Women in Business Q&A: MJ Day Assistant Managing Editor, Swimsuit, Sports Illustrated

MJ Day is the Assistant Managing Editor for SPORTS ILLUSTRATED overseeing the Swimsuit Issue. Day is one of the most innovative and unique editors of today by transforming the most iconic print issue to date into a cross-platform immersive digital experience that reaches over 70 million consumers annually. At the helm, Day oversees all content creation for the franchise across print, digital and video platforms from the ground up including model castings, international location scouts and single-handedly launched careers of the industry's top models including Kate Upton and Chrissy Teigen among others. In over fifteen years at SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, Day has worked with legendary models Heidi Klum, Rebecca Romijn, Molly Sims, Elle Macpherson, Carolyn Murphy, Bar Rafaeli and Marisa Miller. Day has produced groundbreaking shoots including shooting Upton in Zero Gravity and in Antarctica in 2013. As an industry tastemaker, the swimwear industry often looks to her influence to set the standards of the season's top trends and best-sellers.

Day began her career at SPORTS ILLUSTRATED as an Editorial Assistant in 1998 and quickly moved up the ranks of the Swimsuit editorial team before being appointed to her current position in 2014. In many ways, Day's background has shaped her into the epitome of a Swimsuit editor. With a career that has taken her to more than three dozen countries across all seven continents, Day first caught the eye of former Swimsuit Editor Elaine Farley, who was impressed that as an outdoor-enthusiast, Day had spent her summers in college as a hiking guide in Wyoming, and would be prepared for both the glamorous and rugged side of Swimsuit editorial shoots.

Day has appeared on a variety of television programs including NBC's Today Show, Bloomberg's Charlie Rose, ABC's The Bachelor and CNBC's documentary "Business Model: Inside The Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue."

She is a graduate of the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, VA where she received her bachelor's degree in Political Science.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
I have to credit my parents for instilling the values in me at an early age that have gotten me to where I am today. My Mother worked my entire life as a RN and was very passionate about her career. Partially because she wanted to give me every opportunity but also because she loved her job. So having a career and putting 100% of myself into it was never a pep talk I needed. I learned from her example. I looked up to her and her success and saw that if you work hard, you can be good at what you do and have a fulfilling career and a family.

How has your previous employment experience aided your position at Sports Illustrated Swimsuit?
Funny, I guess you would call me a Time Inc "lifer" even though I'm under 40! My very first job was at InStyle fresh from graduating at University of Mary Washington. I do think that working my way from the bottom up at Swimsuit has given me a very deep understanding of the brand in the most organic way. I have grown up with it, and understand its strengths, weaknesses and untapped potential better than most.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Sports Illustrated Swimsuit?
I am so proud of how Swimsuit has evolved. It's a very tough climate out there but we continue to grow Swimsuit without compromising the integrity of the brand. Highlights for me have been launching our 365 day a year digital platform Swim Daily, shooting within all 7 continents in 2013, shooting Kate Upton in Zero Gravity and seeing the careers of women like Kate Upton, Chrissy Teigen, Gigi Hadid and Irina Shayk flourish as a result of their affiliation with our brand.

What advice can you offer women who are seeking a career in publishing?
Be humble enough to see the advantages working from the bottom up. In a time where a select few come blazing into the scene out of nowhere, the long term benefits of understanding and experiencing the psychologies, the objectives and the pitfalls of this tricky industry is worth it. It makes you more valuable, it makes you smarter, savvier...Don't be too proud to schlep and want to prove yourself. You won't be doing it forever.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
It's not an easy thing at all. I have to admit one of the biggest challenges is not letting this job consume my entire life. It's easy to get sucked into a 12 hour day. Half my year is also spent on the road traveling around the world. While it is one of my favorite parts of the job, as a mother of a 4 month old and a 9 year old it is also the most heartbreaking. It helps a great deal that all of my colleagues at SI are very supportive of me and respect the fact that I have an insane job, and a family. When I am at work, I give 200% of myself to my job and when I am at home, I give 200% to my family. I still have guilt, I will always have guilt that I'm not there enough for both work or life, but when I can manage to step back for a moment and see how the franchise is succeeding or how happy and well-adjusted my kids are, I know its ok....

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
Balance. How to maintain that elusive balance.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
There are so many important people that have helped guide and educate me in my professional and personal journey. I feel so lucky to be surrounded by a group of executives at Sports Illustrated that want to see both the Swimsuit franchise and me personally, succeed. Paul Fichtenbaum, Chris Stone & Chris Hercik's collective wisdom have played such a role in shaping who I am as a professional and as the torch bearer for this brand. It is such a refreshing environment when you can speak with transparency, ask for advice or seek collaboration from such an insightful group of professionals. I make sure to practice what I preach as well and make sure to actively support and grow the exceptional group that works under me. You are only as good as the team you surround yourself with, and I make sure they have opportunities to grow and know how valued they are.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
It's hard for me to pin anyone down, this is really an exciting time as far as I'm concerned in terms of the rise of the female....There are so many women doing great things out there in every way. Within my own industry, although I have never had the opportunity to work under her, Jule Campbell, the retired first editor of Swimsuit is everything to me. She was boss lady in charge, a wife, a mother, a creative force, and a visionary....all at a time when women were not exactly operating on a level playing field in this industry. She grew the brand from its infancy to worldwide recognition and launched countless careers in the process. She has always taken time to share important insights and musings with me that I especially value because there are very few outside of the four editors that have run Swimsuit that understand the very unique demands and responsibilities that go along with this job.

What do you want Sports Illustrated Swimsuit to accomplish in the next year and in future?
One of the best things about working with a brand like Sports Illustrated Swimsuit is the endless potential a franchise like this offers....I am so excited about our Fan Festival, Swim City taking place this year in New York on the 9th-10th February in Herald Square and Nashville on the 11th and 12th February in conjunction with the launch of our magazine! Swimsuit is such an exciting event every year, but being able to engage with our fans and give them an opportunity to experience Swimsuit in person with live music, food and model events is so huge for us!

Celebrating Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Beach Week on the Travel Channel with five, 1 hour episodes is also thrilling....Swimsuit was made for television and I love the in-depth look at all the different aspects of what goes into making the behemoth that is SI Swimsuit this allows us. Just two of the big things we are doing with the franchise this year, but serve as good indicators of what's to come...bigger...better...and more. As far as I am concerned when it comes to Swimsuit, the sky isn't even the limit!