By Cheryl Powell
Beacon Journal business writer
Former Atlanta Braves pitcher John Smoltz was used to hearing the crack of the bat or the smack of a fastball hitting a glove as the usual background noises of his business.
When he spoke to his agent, Molly Fletcher, years ago as she raced to meet another client at a golf course, he couldn’t place the sound he heard coming from her end of the phone.
“Molly, what is that sound?” he asked.
Fletcher, a working mother of three with an infant at the time, didn’t realize her star client could hear her breast pump gently whirling as she tried to multi-task during her drive.
“I’m pumping,” she explained.
“Wow,” he responded, “I didn’t need that visual.”
Balancing the careers of top athletes and coaches with the needs of her family is just par for the course for Fletcher, a sports agent, author and speaker from Atlanta who has been nicknamed “the female Jerry Maguire.”
Fletcher shared her experiences as a female leader in the male-dominated world of sports during the Executive Women’s Day held on Tuesday as part of the Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club.
About 200 women executives from throughout the region attended the event, which is sponsored by Astellas pharmaceutical company as part of a partnership with pro golf to promote women’s health.
During her talk, Fletcher encouraged the female business leaders to believe in their abilities and to not be afraid to try new things.
She recalled when Smoltz agreed to switch from being a starting pitcher to a closer — a change that’s the equivalent of a marathon runner trying to becoming a sprinter.
In he end, she said, he succeeded in both roles.
“He believed in himself and he grew because he got out of his comfort zone,” she said. “We have to embrace, at the core of life, change.”
Fletcher said she learned the importance of relationships and getting to know clients as people from an experience with one high-profile client: University of Florida men’s basketball head coach Billy Donovan.
In 2007, she worked with Donovan to help him land what she thought was his dream job as head coach of the Orlando Magic. He had been talking for some time about wanting to make the move to the NBA, so she helped him nail down a great job with a great contract.
But the morning after the contract was signed and news conferences were held to announce his new job, he called her to say he changed his mind. He didn’t want to leave the University of Florida after all.
In hindsight, she said, she realized she never talked to him in depth about whether he really wanted to leave college basketball and how his family felt about the switch.
“The experience taught me I have to pull back and slow down and look at each and every relationship not as a transaction,” she said.
Rather than trying to be more like the men in her field, Fletcher said, she’s learned to embrace what makes her different as a wife and mother as well as businesswoman.
She often lands business by getting to know the athletes’ wives, she said. And she’s been known to send gift baskets to prospective clients filled with their favorite candies — something she said her male counterparts probably wouldn’t do.
“For me, it was finding ways to be really different from everybody else and using those differences,” she said.
Tuesday’s event also featured a panel discussion with women business leaders, including Jennifer Bell, resident managing director and chief executive of Aon Risk Solutions Northeast Inc.; Carol Stiff, vice president of content program and integration for espnW, a content and digital business initiative for women; and Dr. Vivian von Gruenigen, medical director of women’s health services for Summa Health System. WKYC (Channel 3) meteorologist Betsy Kling served as the moderator.
Cheryl Powell can be reached at 330-996-3902 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Powell on Twitter at twitter.com/abjcherylpowell.