Behind every successful man there stands a strong woman.
If the old proverb needs a rebrand, Dany Garcia is the perfect fit. In August 2020, she and her ex-husband, Dwayne Johnson, together with private equity firm RedBird Capital, purchased the XFL for $15 million, making Garcia the first woman to own a professional sports league. It was a monumental achievement for Garcia, but it’s hard to compete for headlines when the Rock is involved.
“Whenever I see: Dany Garcia and ex-husband Dwayne Johnson, I'm like, Oh, I got an ex-husband this time,” says Garcia, laughing. “Because I'm always the ex-wife.”
The 51-year-old projects an understated but effective self-confidence that has served her well. Her résumé doesn’t begin with the ascent of her ex-husband’s Hollywood career. Before signing on as the Rock’s manager in 2008, Garcia spent a decade working in wealth management for Merrill Lynch. (The couple divorced in 2009, after 11 years of marriage.) Over the last decade, she has slowly built an empire, serving as CEO and chairwoman of the Garcia Companies, a holding company whose portfolio includes TGC Management, a global brand development and management company; cofounding Seven Bucks Companies, which includes the production company responsible for hits like the HBO series Ballers and the Baywatch reboot, among others; and now, heading up the restoration of the XFL.
Garcia’s involvement with the rebooted football league seemed to come out of nowhere, but she says she was an avid fan from the start. She says she loved the second iteration of the XFL in 2020 under Vince McMahon and had plans to work with him in the future. When the pandemic sent the company into bankruptcy in the spring, Garcia recognized an opportunity and went into action.
“If I was 15 and someone had said to me, ‘Would you like to own a major sports league?’ I would've said yes,” Garcia says.
The confidence is effortless, but it’s partly by design. Garcia is the ex-wife of a megacelebrity in an industry that often isn’t too forgiving, and that label is hard to shake off.
Garcia recognizes this and understands that the only way to combat it is to combine preparedness, strategy and good old-fashioned hard work.
“So I have two biases,” Garcia says. “The first thing is a male bias for a divorced man. The second thing is the celebrity bias. You can’t get frustrated. I'm talking to an organization and an audience who can't fit me in their box. You are the ex-wife in the room in a male dominated industry. I'm breaking through all of these biases that exist just in the first handshake.”
The daughter of Cuban immigrants, Garcia started working at the age of 12 and never really stopped, even when she was a full-time student and athlete (crew) at the University of Miami. It was a natural progression into the world of finance, but leaving her job and her identity outside of Hollywood to lead the Rock’s team was risky. The payoff has clearly been astronomical, but for no one more than Johnson himself.
“We’ve been business partners for years, slowly and methodically building enterprises that we have a passion for,” says Johnson. “What stands out to me the most is Dany's rare trifecta of confidence, business acumen and the all-important emotional intelligence. She has those success qualities in spades. Sometimes she wins and sometimes she doesn't, but when she sets the table, you’d be smart to push all your chips in on that bet.”
With Garcia as his manager, Johnson has become one of the world’s highest-paying actors. Any project the Rock has worked on in the last two decades has Garcia’s fingerprint, and the pair has churned out hit after hit: Universal’s Hobbs & Shaw, Sony’s Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle and NBC’s The Titan Games are all under the Garcia umbrella, to name a few. Besides Johnson, Garcia’s roster also includes actors such as Henry Cavill, and, through Seven Bucks Productions, she has worked with nearly every movie studio and network in the business. Then there’s the lucrative brand deals, ranging from Under Armour to VOSS water to the fast-casual Mediterranean restaurant chain Cava. And all the while, she’s also built a career as a professional bodybuilder.
Garcia finds herself in a growing, albeit small, group of women CEOs. As of September 2020, there are 37 female CEOs employed at America's 500 highest-grossing companies—just over 7%. Garcia places a tremendous amount of responsibility on being the first female league owner.
“I am fortunate enough to make history by following something I was so passionate about. Now that that's an amazing thing,” says Garcia. “But what happens the day after is also the enormity of understanding, O.K., now you carry a legacy. You have a responsibility, not only your responsibility to what you want to achieve, but you have a responsibility to the people who are following you.”
One look at the makeup of the Garcia Companies, and it’s clear that she has created her company culture around this responsibility. Diversifying boardrooms and corporations reached a fever pitch this summer, as companies were publicly being called out for their lack of diversity and inclusion.
“It's leadership's responsibility to create all of the different opportunities. So with the XFL, that's very specific for us,” Garcia says. “When we are looking at a room full of employees, the norm is not that this room is filled with white individuals. We don't start in that position, and then you create diversity. We start with a diverse room and go from there.”
In her new role, Garcia sees a huge opportunity in growing the female fan base for the XFL. Again, she is aware of the rules of the game and is determined to find a way around them.
“Storytelling around football has always been very male-centric,” says Garcia. “There's a tremendous amount of storytelling that I believe appeals to a female viewer that no one has ever focused on. I don’t want to present a male point of view on football and hope the women kind of enjoy it too. No. It has to hit both marks.”
Garcia is direct in her vision of the league just months after the announcement. Her days are packed with Zoom meetings with employees all around the world. Both Garcia and Johnson are determined to give the XFL a long tenure and understand the limitations of the pandemic. The two announced that the league won’t start until 2022.
“We want to do great work and we want this league to be sustainable,” Garcia says. “That requires a tremendous amount of meetings, strategy, review, infrastructure, all of that is happening.”
The XFL had a decent cult following last season, but viewership eventually dipped under the 1 million mark. Ever ready for a challenge, Garcia wants to go big. It’s the only way she knows how to do things. Her sights are set high and plans include an expansion of the league from its current eight-team format; a focus on innovation and technology; and an emphasis on defining the culture of the XFL, which Garcia describes as “the younger, trendy, kind-of-a-cooler-haircut sibling.” It’s a large undertaking that requires an overhaul to the infrastructure—and Garcia is just getting started.
In an industry that has very few female team owners, let alone league owners, Garcia has no playbook. The pressure is on.
“I say this to women executive leaders or any woman who's moving forward and wants to get success: We cannot be successful and be quiet about it,” Garcia says. “For women in particular, it is so beneficial to say, This is what I've done. This is what I've accomplished. And to share it with as many people as possible.”
Garcia speaks about this process like a mantra that if chanted enough will give all women the ability to openly and unabashedly take pride in their accomplishments.
“If we don't stop to read our history, we don't know who we are,” she says. “All those things help to create your own identity and let you sit in your own identity.”
Garcia knows exactly what she brings to the table, and that ultimately that is what keeps her in the game.
“She builds the spaceship, and all I do is fly it,” her ex-husband says matter of factly.
Turns out, behind every successful woman is an ex-husband who knows when to step aside.
For more from stories on the most powerful, most influential and most outstanding women in sports right now, check out Sports Illustrated's series The Unrelenting.