The Home Advantage
One remains on the courts while the other has moved from the fairway to the ringside, but together, retired sports champs Gigi Fernandez and Jane Geddes have planted roots in the area
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Passionate and temperamental, with flashing coal-black eyes and a tremendous presence, she was made to be a star and she delivered. A specialist in doubles, Gigi went on to win 69 titles around the world. Usually partnered with Natasha Zvereva, she claimed seventeen Grand Slam women’s titles, including five U.S. Opens and four at Wimbledon.
Upon retiring, she got a degree in psychology at the University of South Florida and began dreaming up entrepreneurial ventures with Jane. “In the late nineties,” Gigi recalls, “we hoped to ride the Internet boom with an e-marketing portal called Planesia. It was a universal shopping cart before anything like that existed. Unfortunately, the bubble burst.” After this, Gigi enrolled at Rollins and earned an MBA.
Jane, meanwhile, blistered through a couple years at Stetson University in Florida and came out with a law degree. Although she had zero interest in a golf comeback, she could not resist the entreaties of the LPGA to join their executive ranks as their director of tournament business. The players who were once her sisters-in-arms now snarked that she’d “drunk the Kool-Aid.”
But management life was, she admits, the place where her act was finally polished. As a player, she was, to put it mildly, “vocal.” It was deputy commissioner Libba Galloway who set her straight. “I was always interrupting and getting my word in, and she was the one who said, ‘Just listen. Pay attention.’ I was getting red marks on my papers; it was like being in school again! In law school I was taught how to think critically. But Libba really helped me in another way.”
Transitioning from the ladies’ golf tour to the rough-and-snarly world of wrestling would seem to be a leap worthy of a sitcom. Things didn’t look so hot at first when Jane went in for an interview with her boss-to-be, Paul Michael Levesque, better known as Triple H. “I’d never heard of him. And I walk in and see this big guy with a ponytail and he was clearly a wrestler. I’m thinking, ‘Why am I here?’ Without saying anything we were thinking the same thing. He was thinking, ‘Why am I talking to a golfer?’”
At home in Greenwich, Triple H might well go by the stage name “Hunter Hearst Helmsley.” But around WWE’s Stamford headquarters and parading across pay-per-view TV screens, he is definitely Triple H, the 6-foot-4 bearded, barrel-bicepped Adonis who glories in the shiny, sweaty S&M pageantry. In the executive offices, he is the power behind the throne, along with his wife, Stephanie McMahon, daughter of empire-builders Vince and Linda McMahon.
“As we sat there and talked, we learned there were so many things we had in common,” continues Jane. For her, the WWE life became another life on the road, only the big show was not in the sunlit greens but in an arena lit by fireworks. The wrestlers, she believes, are “unbelievably dedicated to their craft.” Several have become close friends.
The biggest change to hit WWE was, she says, the switch to what might be called a PG rating five years ago, perhaps coincident with Linda McMahon’s Senate runs in 2010 and 2012. “It’s not what it used to be,” Jane admits. “For us, moms and kids are our focus now.”
Besides excising WWE’s soft-porn past, Jane has also had to busy herself with the health of its stars. “The company has transformed,” she says, adding that neurologists have been added to the staff. “We do so much testing—whether it’s concussion testing, drug testing or wellness cardiac—we’ll put it up against anyone now. That was the goal. ‘You think we’re not doing the right thing? Well, we’ll show you that we are.’ I can vouch for it because I’m in charge.
“We try to look like we’re killing the other guy,” she smiles. “But we’re not.”