Donna Orender’s strength is strategy.
That was true when she played professionally for three years in the Women’s Professional Basketball League.
When she spent 17 years rising in the ranks at the PGA Tour.
When she served as president of the Women’s National Basketball Association for six years.
When she started Orender Unlimited, focusing on how to help companies enhance their performance and results through a strategic focus on sales, marketing and media and diversity opportunities
And when she launched Generation W five years ago to bring national speakers to Jacksonville for a leadership day to educate, inspire and connect women and girls. The next event is March 27 at the University of North Florida.
She works her strategy through leadership, execution, imagination and innovation.
Orender, who only gave her age as in her 50s, is a New York native and a resident of Jacksonville Beach.
As a professional basketball player and later president of the WNBA, what did you learn about strategy?
The game really is about outthinking your opponent, out-moving your opponent. There’s this strategic interaction of people on the court and it actually elevates itself to this rhythmic poetry. Life is like that. There is this strategic rhythmic poetry to how we all move.
I like a fast pace. That said, there are a lot of things that could get accomplished when you just slow the world down a little bit as well.
Sports is important for engaging all youth, girls and boys equally, because the lessons you learn on the field, on the court, wherever you are, are so instrumental in shaping your view of the world.
It hones competitive skills and whether you like to compete or not, you should be familiar with it because it really is important in terms of how you can find your own success.
How did that lead to a position with the PGA Tour?
I played basketball in college at the highest level and then there was a league starting, so I played professionally. We were always around news people and television and I found that it was a logical step. I was going to graduate school for social work, but ultimately, I ended up getting into sports television and I really loved it.
I worked in network television, which was the big gorilla at the time and you can argue still is. I worked in cable television as it was exploding. I had my own company. Working out of your own pocket teaches you so much about business.
Through all of that, I was approached one day. A guy who said, hey we’re going to start the NFL Films of golf and would you be interested in coming to work with me? I said yes and that was the beginning of an unbelievably fortunate and blessed career in the business of sports.
You moved from there to where?
I was at the PGA tour 17 years, so I really had a lot of movement within that company. Then I got a call, hey, would you be interested in coming to the WNBA? I had a young family and the WNBA was in New York and I was in Jacksonville Beach, Florida.
I decided that these are jobs that do not come around very often, and I also felt very fortunate because I felt that my success is directly attributed to my participation in sports as a young woman and it was time for me to give back.
In the world of business, you have held a lot of high positions and you’ve started Orender Unlimited.
When it was time to come home from the WNBA, my kids were growing up, they were in high school. Your kids need you more when they get older and I wanted to be with them and my husband. I was looking for a name. ‘Unlimited’ has always kind of been my view on the world. The phone started ringing immediately and I started getting incredibly interesting projects and opportunities.
You’re well-connected. Generation W speakers are very strong names nationwide. For instance, you’ve had the president of Comedy Central and you’ve had NBC’s chief medical expert.
I value relationships and people and that connection. I felt fortunate at the WNBA to be able to be connected to so many interesting opportunities and people. When Generation W was percolating, these friends all said you have to do it, and if you do, we’ll be there to support you. We will come. And they have and they continue to do that. That speaks volumes for the power of women to come together and support each other.
What has been your major challenge and how did you overcome that?
I feel like me, myself and I are my greatest challenge. How do I get through my fears, my hesitations? How do you work through them and emerge a stronger, better person? I’ve had work challenges, professional challenges and people challenges.
I say to my kids and to my friends, life is not a sprint, even though I like to move quickly. It’s a marathon. You’ve got to take each one of these issues in time and put them in context and see how you can make them right for yourself and for other people, and that’s what I try to do on a daily basis.
What else would you like to share?
I would like to share gratitude. I am a very grateful person. I thank God when I look at the beautiful ocean or the sunrise or the great friends or the fact that I have enough money in my pocket to buy enough food.
Before every event that we do, I sit down just by myself and I say I am so grateful for the people who care, who want to contribute, who want to come together, who want a better life for themselves.
It’s that gratefulness that drives me to make sure that when anyone calls me, I constantly say yes to everything. There have always been people that have said yes to me, and I feel like my life moving forward is a constant saying thank you to them for that.
New York native; oldest of three daughters.
Father Jerry Chait is a Navy veteran and engineer. Mother Sherry Chait is an art broker “and serial helper of the world.” Parents now live in Northeast Florida.
“My mom is always out there giving, doing, whatever. My dad was all about that pursuit of excellence. I have this combination of wanting to achieve, but really caring about people at their core, and so they’ve given me those gifts.”
Husband, M.G. Orender, president of Hampton Golf Inc. and a former president of The PGA of America. Twin sons Jacob and Zachary, 17, high-school seniors; stepchildren Morgan, an assistant public defender, and Colleen, a singer.
She met Orender via The PGA of America. “They hired my company to do some video for their annual meeting and I got on an elevator and there he was, larger than life, happy with a smile. ‘Hey girls, how are you?’ I was like OK, I’m a New Yorker, we don’t do those things, but it didn’t take long to know that whenever the phone rang and it was M.G. Orender, when I hung up, I always felt happier.”
“I have friends, they make a five-year plan, they make a 10-year plan. Here’s my 10-year plan. I have a 10-minute plan. I have a good feeling about where I’d like things to go. I know we want to get here, let’s figure that piece out and then we do.”
“I’d like to think that it is engaging and inspirational. I really believe that people do know what their strengths are, more or less, and that good leaders can help them find it and then encourage them to pursue it.”
Business of sports
“When you evaluate what you want to do and where you want to be, you want to be around things you’re passionate about. The word fan is fanatic. We know that people are passionate about sports, so in addition to being in an industry that’s interesting and fast-paced and compelling and it’s in the news, people are fanatic. I loved it. By the time I could take the next steps, I had a lot of people that helped me and I was ready.”
Advice for area leaders
“We would all benefit from having a collective vision. We are so many things. The question is, how do we unify all of that? How do we strategically make that happen?”
• Graduate of Queens College in psychology
• Captain of a nationally ranked women’s basketball team, the first to play in Madison Square Garden
• Queens College Sports Hall of Fame
• Jewish Sports Hall of Fame
• Graduate student in social work at Adelphi University, completed one year
• Drafted to play in the first women’s professional basketball league, was an All-Star, played with the New York Stars, New Jersey Gems and Chicago Hustle.
• Experience includes ABC Sports, SportsChannel, PGA Tour Productions, PGA Tour
First Coast Success: Donna Orender
The Daily Record interviewed Orender for “First Coast Success,” a regular segment on the award-winning 89.9 FM flagship First Coast Connect program, hosted by Melissa Ross. These are edited excerpts from the interview.
The interview is scheduled for broadcast this morning and will replay at 8 p.m. on the WJCT Arts Channel or at wjctondemand.org.