Liz Dolan left the corporate world four years ago to seek a more balanced life. For nine years, her career at Nike, culminating in the high-profile role of vice president of global marketing, had been all-consuming. Her goal wasn't to work less but to do a broader variety of things. Or so she said.
Many people assumed she was just taking a breather before stepping up to the next high-level marketing job. But as it turns out, they were mistaken. Dolan, 43, has transferred her talents to an entirely new realm -- one where she touches many more lives and has already earned plenty of accolades. She's one of the stars of Satellite Sisters, a show that joins five siblings in what's arguably the hottest new program on public radio.
Dolan originally planned the show as a creative outlet that would take up one-third of her working life -- in addition to her own sports-marketing consulting firm and her duties on the governing board of the Boys & Girls Clubs of America. Instead, the show now takes up about 80% of her time -- and is turning into a business in its own right.
MULTIMEDIA. In the year since its launch, Satellite Sisters has been syndicated to 70 public radio stations (most new radio shows reach about 45 in the first season), including 6 of the top 10 U.S. radio markets. In May it won two "Gracie Allen Awards" from the American Women in Radio & Television -- for Best National Talk Show and Best Collaboration Between Broadcast and Web-based Media. Dolan can even boast one of the best badges of success around -- an appearance on The Oprah Show.
And Satellite Sisters isn't just for radio anymore. The sisters have a book coming out in November. And their lively Web site at www.satellitesisters.com (where you can hear the weekly broadcast) gets an increasing amount of traffic. In May, the site had 44,000 unique visitors, more than 2,000 of whom listened to the show's audio replay. Roughly 13,000 have signed up for the weekly e-mail newsletter Sisterlogue.
Satellite Sisters takes its name somewhat metaphorically from the hookup that links the five sisters -- Julie in Bangkok, Lian in Pasadena, Sheila in New York, Monica in Portland, Ore., and Liz, who splits her time between New York and Portland. The material is witty banter at its best -- fast-paced, edgy, but without the harshness of much modern talk radio.
KEEP IT REAL. The sisters, who don't dispense advice ("We aren't experts, we're just sisters," says Dolan), bring on several noncelebrity guests per show to spark conversation. "We like to talk to people about how they live their lives and get through difficult transitions," says Dolan, who adds that the goal is to keep the program as close to a real conversation as possible.
At a taping in early June, for instance, the guests included an expert in voluntary simplicity. When he mentioned getting rid of the clothes cluttering your closet as one step, Liz countered: "Since most of mine are on the floor, clean and hanging up would be a big step for me."
Another guest was the director of the summer camp they all attended as teenagers. The topic: Why camp is so empowering for young girls. "Camp was really the high point of my existence," said youngest sister Lian, who won the coveted "Miss YO" award (for Camp Wyonegonic). "Leadership wise it was all downhill from there."
Another guest that day was a listener who was widowed with two young sons and had written to the show about how being a "sports mom" helped her avoid social isolation and connect with her sons after her husband's death.
"SYMBOLIC VALUE." The show, structured as a weekly catch-up call between sisters, gives each a forum to share humorous anecdotes as well as more profound observations. Liz's offering that day was a meditation on what she missed from the corporate world. "There are still a few things I miss from when I was working for a big organization," she said. "No. 1, it was big. And No. 2, it was organized."
While Dolan can be glib on her show about leaving Nike, she didn't make the decision lightly. She worried: "Am I just going to disappear? You get used to a certain amount of clout, profile." Another issue: With so few women in the top ranks of companies, "I knew there was symbolic value to being where I was."
In the end, her desire to do something different -- start a new chapter in her professional life, as she explains it -- won out. Part of the problem was that as she climbed the ladder -- and Nike grew from $800 million to $9.7 billion in sales -- her job became more bureaucratic, less creative. "Increasingly I was managing people and the money they were spending," she says.
"I loved my job, but I wanted to do something more personal, smaller scale, more creative." She had the financial resources and, since she was single, the flexibility in her personal life to take a big risk. "I had been telling people for 10 years to 'Just do it,'" she says. "It was time to put up or shut up."
TECH HURDLES. Dolan's first venture post-Nike was to handle the promotion of the Women's World Cup Soccer match. Her marketing firm, founded with a brother and a former Nike colleague, continues to specialize in promoting women's sports.
The idea for Satellite Sisters was hatched about a year before she departed Nike, when the sisters were on vacation together. After Dolan left her job, "I became the one to make it happen," she says. She called on a Nike connection in the radio world, and they got the opportunity to do a pilot. The show is produced by Public Radio International and distributed by New York's WNYC Radio and Mudbath Productions (the company the five sisters formed to start the show.)
The biggest challenge of Satellite Sisters has been technical hurdles. "Five sisters, four cities, two continents makes a pretty snappy line," Dolan says. But it is often a struggle to get everyone hooked up, maintain the spontaneity of conversation, and still have the production quality they need.
TRIPLE PLAY. The biggest positive surprise has been the intelligent and thoughtful audience (half men), which she says has generously contributed ideas and comments on the program -- mostly by writing via the Web. "The Web/radio interaction has been fundamental," Dolan says.
What of the financial rewards of her career switch? Dolan bursts out laughing at the thought of comparing her salary at Nike to the fees she gets from Satellite Sisters. But she didn't leave Nike intending to match her salary. Even though Satellite Sisters now takes the bulk of her time, she says she has accomplished her goal of having a business, creative, and public-service side to her work life.
Satellite Sisters is turning out to be more consuming than Dolan planned. But, she adds: "In a way, through Satellite Sisters I can accomplish all three." By Amey Stone in New York