Kristin Weeden

Note: This feature story starts Penske Entertainment’s celebration of Black History Month, Feb. 1-March 1.

Culture is a key component of success. The most successful sports teams and businesses have established cultures in place.

Behind every strong culture is a strong-willed individual who isn’t afraid to take the lead. They’re special individuals.

Meet Kristin Weeden, the chief talent officer for Penske Entertainment Corp. She is helping to create a strong culture for the company through action and leadership since joining Penske Entertainment in April 2022.

Weeden’s journey to her current role began in college. She got her master’s degree in sports management from Indiana State University and held roles in basketball operations while an undergraduate at Chicago State University and then for Indiana State.

“I wanted to go into sports mostly just because I liked the energy of it,” Weeden said. “The people are usually interesting and hardworking. I got to see just how sports can impact communities and fans, and it’s kind of a special relationship and was something really cool to be a part of.”

Life eventually took her down a different path. She ended up working for the NCAA and the University of Indianapolis, holding both jobs at the same time in 2007 and 2008. After two years, her bosses for both positions felt like she was wearing herself out doing two jobs. They thought she needed to choose one, and each offered a promotion to stay.

“I ended up taking the UINDY (University of Indianapolis) job, which was at the time an interesting decision because I wanted to go into sports, and I just got my master’s degree in sports,” Weeden said. “What I know now is that I made a choice based on culture.”

She thrived there and was later recruited to move into human resources for the Federal Home Loan Bank of Indianapolis in 2016.

Weeden quickly found out that this new place of employment had a different culture from what she had experienced. She questioned if she made a mistake.

“It was not the type of place that I could come every day and just be excited to be there,” she said. “I struggled deciding if I was going to stay or not.”

Her husband, a former professional basketball player, was the catalyst for her staying.

He articulated the calming words that she needed to hear. He told her that her professional role was killing her vibe, and she was succumbing to that environment. Why didn’t she infuse more of her views into the workplace and establish a new culture?

Weeden, a natural-born leader who draws inspiration from her strong-willed mother, said she always had a lot to say while growing up. While younger, her mom gave her the space to articulate her ideas and ensure her voice was important.

With that mindset and traits learned in the sporting world, Weeden helped to establish a culture that completely turned around the work environment at the Federal Home Loan Bank of Indianapolis, a culture that is still thriving today.

Her early tears of fear turned to joy. She became an assistant vice president and later learned of the intent to nominate her to a vice president. She was happy and stable. She had a purpose and was making an impact.

Then came an email about a job opening at Penske Entertainment. At the time, she didn’t think much about it.

“I never saw that because I usually don’t check LinkedIn, and it’s always headhunters,” she said. “I wasn’t exactly looking (for a job).”

Then came a second email to her personal account. This was a legitimate opportunity.

“I hadn’t thought about sports in years,” she said. “I was very secure, but something was missing. So, the idea that I could do what I’ve come to love, which is human resources, and do it at a sports organization, which was initially where I wanted to be, was compelling. The idea of doing it in an industry that I can have some excitement about was pretty cool, and the opportunity to be the first woman of color on the Penske Entertainment executive leadership team could not be overlooked. So that’s what did it for me.”

It was a full-circle moment.

In April 2022, Weeden joined Penske Entertainment. With her came those culture-building ideas, including Foolery Free Friday. She chose Friday because it’s her favorite day of the week. She understands the grind of a work week and wanted to bring forth a mindset change.

“If you know me then you know it’s all about the vibes,” she said. “And Friday is the day I make an intentional effort to say nothing's going to kill my vibe. No email, no conversation, no issue that comes across my desk, is going to kill my vibe. If I have to handle it today, I'm going handle it in good spirits. If it can be tabled to Monday, then we might dial into Monday.

“It's just a mindset, and it's funny. It’s good because it can be infectious and actually make people excited about being at work that day. I kind of started it on a whim at the bank. And now, years later, they still email me about it like, ‘Hey, it’s Foolery Free Friday!”

Now happy and respected at Penske Entertainment, Weeden wants to let others know they can have a voice, too. She opened some insight on how to follow her path of success, especially as a role model for fellow African American women.

“You’re not going to always work with people who see your value,” she says. “So, perseverance is very important for women and people of color because you're going to be in rooms where they’d rather hear it from a man, or your boss, or simply think you don't have anything of value to add.”

To overcome those challenges, Weeden said it takes a strong work ethic, studying the industry and job intently and never being too big to do the small stuff.

“I don't think that there is any substitute for hard work, a high level of effort and a good attitude,” she said. “I think it speaks volumes to every generation and is the language of every organization in every industry. It is what’s most respected. I’m still learning every day, but in my experience, there's no easy way out: Whatever the task, you either get it done, and get it done well, or move aside.

“You may absolutely find yourself in spaces where someone thinks less of you based on things like where you’re from, your non-Ivy League degree, the way you style your hair or even the earrings you wear. But for me, all those things have shaped who I am and none of them prevent me from showing up polished, professional, proud and giving my best every day. You've got to be able to push past the judgment, do your thing and prove them wrong.”