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Constance Schwartz on What She’s Learned from 25 years in Male-Dominated Industries

Photo by Lily Ro

Entertainment

Constance Schwartz on What She’s Learned from 25 years in Male-Dominated Industries

Constance Schwartz practically defines “tough as nails.” The Yonkers native and co-founder of SMAC Entertainment has been thriving in male-dominated industries for more than 25 years. In the 1990s, Schwartz spent a decade as a marketing and branding executive at the NFL. After working her way up the NFL hierarchy, she transitioned into the world of hip-hop; managing Snoop Dogg, no less (who recently called Schwartz’s 91-year-old mother up on stage for a personalized shout-out).

In 2010, after amassing two decades of experience, Schwartz co-founded SMAC Entertainment (Sports, Music, and Cinema) with NFL retiree and television personality Michael Strahan. SMAC Entertainment serves as a “multi-dimensional talent management, music, branding, and production company.” Through SMAC, Schwartz produced the critically acclaimed Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Sports Awards as well as multiple sports-themed HBO Documentaries including Play it Forward. She also launched Michael Strahan’s clothing and accessory lines, Collection and MSX.

After speaking with Schwartz, it’s no surprise she’s sitting on top of an empire: She doesn’t take crap from anyone (not even NFL hall-of-famer Lawrence Taylor) and she always takes time to listen to those around her. Despite Schwartz’s never-stopping schedule, she still went out of her way to ask me about myself during our interview. No matter how high she rises, she’s the kind of person who makes everyone around her feel seen. Perhaps that’s why she shines so brightly.

Here’s what Schwartz had to say about her career, mentorship, and her advice for women rising up and seeking leadership:

Did you always know you wanted to work in entertainment?

No! It’s actually a funny story. I was a marketing major in college and the companies I got most excited about were advertising agencies. When I graduated, I was hellbent on being in the ad industry. When I started doing a job search, I learned I had to take a typing test. And I don’t mean on a computer — I mean on an old-school typewriter! They put an egg timer right next to the typewriter and you had to type 60 words per minute, and this was before they’d even let you through the door to be interviewed. I just couldn’t type under pressure. I had no problem starting from the bottom; getting coffee or typing or whatever. I just couldn’t type under pressure. So that was the end of my advertising career.

I went back to my headhunter and told him I couldn’t get through the door. When he was going through the job listings, one was for the NFL. I was super excited. I said, “I majored in marketing, I love sports, that’s where I should be.” But they didn’t have an opening at the time, so I took a different job for six months. I learned to type under pressure, and learned a whole different aspect of business. Then I went back to the headhunter and said, “get me into the NFL.” And it was all about timing, because they happened to have an opening in the corporate sponsorships department. And that’s how I got started.

Was there ever a time when you were in a career struggle, or were unsure of yourself?

I think we’re always in career struggles and unsure of ourselves. The one moment that sticks out for me was when I was at the NFL. I had a couple different bosses, and one of them — we just didn’t always see eye to eye. And I’m not a crier by any means, but I think as a woman, when we do cry it’s more out of frustration than being emotional. I just hit that boiling point. And I was in the bathroom having a meltdown. And my female boss, who was one of my heroes and role models and who I’m still close to ‘til this day, came in and said “if this is where you think your future is — in the NFL or in sports and entertainment — you do not let one person take you off your path. You get through this and I promise you, you’ll look back on this moment in your career as a pimple on your ass. Don’t stop.”

I’ll forever remember what I was wearing and where the bathroom was. I was just super grateful to her. Because it was the truth. In that moment, you don’t think there’s a tomorrow. You just think “that’s it — I’m quitting.” But those words stayed with me and I’ve used them over and over again.

What are you working on now?

The main things right now are our production business and we’re also launching the next two categories of Michael Strahan’s clothing business. And then we have a clothing line in the sports vein that we’re working on for Erin Andrews. The idea is similar to athleisure — it’s something you can feel good and look good wearing to your favorite sporting event and then go out to dinner in. We’re shooting for that for 2018.

You’ve done so many amazing things in your career. What is the accomplishment you’re most proud of?

I would say probably starting this company. For so many years, I worked for other people and other organizations. And I learned a lot. I wouldn’t be where I am today if I didn’t work for those other places. But the fact is that we started this company from nothing — with just kind of a dream and vision. And we now have offices in New York and Los Angeles and we bought our building in Marina Del Rey. We’re very proud of this team that we built. We always say everybody has a position to play. We win as a team and we lose as a team. We don’t have titles here, because I want everybody to build each other up and work together. So when one person fails, we all fail. Which is good and bad. But to me, that’s how we elevate and inspire one another. And we call our employees and clients the SMAC family. We’re that close!

You’ve become a role model and a mentor for young women. Can you talk a little bit about who your inspirations were when you were young, and the importance of mentorship for women?

My mom is probably my number one role model. She’s almost 92 years old and she’s still so sharp and with it. She always tells me that she was born too early, because she thinks she would have been a big CEO. And I joke with her that she’s the CEO of me, which means she’s the CEO of all that I’ve accomplished. Because I wouldn’t have been able to do any of this without the sacrifices she made for me as a single mother who had me late in life. She’s still my best friend. It excites me that she’s been able to live through my accomplishments. She’s been to so many Super Bowls, Pro Bowls, and Snoop Dogg concerts.

As for my mentorship, I always try to make time to mentor and guide young women. I think it’s so important, and when I was that age, I didn’t really have anybody in the industry to guide me. So I always give back. I am part of the Big Brothers Big Sisters Women in Entertainment program that they do at the Hollywood Reporter. It is one of the most awesome things I’ve ever done. You get the mentees when they’re juniors in high school. And you work with them to help get them into college. But there are also two scholarships that are up for grabs at Loyola Marymount. My mentee got one of the scholarships and the school is just 10 minutes away from the office, so we hired her as an intern. She’s a sophomore now. And this way we get to keep an eye on her while she’s there but also the whole company has taken her under their wing. It takes a village. I love being involved with it.

I know this is pretty well-worn ground for you, but I think it would be helpful to our readers: can you talk a bit about some of the struggles of being a woman in a male-dominated field and how you keep your eye on the prize?

I always think about one moment that was career-defining for me, which continues to inspire me.

I started at the NFL in June of 1991. That summer, the NFL did training camp visits for their sponsors. Usually, you’d pick one or two players that were designated to come and meet the sponsors. Lawrence Taylor was the designated NFL player. He was one of the greatest football players ever, with a strong personality. LT was feared by many! I introduced myself to him and told him I’d be taking him to meet the sponsors after practice. He said, “great, meet me by my car.”

After practice, I walk over to his car and looked for him, but he’s nowhere to be found. This was one of my first assignments, so I immediately go into a panic and I’m looking everywhere for him. I finally find him, and he looks at me and yells “where were you?!”

The Yonkers in me kicks in and I just yell back, “where was I? Where were you? You told me to meet you at your car after practice!”

My boss Maureen hears this going on and runs in asking what is happening. LT starts laughing hysterically and says “you’ve got a winner with this one, here. I’m wrong, she’s right. Let’s go.”

An hour later, the panic and cold sweat set in and I’m asking myself “what did I just do?” But ultimately, I think it was a defining moment for me to say: you know what, at the end of the day, a big strong football player is just another person. And as long as you just speak to them and not at them, and don’t show fear, you’ll be respected. That was the beginning of me realizing that I was this young woman in a very male-dominated industry, and I’d have to stick to my guns.

That was a moment that defined the next twenty-something years of my career.

What advice do you have for younger women who want to be decision-makers, executives, and bosses?

1. When you mess up, admit it.
2. Stand up for yourself, but don’t burn bridges.
3. Nurture and maintain your network and relationships.
4. Support one another.
5. Just listen.

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