Not all mentors are forever but when you find one that you can connect with on a personal and professional level, they definitely can be. Le An Hinh was assigned to be my mentor in 2019 after I joined Brown Girls Dream, a specific mentoring program for young Black and Brown women in the media industry. At the time, she was the Executive Director of Production at the Tennis Channel, now she’s the Global Head of Production Operations for Prime Video Live Sports at Amazon.
I’ve had the honor of witnessing just a snippet of her journey while also soaking in her wealth of wisdom as one of the few women in sports with a position of enormous authority, which is needed in any industry if one ever wants to make a serious impact. Her expertise and professionalism are well balanced with her love for life and zen-like approach to all situations, in and out of the office.
Her Agenda met with Le An to talk about her transition to becoming a sports executive along with the life lessons she’s learned along the way.
Her Agenda: Where did your love of sports come from?
Le An Hinh: I kind of fell in love with sports in college. In high school, I used to watch basketball games but I never played. I’ve always been a Lakers fan, that’s what my dad loved before he passed. When I got to college I did a lot of internships throughout my time at UCLA but I got into sports by accident. I was interning at the music department in FOX Sports and I had the opportunity to go to another internship at FOX Sports I didn’t know how much I loved it until I got on the field. And it was a lot of grunt work really, running out and getting sodas, getting food for my managers and producers, making coffee, paperwork, etc. But I knew once I was out on the field, I just loved the atmosphere. I love how winning was part of the mindset and there was a team mentality too. Growing up as a Lakers fan, a SoCal native, I just knew this was my area.
Her Agenda: You have a very colorful resume, from Fox to ESPN, to Tennis Channel and now Global Head for Live Sports at Amazon. I want to focus on the Tennis Channel, where you've had your most growth. You've left the Tennis Channel right before the pandemic hit, when did you know it was time to leave the Tennis Channel after nine years?
Le An Hinh: I left right before the pandemic because of the opportunity that fell within that time frame. I started as a Production Manager and worked my way to Director of Studio Operations, and then to Executive Director. But I’d been there nine years so I felt like I plateaued a bit. I was launching different events in different cities but it was the same sport. I was at a point in my life where I was looking for growth. An old colleague of mine was the director of live sports at Amazon and he reached out and said ‘Hey, I'm overseeing a new division at Prime Video and wanted to see if you were interested in coming over and joining me.’ He was interested in creating the four pillars that you see in a traditional linear network. Basically, he offered me an opportunity to build the operations team for live productions at Amazon Prime Video.
During that time it was pretty challenging for me, my contract at Tennis Channel was up and I was offered a promotion so I thought ‘Well I’ve been here for nine years, I’ve built my brand, I know what my department looks like. But do I want to stay here or go to this amazing opportunity, sort of like this disruptor of a company like Amazon, and be a part of something big?’ It was a challenging position at times but I knew that it was an opportunity to do something big. I told my boss that as much as I would love to take this promotion and stay with the company, it was sort of time now. I wanted a challenge, I was ready to launch new properties globally and work on other sports. It was time to expand and show other sports what I'm capable of doing.
Her Agenda: Where are all the places you’ve been during your time at the Tennis Channel?
Le An Hinh: Tennis Channel afforded me the opportunity to travel a lot. I got to go to the majors which were in amazing places like Paris, London, Australia, and New York, every year for major events. And I practically lived there and got to be a part of the city and immerse myself there. I got to go to other places like Madrid, Hawaii, and Canada. Not only did I travel to different cities but I got to balance the fun too because the Tennis Channel was a great company.
Her Agenda: And now you’re in this role where you’re traveling less, you’ve just become engaged, and you took a huge step by adopting a beautiful dog. How do you feel about this new chapter in your life?
Le An Hinh: I always say things happen for a reason. This worked out perfectly. At the age I’m in now, I got the traveling bug out of me. Being on the road so long was fantastic but I knew it wasn’t sustainable, I knew I wanted to settle down a bit. I was lucky enough to have a partner who’s supportive of my career and when the pandemic hit, it just worked out that I didn’t have to travel for a while. In my current role, I do travel but very little so it's well balanced. I get to work from home, spend three days in the office, and bring my dog to the office too! And spending time with John has been a blessing.
Her Agenda: You started in the control room, then out in the field, and now you’re in a more business and managerial role. What made you transition from the field to the business side? Were you afraid to make that jump?
Le An Hinh: When I was working my way up from PA, to Associate Producer, to Production Manager, I always knew I wanted to be a production executive. And to do that, I would have to learn the managerial role to get there. I was sort of at a point in my life where it felt like I didn't need to be a part of the grind. I was traveling a lot because you just couldn't say NO. After all, you never know where your next line of work would come from. At the same time, when you’ve built your brand and everyone recognizes that now you don’t have time to at all! It's like a catch 22. But in my mid-twenties, I knew I wanted stability, and that's when I made the transition from freelance to full-time at ESPN in Bristol, CT. I learned there what I didn’t want to do because again it is all about work-life balance. I was on a lot of random schedules for the Sports Center, like I would be on the 6 pm Sports Center on Sunday and then ready for the 6 am sports center Monday. I bounced a lot around different shows until I found my spot at Sports Nation which was a video show Monday-Friday and we aired at 3pmET. What I realized was ‘Wow you can love what you do and have a normal schedule?!.’ So I decided that I could do this and one day I want to be able to manage these shows. That was when my thinking changed about being on the field, I was ready to let that aspect of my career go.
My mentor at the time messaged me that there was this Production Manager opportunity at the Tennis Channel back in LA. He said ‘I know this isn’t in your wheelhouse, but what you will learn from this role will take you where you want to be in the long term as a production executive because you’ll learn budgets and how the business works,’ and he was right. I describe my time at the Tennis Channel as working for a mom-and-pop shop that turned into a corporation. Those are the benefits of working at a small company, you see how things run and I will never take that opportunity for granted.
Her Agenda: Your Twitter bio simply says “Focused.” with a period. Your Instagram bio is “I do this for my culture.” What helps you stay focused and on your path even when you’ve felt like the industry or other factors didn't want you in it? I’ve called you at times saying ‘Am I crazy? Do I belong here?’ and you would keep me straight because it sounded like you've been through it.
Le An Hinh: The key is believing in yourself and keeping your eyes on the prize. I knew there were not a lot of women or people of my ethnicity even in this role that I’m in. If you look at a lot of other networks, they're mostly dominated by men. There's probably one or two women out there, but not many are running operations at this level. For me, I knew that I'm capable of running something large. I think it had to do with that I was raised by a strong single mother who didn't have to tell me ‘You can do it,’ she wasn't one of those American moms who would be like ‘Follow your dreams’ or any of that. My mom came from Vietnam and I was the firstborn American in our family so seeing how hard she worked, I knew that anything was possible. So for me, when I'm committed to something, I make sure I'm focused but also staying authentic to who I am, whether that’s my job or plan. I do it authentically, and I'm mindful of what I want to achieve long-term but with my twist. I try to be kind and thoughtful with what I do but firm as needed. I try not to stray from who I am.
Her Agenda: Why are you a mentor at Brown Girls Dream? How has your experience been so far been?
Le An Hinh: I am so fortunate enough to know Cari Champion, my good friend, who started this program and asked me to be a mentor. We have a similar drive in that we want to break that glass ceiling but also open the door for others because we’ve had to struggle. Working in sports is challenging and so when she asked me to be a mentor, I was so flattered. I am Asian and I’m not Black but to provide that mentorship and voice to young Black women, they might relate despite our skin color. I’m super honored that she thinks that I can still have a positive impact and help guide them. I’m so proud of Cari. At the end of the day, I’m here to give other women the opportunity to grow even if it looks different from the way that Cari and I had to. We’ve had to really grind through and reach out to people and even get rejected at times.
In terms of being a mentor, it is so inspiring to see these women with such drive, it's such a different world now. They’re breaking so many barriers. They’re getting ahead way quicker than it took me. It might have taken me four or five years to have a voice when I started but you guys are inspiring, I see you knocking on doors and asking for what you want. To see that means we’ve made progress. Being a mentor has been fun although sometimes I feel like I'm not a good mentor because I don't have the same amount of time for all my four mentees. There is a bit of guilt when I can't respond to a phone call or an email right away but I hope the girls know that I’m here for them no matter what. It’s been so fun, and I’ve enjoyed it.
Her Agenda: Speaking of ethnicity, can you speak on some of the adversity you’ve had to overcome as one of the few Asian people in your field?
Le An Hinh: You don’t see a lot of Asians in sports first off. Even in professional sports. And on the broadcasting side, it’s even slimmer than that. There are only a handful of people that you can think of. It’s really hard when you don’t see a lot of folks that look like you and then it’s a male-dominated industry on top of that. To add to all of that, there’s my petite size so it’s easy for others to say ‘Oh who is this person? She has no presence.’ Especially because Asians are seen as passive, quiet, and submissive and I’ve been trying to break those barriers. I've been in the broadcast industry so long that I can tell you that my colleague can say that I’m not afraid to speak my mind. I’m not a loud vocal person in meetings but when I do speak it’s powerful and what I say is authentic. I'm not afraid to speak up when the time is right and I read the room to know when my voice is going to be heard. But I know that if you were to put me in a lineup, people wouldn’t think I’m the one leading global sports at prime. But when I’m in a room I make sure my presence is known because I am an expert in what I do. I hope I can pave the way for most girls of color who don’t feel like they belong because everyone can carve out a space for themselves as long as they know that they have support, they work hard, and they believe in themselves.
[Editor's note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity. All images courtesy Le An Hinh, Edits Miguel P.]