As the CFO of ESPN, the crown jewel of the Walt Disney Co. and one of the biggest brands in entertainment, Christine Driessen is an integral player in the often testerone-fueled world of fans consuming sports. As the handler of finances at the $6.3-billion-a-year global empire, Driessen weighs in on all key decisions. In other words, George Bodenheimer, co-chairman of the Disney Media Networks and president of ESPN and ABC Sports, spends an awful lot of time listening to what Driessen has to say. “Let’s just say George and I talk a lot,” says Driessen, a 25-year ESPN veteran.
In the past year or so, Driessen offered her opinions on a range of initiatives, including the launch of a new network in the U.K. featuring newly acquired Premier League matches, the bow of ESPN 3D during the World Cup and a multiplatform, multiyear extension with the ACC, helping to solidify the network’s position in college sports.
But as much as Driessen is asked to give her blessing to deals, she says her job is just as much about saying no, too. For example, ESPN declined to raise its bid for the rights to the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, which eventually went to CBS and Turner. “Part of what I do is saying ‘enough is enough,'” she says.
What is most important for women in male-dominated companies, Driessen says, is to “allow themselves to be heard, establish a credibility.” The 55-year-old Fordham University grad, who co-chairs ESPN’s diversity council, is mindful of the role women play in the corporate hierarchy. “You have to have the confidence,” she says, “to speak out.”