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Katie O'Reilly's cool job: Philadelphia 76ers CMO

Katie O'Reilly always comes into work smiling ear to ear. And how could she not? She grew up in the City of Brotherly Love as a die-hard fan of all things Philly, from cheesesteaks to sports teams, and is now working as chief marketing officer of the Philadelphia 76ers.

Luck has nothing to do with it. Mentorship, encouraging debate and diversity, taking the "why not" approach and never letting her inner athlete disappear contributed to O'Reilly's success in leading the team's branding and business development as a C-suite level executive only 11 years after graduating from the University of Michigan.

The 2016 Philadelphia Business Journal "40 Under 40" honoree is now entering her fifth year in which she oversaw corporate business development for the team's new 150,000-square-foot training complex, including the creation, development and launch of the Sixers Innovation Lab Crafted by Kimball, on which she currently holds a position on the board of governors. Additionally, she spearheaded the creation of the 76ers Legends Walk -- commissioned sculptures of past 76ers greats.

"What I love about working here is that no day is like the other and today is a perfect example," O'Reilly said."We unveiled our fifth sculpture on the 76ers Legends Walk, which was of Bobby Jones. Bobby and his entire family came out for the sculpture unveiling, and that excites not only us but the community as well."

Before joining the 76ers, she held positions with the NBA's team marketing and business operations (TMBO) group where she first started working with then-NBA executives Scott O'Neil and Christopher Heck, who currently work as the 76ers CEO and president, respectively. Having kept in touch with O'Neil and Heck, both called her in 2013 to return home to join them as the Sixers' director of business development. In less than a year, she was promoted to vice president and then, over time, worked her way up to senior vice president of business development and marketing and into her current role as CMO.

Earlier in her career, O'Reilly served as director of partnership marketing for Insignia Sports & Entertainment and the national program director for IMG College, where she oversaw the sales-development team responsible for creating national programs and media plans for corporate partnerships across 70-plus Division I university athletic departments and conferences.

"Trust the Process" is a 76ers mantra that easily bleeds through the Philly native, and it's one she has lived by even before it became a slogan that Joel Embiid coined. Ahead of Sunday's Sixers-Wizards game (8 p.m. ET/ESPN), O'Reilly shared her journey and the lessons she has gained from it.

Here is her story, in her words:

Women should run the world


It doesn't matter who you are, where you come from or even your background. What matters is how hard you work and what you put into that work. Anyone can change the world or their organization just by their passion and dedication. (But I still feel women should run the world.)

The key to success is diversity



I oversee all of marketing from branding, advertisement, social media and content in my group. It's really fun because I get to see and be a part of everything that the Sixers touch and feel, and every extension and activation of our brand. The key to success for me has been surrounding myself with diverse people because it keeps our energy high with fresh perspectives and ways of going about things. We all share the same DNA of being passionate about the Sixers, working hard and having fun.

Encourage debate and be a sponge


It's so important to listen to others' opinions. Scott O'Neil and Chris Heck really push the organization to do that by encouraging debate. You have to be a sponge and craft your opinion over time. Great ideas come from anyone and anywhere -- it doesn't matter the gender, title or background. We have about 65 recent college graduates on our staff selling tickets and we pull them into our brainstorming meetings all of the time.

The best advice that I've ever received is to be open-minded. I think it's great if you come out of college knowing that you want to be a GM of a team, but I also feel there's value in not knowing exactly what you want to be because then you're taking every experience as an opportunity to learn something and make learning as the catalyst in creating your career path.

Mentorship can come full circle to a dream job


One of my first jobs out of college was with the NBA league where I formed relationships with Scott and Chris, who also worked in the league office in NYC. Even after I left the NBA and started working for IMG, I maintained those relationships because they continued to teach me and help me grow in my career. They ended up bringing me in as the team's director of business development. Both had called me asking me to join the organization even though they weren't exactly sure what my role would be at first, but they knew how I worked and that I was an authentic Philly fan who knew the Philly sports landscape that could push the business model to another level.

Working at the NBA is like getting your MBA


The league is an incredible organization with thought leaders and innovators. You learn the business from top to bottom -- ticket-sales programs, sponsorships and marketing, you name it. You truly learn the business and understand the initiatives that drive the games as a brand and globally forward.

There's a number of us here at the Sixers who met while working at the league. On the TMBO side, you work with all of the teams and help each other with ideas and best practices. A lot of my day-to-day at the league was finding something great that a team was doing and sharing it with another team. On the team side, we're so deep in our market and brand that you're seeing it live and it enhances your perspective from that.

Growing up in Philly, I was bred a sports fan


When you grow up in Philly, for the most part, you are bred a sports fan. Then I went to study at the University of Michigan where you're bred to be a sports fan there too. So sports was just in my DNA from the start. And then, I was able to leverage my network from the University of Michigan to land my first opportunity [with Madison Square Garden in their ticket sales department].

I feel that sports professionals have the dream job because we get to be business professionals but also talk sports all day. How lucky are we that we have this amazing opportunity to not only steward this brand, but use the sports platform to also change lives and create experiences to change a community? We have an incredible spotlight that we can make an impact with.

Success comes from fan impact


Obviously, in sports we want to win games, and there's traditional metrics to measure success, but if we're having fun and making fans happy that's what really matters. Some days we may not hit a sales number but we bring a family to a game, take them on the court to get their picture taken and it then becomes an unforgettable experience for them. Those are the best moments. It's important to have that perspective with the seeming-like little things that we do.

Being an athlete never leaves you


Growing up playing sports at The Shipley School taught me more than I realized as a kid. I was a captain for the basketball and lacrosse teams and a member of the soccer team. Some of my favorite memories are from playing sports. It gave me confidence and the ability to work on a team as a captain and a teammate. Being an athlete never leaves you and continues to follow you into your career.

The Eagles win was contagious


It has been absolutely incredible for the city after the Eagles won the Super Bowl. On social media, a lot of the Sixers players wore Eagles jerseys and watched the game. We have a great relationship with the Eagles and all of Philly teams; we truly embody being the city of Brotherly Love. We believe Philly is the best sports town in the world, so to be able to celebrate that as a city continues to be amazing.
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