Kate Madigan’s path to the New Jersey Devils’ front office was partly laid in ice, though not in the way you might assume.
Unlike her dad Jim, a veteran of hockey, a longtime NHL scout, former college coach, and the current athletic director at his alma mater, Northeastern, Kate’s youthful playing career lasted all of one day. Instead, she was happier spending her ice time in figure skates, eager to follow not the career path of her dad, but the exploits of her sister, Kelly. Older by two years, it was Kelly who set the bar that Kate wanted to clear, or as their dad would put it, “Kelly kind of paved the way for her all the way through.”
“We were always around sports, but anything she did, I did, too,” Kate said. “French immersion program in elementary school? She did French, so I did French. She played soccer, so I did soccer. She was a figure skater, so I was, too. She said, ‘I’m going to run track at Northeastern,’ so I did that, too. She was a role model. Anything she did, I wanted to do, too.”
As time passed, and the years of success in junior skating gave way to rising track careers at Milton High School and then similar running prowess for the Huskies (Kelly as a sprinter, Kate clearing hurdles), their paths would diverge.
Now, Kate is busy breaking ground of her own.
With a recent promotion to assistant general manager with the Devils, Kate joins the small but growing club of women in the front office suites of professional sports. Where the NBA, MLB, and NFL have gone before, so now is the NHL catching up. For Madigan, a 29-year-old former accountant with a deep résumé of experience with the Devils, the timing of the wave is perfect.
That she is able to catch it is first a credit to her skill set, to the concepts of teamwork and cooperation forged through lifelong experience in sports. Beyond that, it’s a testament to the team she grew up with, to the family that shares the same values, that supports the same dreams, that meets her at the door of the Four Seasons for a visiting game against the Bruins with a Dunkin’ iced coffee in hand and the family dog, Sandi, in tow, the family that traveled to hockey games from Lake Placid to Pittsburgh to Montreal and elsewhere, always with the girls along to absorb it all.
To the Madigan clan, that makes it all fun: Dad Jim, whose playing career nickname “Mad Dog” has since been translated to all of them. He is now Maddog, mom Kim is Madcat, Kelly is Madkitten, Kate is Madpup — and still in progress are names for Kelly’s husband, Eamonn Burke, as well as the baby they are expecting in September.
“We are definitely a team of five,” Kelly said from her office at Reebok, where she turned her final undergraduate co-op into a now decade-long career with the company, serving as a senior manager in partnerships and activations.
“With Kate, obviously the first word is just impressed, right?” Kelly said. “We see it every day. I think a lot of time with sports, people see the glamorous things, thinking, ‘Oh, you’re in sports, you work for Reebok, that’s so cool.’ They don’t see the hours and hours. And hours. Last week I was visiting Kate, she’s working till 11, back in the office at 8, on a call on the ride home, and she’s doing it with such confidence.
“She hasn’t lost what she was when she was that little figure skater who was so charismatic, that bubbly personality. A lot of times, with women especially, that means they don’t appear to be strong. Or if they’re too strong, then we’re bossy or bitchy. She is still an excited little girl doing this, and not just to be a GM, but because she found her passion. She’s still very true to herself … She brings personality. That’s great for people to look up to.”
That the world looked up to a dais at the recent NHL Draft and saw Madigan making a pick for the Devils speaks not simply to her ongoing ascension, but also to expanding opportunity for women in the decision-making spaces in sports, a final frontier of sorts. From a major league GM or a minor league manager in baseball to an assistant coach in the NFL or NBA to the growing number of scouts and assistant GMs in all sports, the face of sports is finally changing.
“I think organizations are realizing there is value in the perspective women can bring in our industry. They’ve been doing it for years as CEOs of Fortune 500 companies and elsewhere. Why are we late to the game?” Jim said. “Overall, professional sports were late to the game, but hockey is just now catching up to the others …
“And who knows how far it can go? It’s a small percentage that gets to the top level, but it’s going to happen because there are too many inroads women have made. They’re providing value. When you provide value to an organization or ownership, they want to reward you.”
In other words, the ladder is there, slowly but steadily inching away from the glass ceilings, ready for someone such as Kate Madigan to keep on climbing.
“I’ve never seen myself, and this may sound bad, as an inspiration or a mentor,” she said. “I always kept my head down, worked hard. I love what I do. But I’ll get notes from my little cousins, or from people at [my old job at] Deloitte who have daughters, and they say how amazing it was seeing me on stage. I don’t see myself in that role, but I understand that I now am, and it’s a big responsibility and one I take seriously. For that younger generation, male or female, it opens eyes, opportunities.”
Keep on climbing.