Invested in Connecting Women: LEGS empowers members on and off the golf course
On this episode of Invested in Connecting Women, host Olivia Hails interviews Jillian Foss, President and Founder of Ladies Executive Golf Society (LEGS), a nonprofit that brings women together to build their businesses in an inclusive setting.
30 minute listen
- The mission of LEGS is to bring women of all levels together in an inclusive environment to build confidence and make connections, with the goal of helping them elevate to leadership roles.
- In creating the nonprofit, President Jillian Foss aimed to rewrite the script of a male-dominated sport and create a supportive, female-friendly space on the golf course.
- Foss notes that having a trusted financial advisor was instrumental in giving her the confidence to make the leap into entrepreneurship.
Janus Henderson Podcast
Olivia Hails: Welcome back to the Invested in Connecting Women podcast. On this podcast, we focus on sharing women’s stories who’ve been impacted by the financial industry, or that are trailblazing new ways of helping women advance in the industry or their own respective business. Today, I am thrilled to welcome Jillian Foss, CEO of LEGS, which is, “Ladies Executive Golf Society.”
Jillian Foss: “We don’t need to try and be like men and be assertive. We need to really capitalize on the strengths of femininity, and we’ve always been really good at building relationships.”
Hails: At the beginning of the pandemic, I was mentally and emotionally in a lot of places. So was everybody else. A few weeks in, though, I realized that this was going to be a time in history that we would all look back on and say, “What did we learn, or how did we cope?” And so, I said, “OK, I’m going to learn how to golf.” I mean, I really just associated golf with something that I couldn’t do. It was something that was a man’s sport. And I just pretended that I didn’t enjoy it, that I wasn’t interested in learning about it, because it was something that was intimidating to me … too much time, too much equipment. But then I started thinking, OK, from a business standpoint, that’s five-plus hours of time that you really can’t get with clients or with friends any other way.
I’m a big believer of the power of networking. I try hard to maintain relationships that I have had just from acquaintance. And Jillian’s story is a testament to all of that. So with that, I’d like to introduce y’all to Jillian Foss. Jillian, welcome to the podcast.
Foss: Well, I just want to say thank you for sharing your story, because I think so many women around the world can resonate that they never felt welcome on the golf course, that it was created by men.
Hails: Yeah. Jillian, you left your job. You’re moving around the country, working your tail off to see your passions become a profitable business that benefits women and brings normalcy to yet another sport that typically caters to the male over the female.
Foss: Yeah, basically the inception of LEGS was to change all that, was to rewrite the script on the golf course, allowing women to design golf the way that they want to golf. Most women don’t want to be on the golf course for five hours. They want to be on the golf course for nine holes. So we play nine and drink wine, but we often say sometimes, “We play four and drink more,” and that’s okay. And yeah, I was in the finance industry, and what I loved about it was that it allowed me to connect with incredible business owners and executives. And the thing that I found was that there weren’t enough CEOs that I was doing business with. And there weren’t enough women that felt comfortable on the golf course. So I figured, why not create a very fun female-friendly space that I can bring women together and, whether or not I can help them in my line of business, I can connect them to another woman that can help solve their problems.
So it’s been three months now that I’ve been doing LEGS full time. And I’ve been having fun, just expanding. We’re spreading across the U.S. and the goal is to have a LEGS chapter in all 50 states. Trying to solve the problem of really just elevating women towards leadership roles. And if we can have fun while we’re doing it, then I think it’s a good life.
Hails: Yeah, I agree. I love that mentality. I know we’ve got to get one here in Nashville. But tell me a little bit about what you used to do, because I remember several years ago when you were technically a client of mine in Jacksonville, and we were meeting and talking about women and women empowerment and women in our business, and you had just started a networking group, and you said, “Yep, we’re getting some women together to golf. There’s no pressure, I just want women to be able to meet each other, have fun, and I love to golf. And so, let’s do it on the golf course.” What were you doing? Then, I guess, give me a little bit of background for our listeners on where you were in your career then.
Foss: I think my life story has a lot of bushwhacking, and it was never a straightforward path where, before going into finance, I was doing public health and I just felt that I wasn’t really making a difference. And then going into employee benefits, consulting, 401(k) consulting, you have each employer; that’s your client, that is a micro-economy, you know, that you can make a difference with this company. But before that, I was a caddy at TPC. So, one of the nicest courses in the Southeast, and I kind of went into it ignorantly. I had always had on my bucket list to be a caddy in high school, and a job opened up, and I said, “Why not?” I didn’t think I would actually be a caddy. And after that, my boss knew that I liked golf, and so he brought me down to south Florida to meet who’s now one of my mentors, and he has a group down there called Six Degrees. But I saw it and I felt that every woman I would talk to when I told him I was a caddy, they would always say, “Oh, I really want to learn how to golf,” but you don’t want to learn to golf from your husband or your boyfriend or your significant other, because you won’t; most likely you will not enjoy it because they golf differently.
I was excited. I would recreate it for women because men kind of have this exclusive mentality still, and I wanted everything about LEGS to be inclusive. So all the barriers and the excuses that I would hear, “I don’t have clubs, I suck, I don’t know what I’m doing.” So, you don’t need to have clubs; we have clubs there. You don’t need to know what you’re doing because we always offer a lesson, or nine in one. And when you’re out on the course playing a scramble format, you’re not left in the woods, hating the fact that you just duffed it, you can pick it up and go to another woman’s shot. And then everybody collectively is encouraging each other because we’re in a team. And then the magic that happens on the 19th green, that a lot of women don’t experience … you could go for lunch meetings for nine years and you don’t get to know somebody as well as you do nine holes on the golf course. So, getting a glimpse of what that magic is, that vulnerability factor. And then, some women get hooked. Other women might not get hooked, but at least they got to experience it and they can take it from there, whether they do want to buy clubs. But making it so it’s a no-pressure experience for them … and yeah, that’s how it started and where we’re at now.
Hails: And I have to ask, too, how did you come up with the name?
Foss: Yeah, a lot of wine, a lot of wine. I think basically it was like the idea I first knew what I wanted. And then of course the name, sometimes it comes easier than others. But I think the acronym, there’s so much fun that can be had. The idea of a society is kind of old school and cool. I think just by pure luck, where it was a lot of trial and error, and then once LEGS came around, it was like, “Yes, that’s the one.” And maybe we should talk about our male advocacy program that we’re just getting launched called, “BALLS, Boys Advocating for LEGS Ladies,” so, we’re a very non-serious golf group, but we are very serious about our mission and getting more women into these leadership roles and changing the world.
Hails: I love it. I’m just expanding it further. So, when did you start? Because you had a full-time … and on this podcast, we really focus on sharing women’s stories that have been impacted by the financial industry, or that are just trailblazing totally new ways of helping women advance in their respective industry, or just in business in general. And I think your story is a testament to that because you got into our business, you really were helping people – I know I saw it firsthand – helping clients understanding their 401(k) options, deferral rates, what they were capable of in terms of a saving standpoint for retirement. And so you’re doing this job, you’re starting a networking group, then you’re learning that the networking group is really catching on and that there’s actually some impact. It’s not just fun out there, there’s a lot of impact that you’re making with women and changing women’s lives and allowing them new opportunities to network and connect with one another. So, when did you start to really feel that internal fire of, wait a second, maybe this is more than a part-time thing?
Foss: I think when you wake up on Monday and you have this list of things you need to do, and this list of things you really want to do. And once that pull gets strong enough, it really was, well … you think about your 401(k) and you think about your health insurance and then taking that leap away from the security of a paycheck, and even just walking away from your book of business was hard, but I figured, what’s the worst thing that can happen right now? If I fail, I can always go back to it. I think that you have given presentations that I was a part of on women-omics that, when you help one woman, the impact is tenfold and they’re going to go help 10 other women. Where men maybe say, “thanks so much, bye,” and they don’t have that drive to help the way that they’ve received help. Because I know, even when it comes to financial education, women just have no idea where to start. And so if you give them that self-efficacy of just knowing a tiny bit, then they’re at least more confident to step forward and invest or step forward and say yes to these charity golf tournaments that women are saying no to and stuck in the office. It’s just about giving women confidence. I think that’s the most important thing is that, in the past, maybe socially we’ve been told not to be confident. And now it’s a time that if you lead by example and you embody your true, authentic self, then you allow everyone around you to embody their true, authentic self, whatever that might look like.
Hails: I love that. And it’s so true just from the very first conversation we ever had, to now, of what you represent, and I love that you’re doing this. So, who helped you prepare? Who helped you get to a place where you were confident from the inside out that it was time to really take LEGS and scale it?
Foss: I think I was lucky that my dad raised me to want to play golf and that it came full circle. And never did I think in a million years I’d be technically in the golf industry. And I think trusting your gut … my gut has told me to do many things in the past that people thought was crazy. You know, moving to Florida, that was checking in with my gut. And so, I’d say honestly, I’ve had so many amazing people in my life that have influenced me to be … You know, my past boss was very influential, giving me the courage and accountability. But I think it starts at a young age, and it’s a constant practice, because self-doubt will fill you every single day if you allow it. But if you stick to your values and your vision and know that sometimes it’s not as simple, this is what I’m here on the planet to do. But I felt it for the first time in my life with the most conviction that this is what I’m put on the planet to do, so I’m going to do it full-heartedly. If I’ve got 24 hours in a day, why not put it towards my own mission rather than somebody else’s and see what happens? It’s a work in progress, but at least I can wake up every day and feel very grateful to do what I love to do, and my goal is to impact as many women as I possibly can.
Hails: I think your inspiration, speaks for itself. Like you’re … it’s extremely inspirational what you’re doing. What’s the one thing that I know a lot of women get stuck in is the logistics behind taking that leap. So, having been in our industry a little bit, I’m assuming that you had a financial advisor or a coach or someone that could help you run the numbers. If I walk away, how much do I need saved? So, just for the women that may be wanting to take the chance, but just maybe not quite sure of the logistics, anything you can share on that front that you did?
Foss: I can’t express the value of having a really good financial advisor enough, because that did give me the confidence of being able to philosophically have that conversation of what I want in my life, but then having the backing of the numbers and knowing that, OK, I’ve been saving my whole life, not knowing exactly what I wanted to save for, and this is it. So giving myself a year’s worth of salary, of saving, changing up my portfolio a little bit to be more income-driven than growth. And so I think you have to just … I’m a big mountain biker and skier, and a big saying in those extreme sports is, “Just send it.” It’s like, the more you think about it, if you’re going to jump off of a cliff into a river, the less likely you’re going to do it. But if you just jump, you’ll most likely end up fine. But obviously you want to make sure that the water’s deep enough and that you have the parameters in place, but everything good in life requires a certain amount of risk. And you can’t avoid that. Whether you’re driving home from work or to the grocery store, or if you’re starting a business and your leap into entrepreneurship, you just have to know that the greatest things in life require that risk and that first step. And knowing that you’re not going to know everything, but finding the people – like you said, the power of a network – finding the people that are experts in their field and utilizing them, because at the end of the day, most people in life want to help others. And I think that’s the beauty of being humble and knowing that you’re not going to do everything.
Hails: Yeah. There’s a Baron’s study out there that shows approximately 90% of Fortune 500 CEOs play golf and 80% of that group reported or agreed that golf has one of the biggest powers of building new relationships and business management. So if you think about those numbers, you know, I don’t have the exact numbers of how many of Fortune 500 CEOs are women, but I know it’s quite a lot less than the males. But if you think about that, that’s one in three golfers on the course for business purposes at all times. That’s 90% of CEOs out there spending time golfing, closing deals. That’s something that … I always say, in finance it’s like we didn’t even have a women’s restroom on the floor of the trading floor in the New York Stock Exchange until the ‘90s. You know, that’s just not supportive of women’s growth.
Foss: I think, while I have this platform, what I’ve noticed is that men, if there’s an opportunity to play golf and miss work, they’ll be there. They’ll be there early. No questions asked. And a lot of women don’t allow themselves that self-care. Even some do, but I find a lot of women, they put work, or the needs of others, before their own. So I want to get more women to be okay with stepping away from that. And we try and be very compassionate to women’s schedules. So we start playing golf at five. But I hope that most women feel okay with leaving work, maybe just once a month at four o’clock, to do something that I believe is self-care. You’re outside, whether you like golf or not, most women like to be outside and drink and a lot of women in older age, and with just how transient the work environment is, they move to new places, and it’s really hard to meet a group of friends. And by showing up to LEGS, I’ve found that a lot of women have this safe space that, when they first move to a location, that they can at least go to LEGS and they have a network of over 300 members, but each event we have at least 50 women that they can connect with and develop not only business relationships, but friendships. And so, whatever it is that they need in life, our goal and hope is that they can find that in LEGS. But I think that, growing up in a family where excellence was expected, and my dad was a business owner, but he had two girls. And so he kind of raised us like dudes, you know, skiing, biking, golfing, going fast, not being afraid. I think that instilled some level of fearlessness, and I’m grateful for that, but I think times have changed. We’re kind of in this crux of what the model of being a good wife, being a good mom, and then also being a professional, is kind of a new frontier where I’m learning and admiring so many women that are doing it all. But I think really it comes down to the fundamentals and the institutions and having these women being the decision makers, having more compassion to what women go through and making it a little bit easier on them to succeed.
Hails: Whew. Yeah, there you go. I’m like, preach.
Foss: A side note, yeah. But I think it’s all about intentionality. And one of the best quotes I heard was, “We’re not looking for a seat at the table, we’re going to create our own.” And it’s not that any woman wants to be in an executive role or has gotten the job because they’re a woman. They want to get the job because they’re the best person for it. And instead of waiting around for them to be recognized, just saying, “Hey, we’re just going to start our own thing.” And go from there.
Hails: Yeah, I think it’s important that you have the advocacy program now, too, because I know looking at my career in my life, I’m 10 years in at Janus Henderson, and I wouldn’t be where I am without the men who have supported me and made it okay to be a woman in a role where only 14% of us are females across the country. And saying, look, I understand that your sales cycle and your business might be … look a little bit different than the guy in the state next to you. And that’s okay. Let’s embrace that. What can I do to support you in that? And I love that. It never feels … oh, I’m in this job only because of my gender.
Anything that’s hit you in the face, like anything that’s been intimidating or that has just stopped you in your tracks that you had to overcome?
Foss: Yeah, I’d say … every single day is a learning experience. And I wouldn’t say there’s been major hiccups, but maybe I see the glass half full. We just celebrated our four-year anniversary. So, you know, it started with a flyer and a sticker and then a lot of bludgeoning people to come and then, gradually, I think COVID was a really a good thing for the sport and for LEGS. And now, just like you, women are wanting to be outside, they want to pick up a new sport. And I think I’ve been lucky to have an amazing board of women that had different areas of expertise to help us grow and be profitable, because I think in the beginning, I just wanted to give women golf for free essentially. And that doesn’t really work well when you’re cutting out of your own paycheck. But you know, right now I think, like you and every woman out there, women’s golf clothes suck. That’s the overarching perspective. And so, long term, I’d like to bring LEGS into apparel. First, we’re starting at the community level. We want to bring raving fans, and then we want to make them feel confident in what they’re wearing, because we feel, if you look good, you feel good. And if you feel good, you play good. If you play good, you do good in the world. So, got a long-term vision of bringing it into apparel and we’re just searching for the right candidate for presidents in their region. And so, women that have the kind of personality traits of being very open arms and welcoming and inclusive and outgoing would be, you know, a great person to take the lead for certain regions. So, if there isn’t a LEGS chapter in your area, then you can reach out to Jillian@legs.golf, and we can have a discussion on getting a LEGS chapter started. But we are basically in all major metro areas in Florida, and we’ve expanded out west. So, Salt Lake, Wyoming, we’re looking to get started in Arizona, Chicago, St. Louis … so we’re on our way.
Hails: Well, that’s a good thing because I’m a big believer, and those that listen to these podcasts know that, because I probably say this every episode, but if you believe in something, it will manifest. And if you tell yourself, and you wake up in the morning … because your perspective of your own life is so important, too, you know, the productivity of your day, the efficiency of the work you’re putting out or that you’re putting into the world, if you will … it all starts with your perspective of yourself and the energy that you bring to that. So, I would say, keep on keeping on with that mentality and your growth will follow as it has been already.
Anything that I haven’t asked you that you’d want to share with our listeners?
Foss: I think Marie Forlio, she has this book called, Everything Is Figure-outable. So I think, no matter what it is that you’re trying to accomplish, if you have the mentality that everything is figure-outable, you figure out a way to make it happen. And just having the confidence that you can do it and you don’t need to get a Master’s and you don’t need to get all this experience before going for it, that you’ll figure it out along the way. And I’m a testament to that. I’m still figuring it out every single day.
But you’re right. It’s like, women, we don’t need to try and be like men and be assertive. We need to really capitalize on the strengths of femininity, and we’ve always been really good at building relationships. And even if you’re in sales, like I was, I would capitalize on that, building the relationship first. It doesn’t have to, you know … the sales process doesn’t have to look like the way you would typically see it. But if you help people enough, eventually they’re going to ask you, “hey, how can I help you?” And then it’s more of an organic relationship that is built on helping each other, rather than a big sale.
Hails: So if anyone listening wants to find you, where can they find out more about LEGS and contact you?
Foss: If you go to www.legs.golf, or firstname.lastname@example.org, my number is 307-797-2808. You can shoot me a text; I would love to just get more people involved. We’re looking to grow and expand, so all ideas are welcome, and hoping to get one started in every single state in the next five years. So we’ve got some work to do.
Hails: Yeah, but you’ve taken that leap and you’re scaling a business that’s proven to be successful already in so many cities. So, I wish you the best on your endeavors there, and let us know how we can help. And as we always end our podcast episodes, we are going to do a quick and fun lightning round to let people get to know a little bit more about you, and then you can do the same for me here and throw some questions at me. You ready?
Foss: Oh boy.
Hails: Last song you listened to?
Foss: Oh, last song? Sugar? Oh, “Like sugar, so sweet.” That’s all I know.
Hails: I’ll take it. Favorite day of the week?
Foss: Ooh, Thursday.
Hails: Yeah, I agree with that.
Foss: Because you’re almost there.
Hails: Yeah, you’re almost to Friday.
Foss: You’re almost to the weekend
Hails: How long does it take you to get ready? I know this one.
Foss: 30 minutes if I’m trying to look spiffy. But I can get ready in five.
Hails: And then final one, are you a sweet or savory person?
Foss: Both. I love food. What about you?
Hails: I am definitely a savory person all the way. I don’t need … I don’t really like sweets unless it’s dark chocolate.
Foss: Oh, I wish. I wouldn’t have to work out as much.
Hails: What else … you can throw some at me.
Foss: What’s been the most profound quote that you’ve heard that’s shaped your current life, or this year, that you’ve heard that’s stuck with you?
Hails: Ooh. Probably the one that I had in my senior yearbook, and that has stuck with me forever. That is Eleanor Roosevelt, “Do what you feel in your heart to be right, or you’ll be damned if you do and damned if you don’t.” And that one has always stuck with me. And then I keep a birthday card that’s framed on my desk that is a woman looking over her shoulder that says, “Go ahead, underestimate me. That’ll be fun.” So I don’t know who said that … I think it’s just a card, but those two quotes are definitely kind of internal voices that play in my head.
Foss: Well, keep up the good work. I love what you’re doing and I love to see this podcast grow. You’ve always made an above-and-beyond impact beyond just your role. So I’m very grateful for the opportunity to be on this podcast with you and excited for what’s to come.
Hails: Awesome. And Jillian, thank you for your time with us today on the podcast. And look forward to sharing your story with others, and of course watching your growth with LEGS across the country.
Foss: Woo! Thanks!