Kiesha Nix: First black woman vice president of the Los Angeles Lakers organization

Illustrated sports and Empower Onyx spotlight the diverse journeys of black women through sports – from veteran athletes to rising stars, coaches, executives and more – in the series, Elle-evate: 100 influential black women in sports.

It’s amazing when things fall into place.

As the Lakers’ vice president of charitable affairs, Kiesha Nix is ​​one of the most powerful women in the sport of philanthropy. When she was first promoted from Executive Director of the Community Lakers Youth Foundation to her current post, NBA legend Magic Johnson called to personally congratulate her. “I was in the middle of a Zoom call planning a community vacation event when his name appeared on my phone. I almost didn’t answer the call, ”she says. But she did, and she heard him say, “Hello Miss VP.”

“I must have pinched myself,” Nix said.

Nix had never actively pursued a career in community relations or fundraising, but the vocation seemed to pursue it. She and Johnson had associated with community events for over a decade since they first crossed paths when Nix worked for Merrill Lynch and Bank of America. “I started at the bottom of the totem pole almost 30 years ago as a project manager at Merrill Lynch, and by the time I left I was negotiating contracts on behalf of Bank of America after the two institutions merged. . “

She also managed the investments of several CEOs and other high net worth clients and was comfortable in her formal role as financial advisor. Yet others have been impressed with Nix’s unique footprint of leveraging wealth management to maximize social impact. She volunteered thousands of hours with the bank’s charitable foundation, raising funds, producing events and building relationships. “It wasn’t part of my normal day-to-day job responsibilities, but I did this job for 18 years,” she says. “I saw it as a way to bridge the gap between our customers and the children of South Central, Watts and Compton because that’s where I grew up. “

Nix says she was happy working in finance until a coworker told her about a position in the community relations department, but taking the job meant she would have to take a big pay cut as well. “I was a single mother with no support, and my son was leaving for college. Taking a pay cut didn’t make sense, ”she says.

One of her mentors stepped in to convince her to make a colossal career change, telling her that if she didn’t, she would never end up where she ultimately wanted to be. “I took a leap of faith and I did it,” she said. “I will never forget, my boss at the time said to me, ‘If you do this job well, people will come and get you.'”

His first assignment was to manage the bank’s relationship with the Dodgers, then USC, several museums and other leading partners. The bank was only investing a few million dollars when it started. She increased that amount to $ 25 million before she left.

Nix has built a reputation for trust, respect and compassion, all of which are essential values ​​for strong leadership. People were talking about her, so when Lakers president Jeannie Buss called Dodgers executive vice-president Lon Rosen looking for someone to lead the Lakers foundation, Rosen didn’t hesitate. to recommend Nix.

“They called me on Monday and I had a whole new career on Friday,” Nix says. Today, she is the first black woman to be named vice president in the Lakers organization.

“I often tell the young people I mentor that the people who have helped me along the way are not always like me. Lon is Jewish, ”she says. “He is a very respected man in the sport. He didn’t have to recommend me, but he knew my work ethic. Hard work is the great equalizer.

Her quick promotion from executive director to vice president came as no surprise. Because the Lakers already had a positive presence and strong support in the community, Nix decided to raise more money to do more for the children. In her first year, she raised over $ 400,000 in one afternoon at the foundation’s annual golf tournament, the highest ever in tournament history. The COVID-19 pandemic struck in its second year and its fundraising fell just short of the record. But the third year overtook the first, and she set a record in the fourth year, raising over half a million dollars with the one-day event.

Nix says becoming vice president doesn’t require as much new learning as being more available, but she has two priorities: to continue to increase the number of youth programs supported by the foundation and to open doors for more young people in the world. color to access front-office positions.

“It’s so important for young people to see themselves in me. I want them to think beyond becoming the next Kobe or LeBron, ”she said. “I’ve never bounced a basketball in my life, but when I show up with my championship ring they see that there are a lot of exciting career opportunities that come up behind the scenes, from the networks. social in esport. “

Nix is ​​also committed to helping more women, and especially women of color, achieve higher levels of leadership. “I think being the first black female vice president here is exciting,” she said. “I once heard Jeannie Buss say, when she became the first female team owner to win a championship, that there is nothing wrong with being the first, but you can’t be. the only. I have adopted this mindset and am looking to help the next generation of leaders take my place.

Nix’s track record isn’t synonymous with advantage, but she’s relentlessly positive and totally driven. “A big part of my story is that I became a single mom when I was 24, but my son Tyler and I were able to accomplish a lot together,” she says, adding that they both made huge sacrifices and faced challenges during Tyler’s education. in South Central, but that she wouldn’t trade. “I would take my son to work and let him crawl around my desk when I couldn’t find daycare. Twenty-four years later he graduated from Fisk University and works in one of my former offices managing wealthy people, athletes and artists for a living.

Looking back, she marvels at the twists and turns her personal and professional life have taken, but feels she had to take that path to be where she is today.

“Jeannie Buss would never have called Merrill Lynch looking for the person she needed. She called Lon at the Dodgers, who told her to call me,” Nix said. “Those stepping stones just put it all in. square.”


Madelyne Woods is a contributor for Empower Onyx, a diverse, multi-channel platform celebrating the stories and transformative power of sport for black women and girls.