#100Pac12 Alumni: Mary Harvey
Cal Women’s Soccer ‘86
Principal, Ripple Effect Consulting
A two-time graduate of Pac-12 institutions, Mary Harvey has blazed a trail in international soccer and the business world. Building off her experience as a student-athlete at Cal, she has changed the face of women’s sports across the globe. Harvey credits her time as a Cal Bear with much of her success, acknowledging that the lessons she learned as a student-athlete directly contributed to her achievements both as an elite athlete and an accomplished businesswoman.
After her time at Cal, Harvey went on to become a member of the U.S. Women’s National Team, a successful management consultant, a business owner, a representative for athlete rights at the US Soccer Federation, the first woman to run a business unit at FIFA, the COO of Women’s Professional Soccer, and a sport envoy for the U.S. State Department.
Harvey was a student-athlete in Berkeley when Title IX was still being implemented and women’s sports were fighting for their rightful place on campus. At the time, the Cal women’s soccer team was deemed a club sport with varsity standing, and Harvey says that the facilities and exposure accessible to women playing college sports today were merely wishful thinking when she was a student-athlete. In fact, her team had to fundraise for themselves and pay a fee to participate every season.
“Turning on Pac-12 Networks and watching women’s collegiate soccer in HD with that production quality was not something that was even imaginable back then,” Harvey said.
Harvey says her experience playing youth and college soccer helped her cultivate valuable skills not easily obtained elsewhere.
“For me, the biggest value of sports is the human capital development that happens,” Harvey said. “I only became aware of what I’d been given when I finished playing and entered business school and the workplace.”
Harvey realized she was able to resolve conflict with ease, work efficiently on teams, do well under pressure, and remain calm in front of senior audiences. She also found that others were looking to her to take the lead.
After graduating from Cal, Harvey thought she was finished playing. She joined the San Francisco office of Accenture, a global management consulting firm, and started to move on with life after sports. Soon after starting at Accenture, she was put on a project that moved her to Germany for four years. While overseas, Harvey realized she missed soccer and joined a club team in Frankfurt.
“I earned my living as a management consultant, while playing an active schedule in a high-quality premiere soccer league,” Harvey said of her time in Frankfurt. “I was playing 60 games a year, training four days a week, and working a 100-hour work week at Accenture.”
While playing in Germany, Harvey attracted the attention of the U.S. Women’s National Team coaches. She then spent the next few years juggling playing commitments with the U.S. Women’s National Team and her club teams in Germany and Sweden with full time work commitments.
In 1995, nine years after graduating from Cal, Harvey signed a contract with US Soccer to play professionally for the first time. US Soccer had established a full-time residency program for members of the women’s team in order to prepare for the 1995 Women’s World Cup and the 1996 Olympics.
After the 1996 Olympics, Harvey retired from playing and headed to business school at UCLA. But she did not leave the soccer world completely. While still an athlete, Harvey had become heavily involved in governance at US Soccer, and she maintained that involvement when her playing days were over.
“Part of my Berkeley heritage is that we have an activist streak in us,” Harvey joked. “So I took on the task of representing the interests of the athletes in US Soccer governance.”
From 1992- 2003, Harvey held a number of positions at US Soccer, serving on its board of directors, executive committee, and on the US Soccer Foundation board. In 1997, Harvey also established the Athlete Council at US Soccer.
“I wanted to give back to something that has given me so much, and wanted to empower players to play an active role in shaping the future of the game,” said Harvey.
Harvey’s background as an international player, involvement with US Soccer governance, and track record as a management consultant eventually led to her name being thrown in the hat for the open Director of Development position at FIFA. When Harvey was hired in 2003, she was both the first woman, and among the first Americans, to run a business unit at FIFA.
“No question I was breaking a gender barrier,” Harvey said, “Especially when you consider the part of the company I was responsible for.”
Harvey’s role was to oversee the development of the game itself around the world and invest in projects to accelerate its growth. Her role put her in charge of initiatives to develop soccer infrastructure, issue financial grants, provide coaching and refereeing education, fund sports medicine research, and launch special initiatives to promote women’s soccer, futsal, and beach soccer.
“I’d say that probably the most challenging part was learning how to be effective in a role where I was seen as a woman first, an American second, and an executive third,” Harvey said. “As a result, I’m more skilled at navigating international and cultural divides than I ever was before.”
In 2008, Harvey returned to the U.S. to help launch Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS), a professional soccer league that unfortunately folded after three seasons.
“Trying to turn the corner on WPS in that economy was really hard, probably the hardest thing I’ve ever tried to do professionally,” said Harvey. “But I’m not sure there would be an National Women’s Soccer League today without the WPS.”
Today, Harvey runs her own consulting firm and also serves as a volunteer sport envoy for the U.S. State Department’s sports diplomacy program. She has traveled to Iraq and Jordan and spoken to countless kids and parents about why sports are important, especially for women and girls.
With all of Harvey’s experience in sports administration and business, and as an elite athlete, her best advice to today’s student-athletes is to find mentors to help with the transition to life after sports.
“Sometimes there’s an opportunity to play after college and sometimes there isn’t, but regardless, eventually there’s going to be a transition to life after sports,” said Harvey. “It can be tough to leave that bubble.”
Harvey is quick to stress that the skills that have taken her so far in her career are directly tied to her time as an athlete: “There is no doubt in my mind: I can track the origin of things I’m good at in my career right back to my time playing sports.”