The CEO of Barstool Sports made an early career move that was ‘the worst decision’ and knocked her salary down $34,000 — here’s why it was actually brilliant

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“I could hardly feed myself, but I found my passion,” says Erika Nardini, pictured.
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Andrew Toth/Getty

  • Erika Nardini is the CEO of digital media company Barstool Sports.
  • She originally started her career working in Fidelity’s legal department, but realized she wanted to be in advertising instead.
  • To make that switch, she had to take a major salary cut – so she did, and she considers that move to be the true start of her career.

During her junior year at Colby College, Erika Nardini had an “oh sh–” moment.

The sociology and philosophy major was interning at Fidelity Investments in Boston. And she thought to herself: “I should have had an econ major, I should have done something more disciplined with my education versus liberal arts and writing a lot of papers and reading a lot.”

Today, Nardini is the CEO of Barstool Sports, a digital media company that was recently valued at $100 million. On an episode of Business Insider’s podcast, “Success! How I Did It,” Nardini told US Editor-in-Chief Alyson Shontell how she changed the trajectory of her career.

After she graduated college, she went back to work at Fidelity’s legal department, thinking maybe she’d want to be lawyer. Nardini remembers her salary being $50,000.

“And I hated it. I found nothing to live for,” Nardini said. “I couldn’t find my soul in what I was doing.”

She’d often find herself in the building where Fidelity’s advertising department sat, and she realized that was where she really wanted to work.

When she told human resources at Fidelity, she said they responded: “That’s the single worst decision you could make, that’s just dumb. Why would you do that? You have such promise working here in the legal department.”

How going from a $50,000 salary to a $16,000 salary helped Nardini realized her passion

She switched departments anyway. Hew new salary? $16,000.

Nardini said she “wracked up so much debt I could hardly feed myself, but I found my passion, which was in a far more creative environment.”

At the time, “nobody cared about the internet.” But Nardini said she “fell in love and never looked back.” She’s been working for digital companies ever since.

Nardini thinks her career officially started once she switched to advertising.

Eventually, she realized that while she loved working at an ad agency, “I wanted to work at a publisher and I didn’t want to buy something or inform something, I actually wanted to build it myself.”

From there, Nardini went on to work at companies including Microsoft, Yahoo and AOL. She first heard about Barstool Sports when it launched as a Boston-area newspaper in 2003.

More than a decade later, she met founder Dave Portnoy for coffee. In 2016, she joined Barstool Sports as CEO, and never looked back.