Jo-Anne Polak was way ahead of her time.
She was the Ottawa Rough Riders’ general manager from 1989 to 1991 and the first woman appointed to a GM position in North American pro sports. That was over 30 years ago when she was 29 years old.
The Miami Marlins named Kim Ng general manager on Friday, November 13 — the first woman to become a Major League Baseball GM. Ng is 52 years old and has been working in the majors for years.
“We look forward to Kim bringing a wealth of knowledge and championship-level experience,” Chief Executive Officer Derek Jeter said in a statement. “Her leadership of our baseball operations team will play a major role on our path toward sustained success.”
Polak was originally hired by Ottawa as a business manager in 1987. The St. Johns, Newfoundland native and University of Waterloo graduate had been working in public relations. Just keeping the franchise in Ottawa alive was Polak’s main focus. There were eight teams in the CFL and the league was in an uncertain financial situation.
Accounting was her main focus but the team improved during the time she was the football decision-maker. Ottawa doubled its win total from two to four in 1989 and produced a 7-11 record the following two seasons, losing in the East Semi-Final both times.
“Even though I was there to help the organization, people did not love the idea of having a female GM. When I first started, people wanted to see me fail,” Polak told Laurentian University last year.
“I wasn’t hired because I’m a women, I was hired because I could bring a business sense to an organization that use to always be run by football people.”
She left the Rough Riders following the 1991 season and went into radio as a host until joining Hill & Knowlton Canada, an international public relations company, as vice president. Polak was there until 2007 when she joined Canada Post in a communications role and rose to her current position as vice president in the same department.
Business and marketing experience helped Polak earn the Rough Riders GM role, leaving her mark on history.