Make Your Next Career Move a Slam Dunk: A Madison Square Garden Exec and Gap Alum Talks Speaking Up, Making Jumps

Gap Inc.

At the heart of any good company, there are always great employees who grow and flex their full potential under great leadership and guidance. No one exemplifies the kind of leader that makes more great leaders more than Nancy Danahy, SVP of People Acquisition at Madison Square Garden and Gap Inc. alum. She’s tasked with building strong teams and empowering her people to not only live the mission of their company, but also live their full potential.

We sat down with Nancy and to hear her advice for being the kind of leader that brings out the best in people, find out the best career advice she ever received, and even hear her advice on how to find your next job.

SVP of People Acquisition at Madison Square Garden is a pretty cool (not to mention, one of a kind) job. How did you get there?  
As I look back on what got me to where I am today, a big part of it was Gap Inc.! I was there for 13 years, and during that time I took on so many different roles, and at one point or another supported each of the brands. I was always learning new things and layering on new responsibilities to my current position. I started as a Search Specialist and worked my way up to the Director of HR for Gap. I fell in love with recruiting because it sits at the center of everything I love doing, which is meeting talent, developing people, and leading teams. After leaving Gap, I worked for another retailer before I got a great opportunity to work at MSG.

How do you build great teams and be a great leader at the same time?
You have to be humble and authentic. I maintain a “we’re all in this together” attitude with my team. I have my own workload, and my team has theirs, too. Ultimately, I look to hire people that are better than me - people who can do things I can’t do - so they can teach us all how to do great work. I also think it’s important to set clear deliverables and expectations. We’re all marching towards the same drum of driving results. Lastly (but certainly not least), I always look for diversity in my team, to push the boundaries of each of our perspectives. It’s important we’re not just talking to ourselves.

What have you learned the most from your time at Madison Square Garden?
It’s an obvious one, but I definitely had to learn about sports because my all-time favorite pastime is shopping. Although an understanding and love of sports wasn’t a must-have for this job, it was necessary for me to understand where sports and business come together to drive revenue. So I started picking up the sports column in the paper. My dad would have been so proud!


How do you navigate corporate America as a female leader? Any advice for other women hoping to rise in the ranks
Listen, I don’t change my approach because I’m female. The advice I have for women (and really anyone) is to understand your business and know where you add value. Be mindful of your communication and communicate with conviction. It’s important to know your skillset and collaborate with others to get the work done. I came into the sports industry, and I didn’t know much about it. But I do know how to recruit, and that’s what MSG hired me for, so I learned the rest along the way.

What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received?
I had a manager at Gap tell me that I needed to be more vocal at meetings. That boss was all about encouraging everyone to use his or her voice. After getting that feedback, I was very deliberate about talking in each meeting and making sure I was contributing. That feedback was critical to my growth in my career. We all have value we add, and it’s important as leaders to lift your employees up and remind them that their opinion matters and that they have something to say.

What has been your biggest career failure? What did you learn from it?
I joined a company that wasn’t a great culture match for me, and I knew it instantaneously. I learned that you can take your skillset and plop it into a company, but if the culture doesn’t match, it won’t work long-term. I’ll never forget that feeling.

In your role, you hire people all the time … what advice do you have for someone looking for a new job in today’s market?
Keep culture in mind. You have more power than you think. It’s a candidate market out there so be mindful that culture is everything. Ask a lot of questions about the company, and see if you’re feeling a connection in your interviews.

Network! Attend conferences and events, even if you’re happy in your current role.

Study up. Use all of the info out there to your advantage. If you have a specific company or job in mind, visit job boards and research how those companies talk about themselves and what those jobs require. If you have those attributes and skill sets, you should talk that up in your resume!

With unemployment so low, and the war for talent high, what does it take for a company to win great talent?
You need to have a good brand proposition and a solid growth strategy. Then it all goes back to social media and marketing tools to make sure people understand what the brand is doing. For us at MSG, we are fortunate to have a great brand that people know, and love, and already want to come work for. People love Madison Square Garden because of what it stands for, and the memories that were built here, and people want to be a part of that.

What’s the coolest part about working in the business of people?
Being in People Acquisition allows us to be on the frontline of what the business is doing because we’re finding the talent that develops and brings that strategy to life. We’re growing and scaling and always looking at new ways to conduct business. I’m excited for the opportunity to help build a great company by hiring great people. If you don’t have the right designers at Gap, you won’t have great product. It’s the same for us at MSG, it’s the same at any company. You need great people to make a company thrive.

Nancy’s dedication to her people truly inspires us, and we at Gap Inc. are proud to be a part of her career journey. Speaking of careers, we’re hiring! You can check out our open positions here.
 

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