Smarties, it is my pleasure to introduce you to Tera Black. Tera is the Chief Operating Officer of the Charlotte Checkers. She is the only female COO in the American Hockey League!! My daughters met Tera recently and were awed that she got to “boss all those boys”. What impresses me is her commitment to sport and to making the Checkers a vital part of this community. She is present at the games, community events and even recently danced with the NC Dance Theatre’s Dancing with the Stars of Charlotte. Let’s learn more about Tera.
Married to: Jamie Black
Children: Hayley, 10 and Cassidy, 5
Years in Charlotte: Almost 7
‘Hood: Myers Park
Alma Mater: San Diego State University
How did you enter the business of pro Sports?
My degree is in Kinesiology and I started my career as an athletic trainer for a team in Sacramento. I have been in hockey my entire professional career which in June will be 18 years.
You grew up in CA, not exactly the first place you think of when you think hockey. So have you always been a hockey fan?
I have actually. Well as long as I have been a fan of sports anyway. I probably really started paying attention in my college years. Although I grew up in California, it was not the beachy part. I was born in Mammoth Lakes- a ski resort town in the Eastern Sierras. I learned to skate very young on frozen lakes in the mountains.
How do you navigate being a female executive in what is historically a very male dominated field?
Truly, I make the gender thing a non-issue. I try very hard to bring the best possible business practices to the table no matter who is sitting there. In my case, the table tends to be filled with a higher percentage of males. It seems, more times than not that the advantage of being a female is that I tend to have a very different perspective on the business of hockey, specifically when it comes to the marketing, CR, PR and approach to branding. Having success applying different approaches in these areas of business is how any person earns credibility, regardless of gender.
Do you have a mentor and if so who?
I have a couple. My husband first and foremost is my moral, ethical and business barometer. He played pro-hockey for many years. Left home to play junior hockey at 17 and has been in and around the business for a very long time. He allows me the luxury of bouncing ideas off of him before I bring them to the table for discussion and/or implementation. Craig Billington, Vice President of Player Development/Minor League Operations for the Colorado Avalanche has been a very steady source of good advice for almost a decade. Colorado was our NHL affiliate when I ran the team in San Diego and since then Craig has shared knowledge and insight that I refer to on a regular basis.
You have accomplished a lot in your career. What has changed since you became a mom?
My priorities. Parenthood is a gift and a privilege. Our first daughter Natalie was stillborn. She was perfect in every way and we lost her to a cord accident. And while that experience changed us forever, it also gave us the inexplicable insight on just how precious life is. We would not ultimately see our 2nd daughter Hayley born until 2 years later and the moment she arrived my priorities would forever be shifted. My kids and my family come first. Always. The owner of the Checkers, Michael Kahn is also a family man and has young children. He has given me the wonderful gift of flexibility so that I can continue to be a mom in the midst of all of my work responsibility. Truly, I think my girls are the most unique, wonderful, beautiful creatures on earth. They inspire me, they make me laugh, they make me cry and they make it all worth it.
The Checkers have become family must-do in Charlotte and work hard to connect within the community. How do you foster that philanthropy and promote it team wide?
It starts with ownership. I mentioned Michael in the previous paragraph as he is genuinely one of a kind. When Michael bought the team almost 7 years ago he did so because he loved the game, he loves this city and he saw the potential of what this team in partnership with the community could do for the people who live here.
How do you balance work and motherhood?
I have a great husband and a great boss. My husband is supportive of the time it takes for me to fulfill my responsibilities at work and the owner of the team is supportive of the time that I need to be very active in all aspects of my children’s lives. I also have an incredible staff. Good people in every aspect of life is the key to happiness and balance. Thinking you can do it alone is crazy, there would be absolutely no way.
What is the favorite part of your job?
2 things… I love the fact that we are what people choose as their entertainment option. It is so awesome to see families dancing in the stands, kids and parents both going crazy on the scoreboard… We see people on dates and people who have been married for 50 years at our games. We see bachelor/bachelorette parties, and kid’s birthday parties… We see elementary schools singing the anthems, and charitable organizations raising much needed funds. And I LOVE what we are able to do with the members of our community in terms of fundraising, outreach, volunteering, etc. Our community relations initiatives don’t run just through a department within the organization. It is the foundation of each and every employee’s job description.
What advice would you give to other girls/women who are interested in Sports Management?
Get an internship as soon as you are able. I started as an intern and worked in that capacity for the better part of 2 years before getting an actual paying job in the business. Close to 30% of our full time staff currently started as interns with the Checkers, including our Sr. Vice President Shawn Lynch. There is nothing better than real life experience to truly understand how the business works. As much as textbooks are valuable, immersing yourself in the inner workings of a sports team will be key not only to establishing relationships early on, but becoming a valuable, experienced asset as you look for employment. For women specifically, be confident and know what you are talking about which really leads back to internships. The more experience you have the more valuable you are.
What is the most important advice ever given to you both professionally and as a mom?
My Mom probably gave me the best piece of personal advice. It was at a time when I quite literally could not get my work-life balance in check. I was feeling guilty for not being at home enough over a long stretch of games. She told me, “you should only feel guilty for things you do wrong. Providing for your family in the best way that you know how is not doing anything wrong.” I refer to that all the time and constantly work to improve the balance. I am in a great place now with that, but it certainly took time to do. Professionally, the best advice I ever got, especially in sports, is that criticism, especially the constructive kind is NEVER personal. Understanding that is the best way to grow and to improve.
Now for the fun stuff…
Favorite place to take the family for a weekend away from Charlotte?
Lake Lure, where Dirty Dancing was filmed.
Minivan or SUV?
Neither, station wagon baby.
Favorite Date nightspot or Date night in?
Good Food on Montford.
Favorite Family activity?
We go to Freedom Park a lot, probably 4-5 times a week. We go to the Nature Museum, the playgrounds, the pond. It is one of our favorite places to hang out especially in the Spring and Fall. We are also a big supporter of Bad Daddy’s.
Family’s favorite homemade dinner?
This is tough because I am the worst in the kitchen so I don’t really ever make dinner… My husband is the cook and makes a really great Carne Asada that everyone loves. If I am in charge of dinner, the girls are happy when it’s not cereal.
If you could trade bodies with any celebrity who would it be and why?
After watching the Summer Olympics in London, I decided that the beach volleyball players have the perfect bodies. They are strong, healthy and usually tan. Misty May Treanor would be a great trade. She looks great.
What was your favorite childhood book that you now share with your children?
I have this old, torn up book called “What’s in your Shopping Bag?.” Both girls loved it when they were 3-4 years old. Now that my 10 year old is an avid reader, she has read all of my old-school Nancy Drew books. She loved them!
What do you think your children will be when they grow up?
Hayley will be something involved with science, probably a veterinarian or biologist of some sort. Cassidy is off the hook and loves to perform. She has no fear whatsoever so she may do something performance based.
I understand you like the hair bands. Song that you will always rock out to?
Guns and Roses, Sweet Child O’ Mine. I listen to it more frequently than I should probably admit.
Finish this sentence: “In ten years I hope to be…”
…as thoroughly happy as I am today.
Great to see you here, Tera! Your story is beautiful. Thank you for sharing your family with Smarty Charlotte!