In Conversation with New York Yankees Senior Vice President and Assistant General Manager, Jean Afterman

Jul 11, 2017, By WILEF

Last month, WILEF global chair and co-founder Betiayn Tursi interviewed Jean Afterman, senior vice president and assistant general manager of the New York Yankees at the New York office of Proskauer Rose. Below are excerpts of the conversation.

On her career path:

  • I turned 60 this year, and you have a lot of reflection when you turn a certain age…I went to UC Berkley, graduated with a degree in history of art, but I was in theater at Berkley, so I started off as an actress in the theater in the San Francisco Bay Area. I taught English as a second language. I taught English as a second language in London…I actually gave them some baseball field idioms like, “that’s a strike-out” and “three strikes and you’re out.”
  • I moved to California. I worked at Paramount Pictures below the line in feature-film production, and while I was at Paramount in the mid-80s, a friend there, who was a non-practicing lawyer, said to me, “You just seem too smart for what you’re doing here—have you ever thought about going to law school?”…so I made a decision. I was actually with friends at their family house out on Fire Island…we had a little too much red wine to drink, I stood up and made this great pronouncement: “I’m gonna go to law school. And I’m gonna be a lawyer!”
  • That was the difference-maker for me—going to law school.
  • I’m just the poster child for you never know where you may end up.
  • I never envisioned working in baseball…I never envisioned working at the New York Yankees…but here I am, 16 years later.

On keeping things in perspective:

  • When I was 11, my younger brother was diagnosed with cancer, and he died in May…it really puts things in perspective.
  • Balance and perspective are hard to achieve—male or female—but particularly as women in business, balance is very difficult.
  • I certainly haven’t achieved balance in my personal life.
  • There’s nothing worse in your entire life than losing someone you love to death because that’s absolutely final…and you realize that’s the worst that can happen, the absolute worst, and everything else just pales in comparison.
  • We lose a game, we lost a series, we lose a World Series, and that’s like–nobody died.
  • “We were in Boston, and we had just lost a game in post-season, and Brian Cashman’s wife whispered to me through the bus and we laughed about something, and I remember Brian turning to us and saying, “No levity on the bus after a loss!” So I always have the “No levity’ rule.”

On who her champions were growing up and in her career:

  • My true champion was Elizabeth I, Queen of England…working in a man’s world, doing the best she can. She’s strong—flawed—but she ruled for so many years…
  • My parents were also champions to me…I grew up in a time when boys went to baseball games for their birthday parties and girls went to the balletbut my parents still held that there is no difference between you and your brothers.

On being an executive in a predominantly male organization:

  • …I was thinking, why do I consider it a compliment when Brian calls me a pit bull
  • I have a lot of older traditional guys at work. I get ma’amed constantly. Ma’am this, ma’am that.
  • Somebody will say a swear word—which is a frequent part of my vocabulary—and I’ll always get the, “oh excuse me, ma’am,” and I’ll say to them, “Fuck, please don’t apologize.”
  • I enjoy working with men, but you do have to act a little differently.
  • You become a little bit like a mommy, and a disciplinarian, and a pit bull.
  • Representing players when I was an agent and now working for the Yankees, I never felt any gender discrimination in the work place, ever. I felt a lot more gender discrimination litigating in California superior court than I ever did with players.
  • Ball players always treated me with respect.
  • Nobody expects a woman in baseball—that’s the issue. You walk into a room and there’s always the, “I’d like another water please.”
  • Now when there are women and men in the room, no one thinks it’s strange that they are all lawyers.

On team building and what makes someone a good team leader:

  • In baseball with the Yankees, ironically, what we don’t do enough is compliment the people who work with us and for us, for jobs well done.
  • When I left Paramount Pictures, I worked for this great old producer and I was going to law school, and there were three things…he was like: “Jeany, darling, when you get in front of the judge, just tell the fucking story. That’s what you need to do—you tell the fucking story.” And then he gave me two points for success: Jeany, darling, return your phone calls, and pay your people,” and I think that remains true.
  • It really means something when the people you work with say, that was great. You’re doing a great job, or what you did today was excellent, thank you very much…that’s the way you lead.
  • You can’t friggen freak out. If you freak out in times of stress, then everyone on your team is going to… that’s a part of balance.

On women climbing the ladder of success:

  • Many young women don’t know these jobs are available to them.
  • This is the best time for women to be in front offices because the only requirement is that you be smart…if you’re going for someone with education and smarts, that’s a gender-blind thingopportunity is what has to be created.
  • You need to hire diverse candidates at the start of their careers and they need to be moved through the system until you have fully qualified people and then people can’t say no…they can’t say no when there’s a fully qualified person.
  • I told the guys who hire interns and associates they have a mandate to hire women and diverse applicants.
  • There’s a problem with coming out of school now where you can’t take your dream job because your dream job doesn’t pay enough.
  • As a woman, in a leadership position at an organization, you can’t be seen as, “oh she’s a man-hater.”
  • A friend once said to me, If you’re working opposite a man and he’s treating you poorly, you must remind him of his ex-wife.”

On tips for earning a good reputation:

  • If you’re in a law firm you have to be super careful of what you say and do…
  • In this day in age, you have to be aware of social media. People are going to be filming you all the time. Someone may walk up to you in a Starbucks and the recording is on their cellphone and if you’re a lawyer and they ask you something, they’re either going to try and capture you saying something inappropriate, something about a client or a case—and there it is, right on the cellphone. No privacy, no secrets.
  • For men and for women, figure out how to be comfortable in your own skin. If you’re not comfortable in your own skin, then people around you won’t be comfortable…that’s something that as a young woman I just never achieved.
  • A good education is essential. Always have a good education and always be prepared.
  • If you are interacting with a screamer—if you focus right here on the forehead, it looks like you’re looking them in the eye.

On what keeps her up at night:

  • There are a lot of things happening outside these walls that are more important than what’s happening inside Yankee Stadium.
  • The current state of the country and the current state of the world keeps me up at night.
  • I always needed tons of sleep…I was the girl at the slumber party who would go to sleep early while everyone else was staying up playing truth or dare.
  • Sleep deprivation is a form of torture—people use sleep deprivation for torture, so it’s dangerous.

On best and worst practices for women ascending to the top:

  • Best practices are being true to yourself and being prepared.
  • With my career, I happened to have an amazing amount of luck—I just happened to have been in the right place at the right time, and I was prepared for it.
  • Knowing yourself.
  • Worst practice would be saying and doing things that aren’t who you are.
  • For women moving up in the world, unfortunately, at the moment, you do have to be a bit of a pit bull—There’s an aggression you have to have.