More than seven months after Lisa Borders stepped down as president, the WNBA has found its new top executive.
Deloitte CEO Cathy Engelbert will serve as the commissioner of the WNBA beginning July 17, taking over the league at a pivotal moment in its history. Not only is the WNBA in the midst of labor negotiations, with its current deal expiring on Halloween, but the league is also in the early stages of rebranding itself in an attempt to increase revenue and expand its audience ahead of the 2019 season, which begins May 24.
Engelbert, who was the first woman to lead one of the country’s “Big Four” professional service firms, consisting of Deloitte, Ernst & Young, PricewaterhouseCoopers and KPMG, is also the first WNBA commissioner. Her four predecessors — Val Ackerman, Donna Orender, Laurel Richie and Borders — all had the title of president, though Engelbert said in a teleconference with reporters Wednesday that the role won’t be drastically different.
“First of all, I'm honored and humbled to have that title, I think it comes with enormous responsibility,” Engelbert said. “ … It's a seat at the table that's important with the conversation around women in parity, and I'm very proud to hold that and understand that it comes with a lot of responsibility.”
Like her predecessors, Engelbert will report to NBA Commissioner Adam Silver when she joins the league in July upon the conclusion of her four-year stretch running Deloitte. The NBA owns 50 percent of the WNBA, with the rest of the ownership divided among the league’s 12 teams.
“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,” 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.”
Engelbert, 54, has been at Deloitte since the mid-1980s, rising through company ranks after starting as an accountant following her graduation from Lehigh University, where she captained the basketball and lacrosse teams.
As for her basketball pedigree, Engelbert said the sport runs in the family. She played under Hall of Fame coach Muffet McGraw at Lehigh before McGraw led Notre Dame to two NCAA championships. Engelbert’s father played for the Hall of Famer Jack Ramsay at Saint Joseph’s before being drafted by the Detroit Pistons in 1957.
In its announcement Wednesday, the WNBA highlighted Engelbert’s business acumen, citing Deloitte’s 30 percent revenue growth during her tenure as CEO, as well as her commitment to diversity, inclusion and more progressive policies such as a 16-week family leave allowance that was instated while she was CEO.
Stances like that should give WNBA players some confidence as they seek higher pay and better working conditions, among other things, during collective bargaining negotiations. Engelbert said Wednesday she has already met with the WNBA Players Association.