard way?
I’ve learnt you can’t always be at 110% and you need to know when to rest. Giving it all you’ve got all the time is not sustainable, whether that be on the pitch or at a desk. Whilst you always want to be giving your best – you need to know when 110% is necessary, and when to sometimes take a step back, show up and give what you can. And then at times when you just need to fully step back and reset. Having had two knee ops well before turning 30 – the second one predominantly because I didn’t take the time and rest I needed after the first – I learnt the hard way how important this is. I had a similar situation during the pandemic at work where I just took on too much and as a result everything suffered – my performance and my health. We’re only human and whilst it can be scary taking a step back, within the right team, you’ll always have the support to do so.
What is the main lesson you have learned from the sporting world that has contributed to the success in your corporate life?
Communication. On the pitch, there is nothing worse than quiet – you’ve got no idea what’s going on and more often than not, this will see a team fall. You need to have constant communication – words of encouragement and direction. You need feedback afterwards so you know what you can do to be even better or maintain your performance the next time round, and you can’t take things personally – what happens on the pitch, stays on the pitch. With that being said, there is a way to offer feedback and direction, and it doesn’t ever need to be done in a hurtful or really negative way. At work, I’m constantly reminded that communication is key – whether that’s keeping stakeholders in the loop so they know you’re working with them as a team to deliver what they need, or communicating with peers and teammates so you nurture your relationships so you that can most effectively work together. Without good communication, you’ll never truly be a team, but just be a group of individuals that happen to be trying to achieve the same thing.
Do you have a go-to quote that gives you inspiration in your sports and/or professional life?
On International Women’s Day… and the other 364 days of the year:
There’s no such thing as a ‘girl’ push-up.
Please note that all commentary and opinions provided are those of the individual, and not the organization/company.