Breaking News
More () »

New Timbers, Thorns CEO ready to lead clubs into new era

Heather Davis worked for the NFL prior to returning home to work in professional soccer. Club owner and previous CEO Merritt Paulson stepped down last year.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Not many offices provide an incredible view of a professional soccer pitch. That's why Heather Davis says she's not taking the view from her suite-level Providence Park office for granted.

"It is starting to sink in," she said. "I don't know that I ever thought I'd have this type of opportunity."

She's referring to the opportunity to lead two professional soccer clubs: the Portland Timbers of Major League Soccer and the Portland Thorns of the National Women's Soccer League. Davis, who previously served as general counsel, was tapped to move up to CEO of both clubs in January.

"I think the reception has been incredible," she said. "I think our senior leadership team has really stepped up and our staff has been really energized by the changes in really positive ways."

Calls for change reached a fever pitch late last year, particularly for the Thorns club, which was embroiled in controversy after an investigation uncovered systemic abuse and misconduct within the organization. 

Merritt Paulson, who owns both teams and previously served as CEO of both clubs, fired key staffers and then later stepped down as CEO of both clubs. Merritt Paulson fired key staffers before announcing he was selling the Thorns and stepping down as CEO of both the Thorns and Timbers, paving the way for Davis.

"I think any time you face these kinds of challenges it gives you an opportunity to do better and that's what we're focused on," Davis said. "We really very much consider that a journey. We're going to come here, do our jobs, look to get better, a little bit better every day and find ways to grow and improve and then hold ourselves accountable when we make mistakes. I think the organization did that over the last year and that's what we need to continue to do."

Perhaps nobody is better suited for the job than Davis. She brings a wealth of experience with her. Right after graduating from the University of Oregon, the Aloha native worked for President Bill Clinton in the White House and Hillary Clinton in the Senate. Davis then worked for a couple of big law firms before catching on with the NFL where she was lead counsel for international operations and special events.

"I'm someone who has spent my career as a staff person," Davis said. "I haven't been in charge of multiple sports teams. I haven't always been the person at the top so I think I bring a perspective our staff is really open to and welcomes because I understand a little bit more what it's like to be the people doing the work every day, not the people directing the work every day."

With Davis now directing the work at Providence Park, she becomes only the fifth woman to hold the title of CEO or President in Major League Soccer. She is the first woman to be in charge of the Timbers and Thorns.

"I think the message is girls can do it, too," Davis said. "There's nothing holding anyone back anymore."

In other words, anybody can have an office with a view, but maybe not Davis' office as she plans to be here for a long time to come.

"We have a lot of positive momentum here," she said. "I think this is a club that's done a lot of great things in this community over the years and is one the community and fans can be proud of and have been proud of."

Before You Leave, Check This Out