Game Changer

Chargers CFO Jeanne Bonk


Several months have passed since the San Diego Chargers played the final down of their 2011-12 season, but the team’s Mission Valley, Calif., headquarters remains a beehive of activity. Couriers zip through the facility’s entry doors and disappear down maze-like hallways at warp speed. Receptionists move deftly between answering a seemingly never-ending stream of phone calls and the queries of wide-eyed visiting fans. Team coaches roar greetings to one other above the din on their way to afternoon meetings.

Jeanne Bonk ’83 has seen it all before, and takes in the chaotic scene with an amused, if not altogether approving grin. “Oh, this is just kind of the way it is around here,” she says. “If you think this is crazy, you ought to come back by for a visit when training camp starts. That’s when things really get going.”

As the team’s executive vice president and chief financial officer (CFO), Bonk has her finger firmly on the pulse of all things Chargers. Her professional purview extends across the dollars-and-cents side of the organization, from overseeing the team’s day-to-day operations to helping negotiate for a new stadium in San Diego. On a personal level, she bleeds blue and gold. So much so that it’s common knowledge among co-workers and friends to give her an especially wide berth the morning after a Chargers’ loss.

“I’m naturally a competitive person, so it really impacts me when things don’t go well for the team on the field,” she says, then adds with a wry smile, “If people really need to get ahold of me, they know to wait until the afternoon so I’ve had time to get over it.”

A lifelong sports aficionado, Bonk grew up playing softball and tennis on the fields and courts near her Anaheim, Calif., home. A diehard Los Angeles Lakers fan in those days, she’s fairly certain she was the only teenage girl in her neighborhood with posters of Laker greats Jerry West and Wilt Chamberlain adorning her bedroom walls.

“I was a huge fan,” she recalls. “We would sit around the dinner table and talk about my dad’s company, and the Lakers. I guess I should’ve known then that I was destined for a career in sports, huh?”

Those mealtime conversations also piqued Bonk’s interest in business, and were determining factors in her obtaining a bachelor’s degree in accounting from USD. A stellar academic résumé and a strong endorsement from then accounting program advisor Ethel Sykes earned Bonk a job with global accounting firm Price Waterhouse. It turned out to be a life-changing opportunity.

“I’ve always considered myself a very fortunate person, but I never would’ve guessed how fortunate I was in getting the job with Price Waterhouse,” she says. “I met my husband while working there, and the San Diego Chargers were one of my clients. I had been working at Price Waterhouse for eight years and, when the CFO position with the Chargers became available in 1991, I was lucky enough to land the job.”

Modest to a fault, Bonk has never been one to sing her own praises, choosing instead to herald the success of the organization as a whole. However, it’s no secret that her prolific work ethic and team-player mentality have earned her the respect and admiration of executives and officials around the NFL — including the most important one of all.

“Jeanne is one of the most dedicated and loyal individuals any organization could have,” says San Diego Chargers Chairman and President Dean Spanos. “Over the last 20 years, she has done an incredible job. Her knowledge of the NFL and the total Chargers operation is unmatched.”

The daily demands of managing the bottom line for San Diego’s most popular sports franchise are many, but Bonk still manages to find time to visit her alma mater at the west end of Mission Valley from time to time. Last year, she spoke to a rapt audience as a member of a sports marketing and management panel discussion for USD’s Knowledge Transfer program. At the event’s conclusion, several eager attendees approached Bonk to find out how exactly she had found a path from Alcalá Park to the Chargers’ front office. Her answer was simple: hard work, and lots of it.

“Most people in the sports industry work a lot of hours, and some people come into it without their eyes wide open. The sheer volume of work tends to overwhelm them,” she says. “Internships are a really great way to go, but if you think you’re going to come in here and work eight to five, then you’re going to be in for a shock.” — Mike Sauer

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