How the power players do it - by Fortune senior editor at large Patricia Sellers

Gilt Groupe's Lyne takes on AOL

November 6, 2009: 11:32 AM ET

Gilt Groupe CEO Susan Lyne has joined the board of AOL--soon to be spun off from Time Warner (TWX).

Does Lyne love trouble, or what? Five years ago, after Martha Stewart began her five-month prison stint in West Virginia, Lyne stepped up from the Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia (MSO) board to be CEO of the company--and worked, eventually hand in hand with Martha, to rebuild the crippled company.

That was a slog (Lyne left last year), and so was her three-year stint on the board of CIT (CITGQ)--which she began in 2006 when it didn't seem to be a terribly risky move. But it turned out to be. For the past few months, Lyne has had a seat at the table as CIT's board and CEO Jeff Peek vied to save the company from bankruptcy. Peek failed. Lyne left the CIT board last week--one day before CIT filed Chapter 11.

So now Lyne is turning her attention to another once-mighty company that lost its way. AOL's new CEO, Tim Armstrong, who joined from Google (GOOG) last March, is preparing for the spinoff from Time Warner by assembling a board that includes Procter & Gamble (PG) ex-global marketing chief Jim Stengel, former FCC chairman Michael Powell, tech investment banker Bill Hambrecht, and Jim Wiatt, who headed William Morris until he got squeezed out in a messy merger with talent agency Endeavor this year.

These people know pressure--and have their work cut out for them at the flagging web pioneer. Time Warner's earnings report on Wednesday included news that AOL's sales dropped 23% last quarter, while profits fell by half.

The good news for Lyne is that she has a positive story where, for her at least, it really counts: at Gilt Groupe. She joined the tiny purveyor of luxury goods last year, and it has become one of the fastest-growing companies in the Internet space.

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About This Author
Pattie Sellers
Pattie Sellers
Senior Editor at Large, Fortune
Executive Director of MPW/Live Content, Time Inc.

Pattie Sellers has written more than 20 Fortune cover stories including "Marissa Mayer: Ready to Rumble at Yahoo," "Muhtar Kent's New Coke," "Oprah's Next Act", "The $100 Billion Woman" (Melinda Gates), and "Gone with the Wind" (Ted Turner). She co-founded Fortune Most Powerful Women and oversees the Fortune MPW Summit, the preeminent gathering of women leaders in business and beyond—and programs such as Fortune MPW Entrepreneurs and the Fortune-U.S. State Department Global Women Leaders Mentoring Partnership. Pattie also develops Live Content across Time Inc. Her blog, Postcards, is about how power players lead and navigate their careers. Pattie won Time Inc.'s prestigious MVP award for her performance in 2012.

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