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People Issue 2016: Laura Day, the sporting pioneer

Glass ceilings couldn't contain Laura Day.

Glass ceilings couldn't contain Laura Day.

The City Pages People Issue celebrates ordinary folks who do extraordinary things. Though their triumphs are rarely acknowledged, they make the Twin Cities a better place.

Tell Laura Day that she's the most powerful female sports executive in Minnesota, and the deflection begins.

She will point to the women running the Lynx, the state's most triumphant franchise. She will mention Beth Goetz, interim athletic director at the University of Minnesota. She will tell you that, reputation aside, the sporting world no longer shares the same demographic as a men's locker room.

She will be right. But she will also be downplaying her role as a pioneer in this change.

Day is the Twins' executive vice president of business development. That's corporate-speak for saying she's in charge of piling up the loot through everything from ticket sales to corporate sponsorships, marketing to concerts. Even Target Field itself.

A circuitous route brought her to this moment. She originally wanted to be "the next greatest policewoman," but found herself peddling stocks and working in marketing. In 1991, a friend suggested she apply for a job in Twins promotions.

She typed a 20-page proposal on an archaic instrument known as a typewriter. By the end of that year, "I was the only girl on the block with a World Series ring."

Day later jumped to the Wild, negotiating TV contracts and helping to build a franchise from scratch. She would move on to the Vikings, then consulting, before reemerging in the Twins' executive suite. She's no longer a rarity.

"When I first started with the Twins in 1991, I could count on one hand the number of women in the executive ranks of Major League Baseball," she says.

Public presumption is that it remains that way. Baseball, the most hidebound of sports, evolves at the pace of a particularly lethargic glacier. Young women often ask how she managed to break in, as if it involves some eternal mystery. It doesn't.

"I've never had a problem," Day says. While she may have been among the first, the ranks of female execs are "growing exponentially."

These days, the Twins' offices of marketing, human resources, and legal affairs are all headed by women. There's no magic to their rise. "It's about hard work and passion. It's less about gender."

Twenty-five years in, Day's no longer an anomaly. She's a boss, taking contentment from the essential trait of good bosses everywhere: a fondness for reaching back. Pride spikes her voice as she rattles off former subordinates who've risen to impressive heights of their own, like the intern who now heads up marketing for the NHL.

"The greatest satisfaction I have today is watching young people grow and expand their skills sets," she says. "Maybe something I said, something I did has had a positive impact."

Click here to read the rest of our People Issue 2016 profiles.