No one needs to tell Samantha Holloway about women being few and far between within the decision-making ownership ranks of NHL teams.
Holloway is aware of this because her father, David Bonderman, is the majority owner of the Kraken and their representative to the league’s board of governors. And though Bonderman will continue in both those roles, Holloway, 41, is stepping up to a more “hands-on” position within the expansion team, replacing her father as the chair of its executive committee.
“We meet in that executive committee board four times a year, so obviously I’ll have that role during meetings,” Holloway, who already owns a minority stake in the team, said in an interview with The Seattle Times on Wednesday at the team’s Kraken Community Iceplex practice facility. “But we obviously talk in between those meetings. And I’ll also be working closely with (CEO) Tod (Leiweke) and learning from the folks here. It’s just being becoming more of an ownership presence from my family, more frequently.”
Female NHL owners in primary roles include Ann Walton Kroenke of the Colorado Avalanche, Kim Pegula of the Buffalo Sabres and Susan Samueli of the Anaheim Ducks. Kroenke’s husband Stan transferred majority Avalanche ownership to her to satisfy rules about owning sports teams in multiple NFL cities when he bought the Los Angeles Rams.
Pegula is president and a co-owner of the Sabres along with her husband Terry. Samueli is co-owner of the Ducks with her husband Henry.
The Kraken executive committee board that Holloway will oversee provides strategic oversight of the team and includes vice chair David Wright, Andy Jassy, Jerry Bruckheimer, Chris Ackerley, Jay Deutsch, Maria Eitel, Mitch Garber, Adrian Hanauer and Len Potter.
“It’s an incredible opportunity,” Holloway said. “I’m looking forward to learning and contributing and supporting the folks that are already in place.”
Holloway said, when asked, that she isn’t being installed to micromanage Kraken CEO Tod Leiweke, general manager Ron Francis or anyone else on behalf of her family. The team entered Wednesday with the league’s second-worst record at 18-37-6 despite the ownership group paying a record $650 million franchise fee that included favorable expansion-draft rules intended to make the team competitive early.
But Holloway said she is happy with the management job done by Leiweke, confident in Francis and is taking an overall franchise view, including the duress of launching a team during a global pandemic and the completion of Climate Pledge Arena, the Kraken Community Iceplex and the One Roof Foundation.
Holloway added that plans for this new role “had nothing to do with the (team) record” and began about six months ago.
“Totally, I can empathize,” she said of fan frustration. “I understand how folks feel, for sure. I also certainly don’t think it will be a six- or seven-year plan. But it could be a couple of years. I mean, this is a unique situation where we have the opportunity to do something great.
“But it’s been a hard year.”
Holloway said she feels Francis has “a great plan” and laid a solid foundation for the team despite first-year challenges exacerbated by COVID-19 protocols, injuries and arena delays.
“Some people are always going to be upset,” she said. “But we’re also trying to build long-term fans, and we’ve got to do that the right way. And we’ll do our best to honor them and listen and do what we can as quickly as we can.”
She added: “Listen, everybody wants to win more games. I also don’t think three years ago that anybody could have fathomed all of the things that have been accomplished and doing it in a global pandemic.
“So there are lots of improvements to be made,” she added. “And Tod would say there’s always work to do. And so I’m excited to be a part of that work. But if you’re asking directly: ‘Is this move because we’re not winning games?’ It’s not. I would be here no matter what.”
But Holloway is working on an offseason management structure shift in which CEO Leiweke will cede his dual title of Kraken president to current chief operating officer Victor de Bonis. The move will allow Leiweke to pay more attention to external business relationships — including sponsors and the planned AHL affiliate in Coachella Valley, California — beyond the team’s day-to-day inner workings.
“I know a lot of people that work hard, and Tod works tremendously hard,” Holloway said. “He’s got great integrity and character, and that’s showing through everywhere. And I feel the same way about Victor (de Bonis), so I feel him stepping into that role and having more influence over the organization is going to be really impactful.”
Left unsaid, the restructuring would also make for a smooth transition for Leiweke and the Kraken should an NBA franchise return to Seattle. Such a scenario could see Leiweke become CEO of an entity overseeing both clubs while maintaining separate presidents for both the Kraken and Sonics.
Holloway said she has no idea about any NBA expansion timeline but added that her family remains interested in bringing a franchise to the city when the league is ready.
Holloway graduated from the University of Michigan with a master’s degree in psychology and earned an MBA at the University of Denver ahead of co-founding companies that deal in software product development and private investment. She plans to involve herself heavily in Kraken fan engagement and is already working with Leiweke on a charitable initiative they plan to launch shortly.
“I focus on sales, marketing and customer success,” she said of her private business endeavors. “So the customer side of the org. Really listening to the customer or listening to things that translate to the experience of the fans and what people are looking for.”
And though the latest company she’s co-founded remains her primary job, she expects her daily Kraken involvement to increase significantly. She and her husband, Greg Holloway, enjoy Seattle and are considering relocating here from Colorado with their children, Gage, 6, and Emme, 4.
Holloway gets that women have had a limited role in the NHL’s executive ranks. But she feels the league is trying to change, and the Kraken are setting an example.
“I think it involves making sure this organization is built from the ground up with character and paying close attention and being intentional on all the key points,” she said. “Again, it’s something that Tod (Leiweke) and everybody here have done from the beginning. So I’m not stepping into any kind of mess. We’re in a great position, and I’m excited to enhance that and bolster it. And I think that their leadership is coming from a great place, and we’re lucky that way.”