Guilford College’s Department of Sport Studies recently welcomed Katrina M. Adams to campus as part of the season opener of the 2022-2023 Bryan Series, which featured the iconic Venus Williams.
The first African American, and the youngest person ever, to serve an unprecedented two consecutive terms as president, chairman and CEO of the United States Tennis Association (USTA), Adams engaged Guilford students and faculty members during an intimate question and answer session.
“Words matter. Words can be harmful if misinterpreted. You just have to be mindful of where you are, and who you’re with and what you’re doing at all times,” Adams shared in response to a question about a challenging situation she highlights in her book, “Own the Arena.”
“It’s a learning lesson,” she said, referencing the 2018 U.S. Open Women’s Tennis Championship Finals between eventual winner, Naomi Osaka, and the legendary Serena Williams. Adams found herself facing criticism for how she worded her speech during the trophy presentation, causing a sizable number of social media users to voice their displeasure.
“You never know where you are and who you’re with, who’s recording you,” Adams explained to the audience, providing invaluable information on meeting life’s tests and navigating in today’s social media dominated society.
As the youngest person to hold the responsibility of $300 million+ revenue while representing excellence in sport, Adams has showcased her ability to impact, influence and make sound business decisions while serving 700,000+ members of the governing body of American tennis.
“Sport is a business. Let’s be clear about that,” said Adams, who led the opening of the 100 court USTA National Campus in the Lake Nona section of Orlando and the strategic transformation of the $600 million USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows, New York.
“Sport is a business, no matter which sport you’re in. So, if you are focusing on marketing, or advertising or writing or a lawyer. Whatever the discipline is, you can bring that into sport. Accounting. Whatever it is, it can be in sport.”
“So you have to understand what it is you want to do,” said Adams, who was featured in Adweek magazine’s “Most Powerful Women in Sports” list twice (2016 and 2017), Forbes magazine’s “Most Powerful Women in Sports” list in 2017 and Ebony magazine’s “Power 100” list.
After matriculating at Northwestern University and competing for 12 years on the WTA Tour, the Chicago native wanted to distinguish herself in the world of sports.
Serving as vice president of the prestigious International Tennis Federation, Chairman of the Billie Jean King Cup Committee, Chairman of the Gender Equality in Tennis Committee and the Executive Director of the Harlem Junior Tennis and Education Program, Adams believes “this is just the beginning.”
Highly sought after on the global speaking circuit, Adams passionately highlights issues including Diversity and Inclusion, Equitable Pay, Inclusive Ownership, Gender Equality, Leadership (Athletes as Leaders), and Self Development during her presentations.
“It’s kinda crazy to imagine that I’m talking to the Roger Goddell or Adam Silver of tennis,” a student shared emphatically before asking a question of Adams.
An elite athlete USTA board member early on in her career, as an administrator, Adams said “being on that board and understanding what the USTA is about, that it really was about grassroots tennis, that it wasn’t just about professional tennis, then I got hooked.”
“I aspired to become a director-at-large,” which no elite athlete had previously done while serving on the USTA board of directors.
The proud SITA NYC Clothing brand ambassador has branched into the private sector as a board member of Pivotal Acquisition Corp III and GSE Worldwide while serving on multiple advisory boards including Athletes Unlimited, Highlight Pro Skydiving, Full Court Tennis and Racquet Magazine.
“It’s not just about being a professional tennis player. But you can be a professional in tennis as you can in any other sport. It’s about doing your research and finding out what niche is for you and how you can navigate that system and get your foot in the door,” said Adams.
“You will not find a more relatable, humorous and authentic leader than Katrina,” according to Stacey Allaster, USTA Chief Executive of Professional Tennis and US Open Tournament Director.
“Her trailblazing journey of resilience and success as “the first” from the community courts to the top of tennis leadership serves as an inspiration for us all.”
Dr. Michael White, director of Guilford College’s Sport Management undergraduate and International Sport Management graduate programs, moderated the hourlong session with Adams.
A student advisor that has taught undergraduate courses in History of Sport, Legal Aspects, Sport Communication, Sport Marketing, Organization and Administration, and Introduction to Sport Management, White conducted the session in an educational, entertaining and engaging manner as Adams stressed the importance of “being persistent.”
“Own your courage,” she said.
“Then you gotta own your voice. Believe in yourself. Understand what it is that you know. And then, you have to own your identity. And not be afraid to use your voice. And make them recognize that ‘yeah I am a woman,’ but I’m an individual, I’m a human being, I’m a professional, and I can add value.”