Although she is now at the helm of women’s professional basketball, Engelbert came to Lehigh as a lacrosse recruit, in part because she could play two sports. A walk-on guard for women’s basketball in her freshman year, she ended up captaining both teams and received the Hall Foundation Award for most outstanding senior female athlete. In her senior year, the women’s basketball team won the East Coast conference championship, where Engelbert was named tournament MVP. She graduated with an accounting degree in 1986 and went straight to work at Deloitte.
“I think when you play college athletics, you don’t know it until years later, but it creates leadership skills. I learned lessons at Lehigh that provided a great foundation to lead 100,000 people [at Deloitte] and now a league that’s doing well,” said Engelbert, who pointed out that Lehigh taught her how to be tactical. “When I was hired by Deloitte, they said the differentiator about me was Lehigh—they said Lehigh produces well-rounded candidates who thrive later in their careers.”
She also learned that it didn’t matter if she was the only woman in the class in first-year English. “When I joined the business world, in many cases, I was the only woman in the room, including in 2015 when I began as a female CEO. Lehigh was a great training ground, so that when I walked into rooms, I had confidence.”
A New Chapter
After retiring from Deloitte after 33 years, four of them as CEO, Engelbert began her new post as commissioner— the WNBA’s first—in July of this year. She was looking for something different “with a broad women’s leadership platform” in her second career.
“This job seemed like it was made for me, at a time when we have this moment in women’s sports, coming off the women’s World Cup win in soccer; the momentum around the WNBA, which has the best elite athletes in the world; and this movement around women’s empowerment. That struck me—there’s the three M’s: moment, momentum, and movement. It’s time to take advantage of all that,” Engelbert said.
Her biggest hurdle as commissioner is “the number-one challenge for any sport: to get more fans in the seats.” But she also wants to give the fans a great experience. This, Engelbert said, is one of the “three pillars” on which she’s working—fan experience, player experience and economics.
“The WNBA is the only women’s professional sports league to survive over two decades. We just concluded our 23rd year, but we don’t have enough money, the right economics or enough fans in the seats.”
Engelbert said that only 5 percent of all corporate sponsorship dollars and 5 percent of all media coverage of sports goes to women. She lamented the fact that the Women’s U.S. National Basketball Team, “the equivalent of Team U.S.A. women’s soccer,” will be going for their seventh consecutive gold medal in Tokyo next summer, with a record in their previous six medals of 100 wins and one loss.