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‘Whatever you do, don’t tarnish the star’: Charlotte Jones Anderson on being a Cowboys executive

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SB Nation’s Q&A series that highlights some of the NFL’s most powerful women continues with Anderson, who’s been working in Dallas’ executive office since 1989.

Cowboys VP Charlotte Jones Anderson with a small grin, superimposed on a black and white illustration
VP Charlotte Jones Anderson has been in charge of the Cowboys brand for 30 years.

Over the summer of 2019, SB Nation interviewed several women who currently hold or have previously held leadership positions within the NFL to find out more about them and the work they do. This Q&A series highlights the powerful women who have dared to shake up one of sport’s biggest boys clubs. First up in the series was ex-Raiders CEO Amy Trask. Charlotte Jones Anderson is up next.

Charlotte Jones Anderson is the executive vice president and chief brand officer for the Dallas Cowboys. She first joined the team shortly after her father, Jerry Jones, purchased the team in 1989. Her career in Dallas started when she helped settle a feud between Jones and members of the Cowboys’ cheerleading squad who quit after rumors swirled that Jones wanted to make their uniforms more revealing and lift rules on fraternizing with players.

Soon after, Anderson’s job evolved into something far more encompassing. In 1997, she pitched airing the Thanksgiving Day halftime show on NBC and has produced the event across multiple networks. Anderson also oversaw the design, sponsor incorporation, and decor of the Cowboys’ state-of-the-art AT&T Stadium, where she also oversees hosting marquee events like Super Bowl XLV, the 2010 NBA All-Star Game, and the 2014 NCAA Men’s Final Four. She has been chairman of the NFL Foundation since 2012, and serves on the league’s Conduct and Health and Safety Committees as well.

Author’s note: This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

KAABOO Texas 2019 Photo by Gary Miller/Getty Images

SB NATION: Before you arrived in Dallas, you were working in politics in Washington, D.C. with former U.S. Representative Tommy F. Robinson. Tell me a bit about how you dealt with the Cowboys’ cheerleaders.

CHARLOTTE JONES ANDERSON: At the time, there were crises all over the place.

The cheerleaders were one of them at the time, so I found myself coming to Dallas to put out what I thought was an immediate fire, and then was going to go back to D.C. And while I was here, he [Jones] asked me to stay. And the first thing I thought is, “I don’t know anything about running a professional football team.” But he was quick to remind me that he didn’t either. It was really ground zero for both of us.

When I got here, my directive was pretty basic, which was, “Find a way to stop losing money. And whatever you do, don’t tarnish the star.”

My first step was to move training camp from California, where it had been for many years under Coach [Tom] Landry, and move it to Austin, Texas. And in that step it was, “OK, what do you do next?” It was you find the things that cost the most.

SB: When you first started, did you think you’d end up in your current position?

CJA: I get asked, “Did you ever dream that this is where you would be?” And [the answer is] “No, absolutely not.” None of us thought that we would be at this point. It’s just every step of the way we realized that we could really use the affinity that people had with the Cowboys and take them on a journey to experience more and be more than a team that plays on Sunday or Monday.

SB: Describe your job both from a day-to-day and an overall perspective.

CJA: It is so encompassing of what we do. We play football, and then beyond that we have grown the affinity of our brand into so many aspects. From building a stadium that is obviously the home of our game, to a myriad of other events in that venue. We have a practice facility that is now a small village, an events center that’s home to high school football, and entire communities of kids and families, and a hotel and restaurants.

The day-to-day — there actually is no day-to-day because every day is so dramatically different and there’s so much difference within the day. The thing that is consistent every day is the responsibility that you have with the brand that you are. To be the best that you can be, to be inspiring to those who are associated with you. And in that you can’t be exclusionary. So every experience that we create needs to be one that everyone can relate to.

Through the course of my journey, I’ve had a lot of bad ideas that just didn’t work, but you’ve gotta try in order to move forward, and then remember to get off of it quickly if it doesn’t. Every step of the way there was never “OK, here’s your project, OK, here’s your next step.” I had to create and define that along the way. My father, as great of a visionary as he is, he’s certainly not a day-to day-manager. It was just, “Help me figure it out.” And that’s a pretty broad directive with a lot of ambiguity. For me over the course of the years, I found that I’m actually comfortable dealing in the ambiguity.

It’s really hard for me to describe what I do, but it extends from a piece of merchandise, into an experience on gameday, to one on a Sunday where people are coming out to lunch. It’s so encompassing that you really are trying to create and grow a culture that creates the best self of who we are.

SB: You’ve been instrumental in things like overseeing the building of AT&T Stadium, as well as The Star, a 91-acre campus of the Dallas Cowboys World Headquarters and practice facility in Frisco, Texas. For you, what have been some of the most fulfilling parts of your career?

CJA: I probably could say it was building the stadium or building The Star, but I think the most rewarding and valuable experience has been our association with the Salvation Army.

Minnesota Vikings v Dallas Cowboys

I learned early in my career back in 1996 that we had the ability to become something bigger than a game. And that [with] our influence and visibility, that if we partnered with an organization that was really doing the most good in the community and doing the work that no one else wants to do — to rebuild people — if we could bring them visibility and awareness and financial support, that we were doing something incredibly purposeful.

Almost 24 years ago, we launched a national campaign with the Salvation Army for their red kettle campaign on Thanksgiving Day. And that alone over the past 20-plus years has raised over two and a half-billion dollars — with a “B,” billion dollars. We haven’t raised it [all but] we’ve created awareness and inspiration and for others to help support the same goal, which is helping people.

SB: You also hold leadership roles within a number of organizations, like the Boys And Girls Clubs of America, the Make-A-Wish North Texas Presidents Council, and more. How do you balance all that, along with raising a family?

CJA: Wait, who said there was balance? I think that’s a challenge that we all face, especially women who do work and want to raise a family and want to have it all. We have a strong tendency to beat ourselves up for not being able to give 100 percent at work, 100 percent at home, 100 percent to ourselves, to our kids, and the community. That math doesn’t add up. For me, what I’ve found is that you can have impact, influence in all of those areas, it might just not be all at the same time. The pendulum swings — it might be that one day it’s stronger in one area, another day it’s in another.

We’re our own worst critics, and if we can take one step back and marvel at our contributions across so many lanes then maybe we would look at ourselves and say, “You know what I’m doing a great job,” instead of, “I didn’t get it all done today.”

SB: Did you ever experience any challenges being a woman in the NFL or being Jerry Jones’ daughter?

CJA: I have not actually felt the impact of being a woman in sports. I’ve actually been more challenged by being the daughter of [Jerry Jones]. My father casts a pretty large shadow, and in that, being able to prove with conviction that I’m here because of who I am and my contribution, not my bloodline. That has always been more of a struggle for me than the female piece of it.

Quite frankly, my father was really great to point out how important it was to be the one who was different in the room. He was very positive in, “You have a different approach, you have a different voice, you have a different view, and we need that at the table.”

SB: What advice would you give to women wanting to do what you do?

CJA: First, I would say never sacrifice your own authenticity. Be yourself, and be your bold, passionate, authentic self.

A lot of times young women see, “Well, my only opportunity might be directly with a team.” There is so much that goes into teams competing on the field from a media perspective, an engineering perspective, or an architect perspective — there are so many different outlets that touch sports and that are involved in sports in different disciplines. There’s more than one role for a woman in sports.