Lisa Brummel — Challenging the status quo in tech and sports

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This is the latest in a series of “Where are they now?” features on members of the Yale Athletics family. 

by Brita Belli

Bernice Sandler, the trailblazing activist behind Title IX legislation, which paved the way for equal opportunities for girls in schools across America, passed away on Jan. 5, 2019 at age 90. The legislation she championed would have a major impact on the life of one Yale alumna, Lisa Brummel ’81 B.A., who entered high school in Westport, Connecticut, just after the law took effect in 1972, giving her the opportunity to play organized sports for the first time.

“I did any sport I could do,” Brummel says of her high school days. “I had been waiting all my life.”

When it came time for college, Brummel wanted a school that had serious athletics and academics. “When I visited Yale, the vibe with the students and coaches was so great,” says Brummel.  

Brummel would play four sports at Yale – one for each season: basketball, softball, volleyball and track – but says: “Basketball was my favorite sport.” Brummel was named Most Valuable Player every year she played basketball for the Bulldogs and ranks seventh on Yale’s all-time scoring list. She was also a three-time MVP and All-Ivy selection in softball.

Sports gave her life structure, Brummel says, and she built her college years around practices, games, and tournaments. “Sports helped me with planning,” she says. “When I wasn’t playing, I had to be studying. It helped to structure the way I was thinking and to plan everything.”

Bringing sports skills to a tech career

When she left Yale to start a career at Microsoft, Brummel took the lessons she’d learned on the field and court with her – including her ability to adapt to changing circumstances, to strategize, and to collaborate with a team made up of individuals with different skillsets. She would spend 25 years at the tech giant in various marketing and human resources roles, culminating with a long stint as Microsoft’s executive vice president of human resources, and guiding the company through major shifts in HR procedure. She is also one of three co-owners of the Seattle Storm WNBA team, along with former Olympic rower and Yale alumna Ginny Gilder ’80 B.A. and Dawn Trudeau, another former executive at Microsoft. They comprise one of just two all-female ownership groups in the WNBA.

Brummel credits skills honed in competitive sports with her success in business – both at Microsoft and in leading the Storm, a team that won its third WNBA Championship in 2018.

“Sports gave me the tenacity you need to be successful in the business world,” Brummel says, “especially in tech. You have to think about strategy, not just for yourself, but for other people. Sports taught me how to encourage other people and to get the best out of them.”

Saving the Storm

Brummel and Storm co-owner Gilder had heard of one another while at Yale but didn’t meet until they were both living in Seattle. Still, says Brummel, their shared background as Yale athletes gave them a natural bond. “It gave us commonalities that helped our partnership form,” she says. They and co-owner Trudeau were all Storm season ticket holders and couldn’t stand the idea of their beloved team leaving the city.

In 2006, a group that included Oklahoma businessman Clayton Bennett bought the NBA team the Seattle SuperSonics along with its sister team the Storm for $350 million from Starbucks founder Howard Schultz. Bennett’s group soon opted to move the SuperSonics to Oklahoma City (where they were renamed the Thunder), and would have taken the Storm as well, but the three women intervened and convinced Bennett to sell the Storm to them. “It took guts,” Brummel admits. “None of us had run a professional sports team before, but we all had business experience.”

Brummel says a WNBA team like the Storm cannot depend on the same financial models as an NBA team, and she and her co-owners have found innovative ways to appeal to their fanbase – including partnerships with organizations like Planned Parenthood and maintaining a family-friendly experience. She adds: “I’m so happy to be part of a champion women’s sports team that exposes girls to women athletes and those of us running the team, to help them realize that they can do this, too.”