Penguin In Flight
Jennifer Bullano Ridgley logs thousands of air miles every year.
Bullano Ridgley, 37, is senior director of communications for the Pittsburgh Penguins of the National Hockey League. The club flies by charter on large jets fitted with spacious, first-class seating. The traveling party pulls right up and parks on an area of the tarmac located nowhere near the Pittsburgh International terminal, and proceeds through a quick, private security process before boarding via a large mobile stairway (think Air Force One). Travel between the plane, hotels and arenas is by charter coach buses.
Clearly, that’s a different flavor of travel few women (and men) who jet around for work get to experience. But significant life changes have presented Bullano Ridgley with challenges common to others who work at more so-called conventional jobs. Married with a three-year-old daughter, she has cut back on her travels while still accompanying the club to a good portion of its 41 regular season road games, plus preseason and postseason games (there have been plenty of those for the defending two-time Stanley Cup champions).
Recently, she sat down before a team practice to talk about her job and life away from home.
Q: You became director of communications in 2008. You were single and didn’t have a daughter.
A: Packing for a road trip was a lot easier. I just packed a bag and left. Now I have a lot of things to juggle and a lot of things to coordinate. There’s a lot of moving parts.
Q: What advice would you give to women who have a family or are planning to have a family and need to travel for work?
A: I would say that it always works itself out. Even when it seems the most overwhelming, something happens or someone steps up and helps you out. And I think people are becoming more understanding. We don’t just play Monday through Friday. The weekends are more of a challenge because my daughter doesn’t go to daycare on the weekends. I make sure my husband is home, or a babysitter or a family member. I’m really fortunate to have that support system from our family, but I think about it all the time. I don’t know how single, working mothers do it. I try to be as prepared as I can, but things always come up. I think a lot’s changing with women in the work field. I think people are starting to understand that the unforeseeable is always there. You don’t want to call and say I can’t come or I can’t be there, but sometimes you have to be the mom. There are weeks when I’m really good at having everything together, and there are other weeks, like the playoffs, where it’s just… I think the biggest challenge was when I first came back (from maternity leave) I had something to prove to myself and others, that I could do it. My daughter was born in April, so it was lucky for me that the offseason was when she was really an infant. I think it took that first year of just being exhausted and trying to keep it all together to realize that it’s OK. It’s OK to delegate a little bit, and it’s OK to take a backseat. I learned. In the past two years, I cut back a little bit.
Q: If I remember right, going back some years, you were known for overpacking just a little bit.
A: Oh, yeah. Those days are over. There’s a lot of efficiency now. I wear flat shoes and carry my heels instead of trying to stomp through the snow in Winnipeg in four-inch heels. I’m a little more practical these days. It just got harder to carry everything. I also packed for extra room for my little shopping endeavors in different cities. But, yeah, I probably don’t pack as many shoes as I used to.
Q: Are there a couple things that you just won’t travel without?
A: I always bring an extra dress, just because you never know. If our website writer Michelle (Crechiolo) is traveling, I’m thankful because I’m, like, hey can you come zip my dress if it’s a tough one. Other days you think about where you’re going to be, and what the weather’s going to be like. That’s a challenge, especially if we’re in a warm city flying home. Sometimes I’ll bring a pair of yoga pants and a pair of boots so I can put them on as we’re landing and it’s 10 degrees. I have to think of things that (the men) don’t necessarily have to think about. I try to always have a hat or a hood because of my hair. The rain makes it curly.
Q: When you’re on the team plane, you’re traveling with the players you work with, some of your bosses, and you’re often one of the few females or the only female. What’s that like?
A: It’s always been great. The guys are always respectful of me. No one’s ever made me feel uncomfortable in that setting – to the point that some days I don’t even realize it. I think I’m blind to the fact that I’m the only female on the plane because they’re kind of like having 22 brothers at this point.
Q: A lot of female business travelers might travel alone or with a colleague or two. You’re traveling with basically your whole organization. That’s a very different thing for being on the road.
A: It’s fun. Some nights (on the road) I grab sushi and wine by myself. Other nights I go with our staff, the website and camera people. And then once in a while the coaches and GM will treat you to dinner. You never really know what’s coming, but it’s nice because it’s always different. I like to enjoy the traveling part because you never know how long you’ll be able to do it. I’m fortunate to see all different cities that I maybe wouldn’t see without this opportunity.
Q: Do you have a favorite city, or some favorite restaurants on the road?
A: I love traveling to New York just because I love to walk around and be in the big city. Just the atmosphere. I like the fast pace. This is really funny. No, it’s not funny. It’s actually a little bit embarrassing: I don’t travel with any hair products because my guilty pleasure is getting my hair blown out all over. So I go to blow-dry bars a lot. So I love cities that have dry bars.
Thanks Jennifer for spending some time with Go Jane Go. We're impressed with what you do and how your approach to business travel has adjusted with experience and kids. We can learn so much from you!
~Journey On, Janes!