Rachel Lewis is the Chief Operating Officer of the Whitecaps FC. She has a strong passion for sport and community and currently sits on the Board of Directors for Covenant House Vancouver. Rachel’s business acumen and dedication to the community means that she’s been acknowledged over the years as a “game changer” in her field.
Was sport a big part of your life growing up? Yes, I grew up in a sports crazy household. My dad coached, my brother played most everything and while I wasn’t very adept at teams sports I loved to swim and ski. Family dinner usually involved some discussion about the day’s sports scores and we had Whitecaps and Grizzlies season tickets. My dad would take my brother and me to Whitecaps games in the early days at BC Place and I have very fond memories of those times. I especially loved cheering for ‘Caps goalkeeper Tino Lettieri who kept a stuffed parrot in the corner of his net!
You’ve worked in sports for the majority of your professional life. What drew you to the field? I have a passion for events, and sport is the ultimate event. When you’re working with other people’s leisure time, it’s really about creating a vibrant, positive atmosphere where people can have fun, and really feel a part of the experience. Whether you’re watching an MLS game at BC Place, a WFC2 game at Thunderbird Stadium, or enjoying a Whitecaps camp, it’s always about creating positive and lasting memories.
You have been with the Whitecaps for 13 years now. What has been one of the biggest surprises? It surprises me just how quickly it has gone by. You don’t quite realize it day-to-day, but to look back and see how much we’ve grown and evolved is something that really sticks out. You see how different the organization is and how big of an impact we have on the community. It’s continued to be challenging and diverse, so every day feels like a new opportunity.
What is the biggest challenge you face in your line of work? One of our biggest challenges from the business side is that we can’t control wins and losses on the field. When your pinnacle property is built on results, you have to try to build a business that insulates itself from that. We try do that by having a great atmosphere at our matches and focusing on customer experience. We’ve also built a strong youth soccer structure under the MLS team, unlike the old North American Soccer League days, which supports the club structure. Hopefully together, these provide some strength in tough years on the field.
You’re the only female c-suite executive on a Vancouver pro sport team; across the MLS teams there are only a handful of women who hold senior management titles. What’s it like being a woman in such a male-dominated field? I’ve never seen gender as a barrier to success and am fortunate to have owners at the Whitecaps that have also never seen gender as a limitation. That’s not to say there haven’t been times in my career where I have been treated badly just because I am a woman. I’ve always chosen to rise above those situations. I believe that if you have the confidence to proceed and, through your work, demonstrate that you belong, ultimately people will respect and embrace you.
Can you tell us something about Whitecaps FC that most people don’t know? At our core, we are about using the vehicle of soccer to build better communities. I think that’s unique amongst a lot of professional sports organizations. We do that through free programming such as our community clinics, through community partnerships with organizations such as BC Children’s Hospital Foundation and Covenant House Vancouver, and with our academy centres now providing access for kids across the country. That community spirit is our reason for being.
What is your favourite Whitecaps memory? There have been so many, from winning the bid to get an MLS franchise, to our first MLS game at Empire Field, and last year hosting our first home playoff game at BC Place. But for me, one of my favourite memories came when my son Noah was a player escort for the team a couple of years ago. He got to walk out with the players and got to hold the captain’s hand. Seeing how magical that experience was for him is something that really inspires me every day.
What is your vision for success in your own life? A happy, healthy family is always number one. My goal every day is to do my best as a mother, daughter, wife, sister, and leader with joy and passion, and to hopefully inspire those around me to do the same.
Why did you become a member of Terminal City Club? It’s a fantastic organization and our club has a very proud partnership, so it’s been a natural fit to be a member.
What have you enjoyed the most about the Club so far? The proximity to our office and the superb facilities at Terminal City Club are excellent for managing my business needs. We have held our annual all-staff meeting here, as well as a number of more casual functions. We have found it to be a great space for our hosting and hospitality needs. ♦