The Most Powerful Woman in Sports is crammed into a 10-by-16 office at Valley Ranch, a space that seems much smaller, not because of its scant furniture — a desk, a desk chair, a credenza and a couple of chairs facing the desk — but because of her larger-than-life presence.
Sure, Charlotte Jones Anderson could insist on having a bigger office, but it’s crowded at Valley Ranch these days — a major reason why there will soon be new Dallas Cowboys practice and office facilities in Frisco — and, truth be told, she willingly gave up part of her space to shoehorn someone else into the building.
Yes, her office is much smaller than Jerry’s, which must have room for all those Super Bowl trophies, after all, and she also has less space than brothers Stephen and Jerry Jr. It’s not something she frets about. She’s too busy to fret.
The Most Powerful Woman in Sports is all about teamwork. Understand, TMPWIS is not a designation she has ever applied to herself. But just look at the facts.
Any arguments about the power Anderson wields in a wide variety of sports arenas? Logic tells us that her NFL gravitas alone has earned her TMPWIS status, one that not even Commissioner Roger Goodell seems inclined to dispute.
“I’m not in the business of making declarations, but male or female, she’s one of the great contributors to the success of the NFL,” Goodell says when asked to assess Anderson. “She’s a huge influence in the NFL world. She is a star that shines at everything she does.
“The NCAA should feel very comfortable that she’s chairing the Final Four committee. She’s uniquely qualified to do that very effectively.”
Actually, effectively doesn’t even scratch the surface of Anderson’s ability to get things done.
“She’s a terrific leader and brings an optimism and energy to everything she does around the [Final Four] championship,” says Bob Bowlsby, Big 12 commissioner and her co-chair on the local organizing committee. “She also is willing to put the work forward.
“Chairing the NFL Foundation is no small undertaking, and neither is leading the Final Four. Charlotte is very engaged and my experience with her is she doesn’t do anything halfway. She’s very smart and very energetic, and anything she lends herself to, you know she’ll be active and in it from beginning to end.”
Anderson, who also served a vital role on the committee that brought Super Bowl XLV to North Texas in 2011, has shattered the glass ceiling that has traditionally inhibited women in the ultra-male-dominated world of sports, the NFL in particular.
Yet that was never her goal.
All she ever wanted to do was get out of her daddy’s huge, pervasive shadow. It is a battle she has waged for most of her 47 years.
“For me, it’s never been about male or female or black and white,” Anderson says. “My biggest challenge or point to prove was that I deserved to be there on my own merits, not because of who my parents were or that I might have been born with a silver spoon in my mouth.
“I felt like I always lived under a stigma that, ‘Oh, she got that because she’s Jerry Jones’ daughter.’ There’s no question that I am who I am because of my family, but I always needed to prove to others and to myself that I could stand on my own feet, that it was about my own merit and my own accomplishment.”
Who knows? Perhaps that determination was what led Charlotte Jones, all of 15 at the time, to maybe the single-most defining decision of her life, back in 1981 in Little Rock.
Daddy was a wealthy oilman, and Charlotte — the “really smart one” in the family, Jerry still likes to tell everyone — had always attended private schools. She stunned her parents midway through her sophomore year when she told them she wanted to transfer to a public school.
And not just any public school. She wanted to attend historic Little Rock Central High School, made famous in 1957 when Arkansas Gov. Orval Faubus personally blocked nine African-American students from entering the segregated campus. It took President Dwight Eisenhower and the National Guard to integrate the school.
By 1981, when Charlotte decided that was the place she needed to be, the demographic at Little Rock Central had completely reversed itself and it was primarily a “minority” student body, 64 percent African-American. The school was in the worst part of Little Rock, 20 minutes from where the Jones family lived.
Charlotte’s rationale for the decision speaks directly to who she is. She was already trying to prove that she was more than just a little rich girl from one of Arkansas’ most affluent and prominent families.
“I needed to try something different,” Anderson remembers. “I just felt like that the environment I was in was so sheltered and so very insular that there had to be more. I believed that in order to really understand people, you had to go and be with people.”
At first taken aback, Jerry and his wife, Gene, quickly rallied behind Charlotte’s decision.
“The minute I saw how well-thought-out she was and why she wanted to do it — she wanted all these challenges — the minute I saw that, I was all for it,” Jerry recalls. “But she was leaving a comfort zone to do that.”
It took every ounce of willpower for Jerry to corral his protective fatherly instincts and grant Charlotte his blessing on this move.
“I immediately was concerned,” he says. “I knew the issues she would face. This wasn’t for the fainthearted. This school was a great mixture of every level of society. Looking back on it, it’s where you would want someone to go for a real education of how things are in life. It was the perfect laboratory.”
Charlotte continued to blossom at Central. She became a cheerleader and, as a junior, she ran for class president against a star football player (he was black), who tried to use her life of privilege against her.
“His message was, ‘You can’t support her because she’s not one of us,’ ” Anderson says.
The strategy backfired and, even though Charlotte narrowly lost the controversial election by three votes, one that had to have a recount and made the front page of the local paper, she felt like a winner.
“Had he not [taken the tack he did], I think I would probably have lost by a thousand,” she says. “He tried to make it more than it was, and it really enlightened a lot of people who thought, ‘We’re all better than that.’ ”
The new class president found himself on the front steps of famous Little Rock Central, shaking hands for photographers with the young lady who had almost pulled off the amazing upset. Both would wind up going to Stanford, and Charlotte is convinced that her essay about changing schools and the hard-fought election was what got her accepted.
Of course, it didn’t hurt that she was class valedictorian, too.
As the only girl, right in the middle between Stephen and Jerry Jr., she was also the apple of Daddy’s eye. When the kids wanted something, Charlotte was dispatched to Jerry to do the asking.
“From an early age, I was kind of the one in the family who was the first up and the last to bed” — a habit she follows to this day — “the one who was the rule follower,” she says. “I always tried to fit as much as I could into the day. Dad always said I was his alarm clock; he could hear me walking around upstairs, and he knew it was time to get up.”
There was always a sense that Charlotte had something special, that she was going places and she intended to get there on her own if at all possible.
“Both my mom and dad always had more confidence in my ability and my future than I ever did in myself,” she says. “My dad would tell me every day, ‘You can be the president of the United States; you can change the world, all you have to do is put your mind to it.’
“He was so focused on building confidence. And I don’t know if I felt like he was directing that more towards me because I was the girl and he was trying to convince me that I could do whatever [her brothers] could do, but he never let up. He was always telling me to step out and do something different.”
She did exactly that at Stanford, where she started in pre-med but couldn’t really see herself stuck in a hospital for the rest of her life. She spent four months studying and working in Florence, Italy. She majored in human biology, but it was human psychology that interested her most.
Out of college, she immediately leapt into the world of politics, taking a job running controversial Arkansas congressman Tommy Robinson’s Washington, D.C., office. She was there when Robinson, a Democrat, decided to switch to the Republican Party and run for governor of Arkansas. His opponent in the primary was Sheffield Nelson — Jerry Jones’ best friend.
Robinson immediately put Charlotte in charge of his campaign, an awkward position to say the least. She stuck it out for 4 1/2 months before deciding that politics, and the sleaze that came with it, was something she could do without.
The family business
About that time, her dad called, pleading for help. One of his stray remarks about dressing the Cowboys’ cheerleaders in risqué halter tops and hot pants had him in even hotter water than usual. Charlotte flew to Dallas and calmed the waters, and when Daddy asked her to stay and help him stop the team from hemorrhaging money, she agreed.
“He said, ‘I need someone I can trust and someone to get in here and figure out how to stop losing money. We’ll make mistakes, I’ve made a lot already, but we’ll work through them together.’ ”
Despite her misgivings, it was an offer she couldn’t refuse.
“I never dreamed I would be working for my dad in a family business,” she says. “I always wanted to prove that I could be successful in my own right, on my own. Now that it’s come full circle and I’m here, it’s funny, and I think I will always fight that stigma more than what people assume that I fight.”
Not that she hasn’t carried her own weight, by any means. It was Charlotte who suggested that Jerry move the Cowboys’ training camp to Austin, and then turned it into a moneymaking operation.
“I just told her, ‘Go to Austin,’ ” Jerry recalls. “I said, ‘We’re losing about $1 million a year on our training camp. Go there and stop the bleeding. Make it a positive, not a negative.’
“She had no further instruction. Next thing I know, we’ve got all kinds of people around the field every day. We have sponsors. She started that the minute she got here.”
In 1997, Charlotte used her dad to leverage a meeting with Dick Ebersol, then chairman of NBC Universal Sports & Olympics and arguably the most powerful man in television, and persuaded him to give her an extra 15 minutes at halftime of the annual Thanksgiving Day game — about $15 million worth of airtime — so she could organize and produce a Super Bowl-like halftime extravaganza. (The NFL would later adopt that formula for all its Thanksgiving Day games.)
It was during that meeting with Ebersol that Jerry, always her No. 1 fan and supporter, realized just how impressive Charlotte could be.
“When I walked out of that meeting, I asked her, ‘Do you have any idea what you’ve done? Do you know what 15 minutes in the middle of the Thanksgiving Day game, with millions watching, is worth?’ ” Jerry says. “But we have a saying in business: She asked for the order and she didn’t back up.”
It’s not very often anymore that she hears someone say, “Let me talk to your dad about this.”
“I ran into that a lot early on with the networks,” she acknowledges. “What has been great is that Dad has backed me up, telling people, ‘You can get your final answer from her.’ What I tell them is that you can wait and talk to him, or you can talk to me now.
“That’s why I think understanding people is so important. If you can figure out what they really want and give them that answer or direction they’re looking for, you can get a lot farther down the road with them than you might otherwise.”
Incredible business sense
What Anderson discovered once she rolled up her sleeves and got to work for the Cowboys was that the biggest challenges are often the biggest opportunities.
“I had an opportunity to look at who we were as an organization and who we were as a brand and to look beyond the football, to look at the whole,” she says. “How does the public perceive us? What do we want to be known for, to be known as? That’s the branding. That is all-encompassing.
“What organizations do we want to associate with, whether they be corporate or whether they be charitable? How do we build that up so that we stand for more? How can we use our name to do something very purposeful?”
Part of her job is to make full use of AT&T Stadium beyond Sundays with Dallas Cowboys football.
“In the middle of the [stadium] construction, I became involved in pitching concepts for these bids, before the Super Bowl, before the Final Four,” she says. “What can we attract into this venue so that we truly can be an economic engine for this area?
“It became natural for me to go out and say, we’re about football, we’re about basketball, we’re about great events and the spectacle of entertainment. And how do we pull all of these together to make a lasting impact on the community and on our brand, too?”
Somewhere in the midst of all that, Anderson also gets to be a wife and the mother of three children, daughter Haley and sons Shy and Paxton.
Not surprisingly, husband Shy Anderson calls her “Super Mom.”
“When she comes home, she’s Mom and she’s probably better at that than anybody gives her credit for, because nobody sees the behind-the-scenes Charlotte,” says Shy, who also works for the Cowboys, in business development. “She’s learned that from her mom, who’s the queen and just really a special woman.
“But Charlotte has somehow been able to get this incredible business sense from her father. I don’t think Commissioner Goodell picked Charlotte Jones because she’s Jerry’s daughter. He picked Charlotte because of who she is and what she brings to the table. She’s possibly one of the best executives, if not the best, in the NFL when it comes to running, organizing and operating everything around football.”
Goodell couldn’t agree more.
“Do not underestimate her business acumen,” the commissioner says. “She does tremendous work on the not-for-profit side, but she’s a businessperson who understands that side of things better than anyone might believe.
“There’s nothing she won’t take on. She has a great approach to things. If it’s a project or problem that needs energy, focus or innovation, she’s there. Her results speak for themselves.”
Figuring out the future
As much as she’s accomplished, as far she’s come in developing her own role in the Cowboys hierarchy, in the NFL and beyond, there’s absolutely no predicting where Charlotte Jones Anderson could be 10 years from now. All she knows is that there’s still more out there, still something to reach for.
“I was speaking at a Salvation Army event in Atlanta this winter, and the guy who runs their City Council came up to me and said, ‘You are an underachiever.’ I was like, ‘What?’
“He went on to say, ‘It’s great, all this you do with the Cowboys and all that you do with the Salvation Army. But you have a bigger calling and you need to figure out what it is.’ ”
It started Charlotte thinking.
“I was shocked. I’d never had anybody say that to me before,” she says. “It wasn’t something I’d thought of before, but I recognize the fact that being in the position I’m in, I have the ability to impact a lot of women who are trying to figure out how to be successful, at home and in the workplace, be successful in an area that has been predominantly male.
“But it’s more than that: It’s being able to empower other people and to inspire them to reach their potential, whether it’s for people who work for you or beyond that. How do you take that and put that on a bigger stage? I don’t know that I have that answer yet.”
Rest assured, though, it’s something The Most Powerful Woman in Sports intends to figure out.