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

Gilt Groupe's Lyne: "Go toward the heat"

October 7, 2011: 11:15 AM ET

Susan Lyne

Of all the super-achieving women we saw at this past week's Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit—CEOs like DuPont's (DD) Ellen Kullman and Hewlett Packard's (HPQ) Meg Whitman, Billie Jean King, and Rosie O'Donnell—Susan Lyne, the chairman of online retailer Gilt Groupe, has crafted one of the most interesting careers of all.

"I always go toward the heat," Lyne said onstage here at the Summit, explaining why she long ago created Premiere magazine for Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. (NWS)...moved to Walt Disney (DIS), where she co-headed primetime entertainment...and in 2004, stepped into the CEO job at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia (MSO) while Martha was otherwise preoccupied during five months in prison.

"I never had a game plan," says Lyne, who explained in an on-stage Summit interview that her internal compass prods her to ask herself: "Where are the really interesting people?"

In most cases, it was her own choice to move on. Except when she got fired from Disney, right after developing a show called Desperate Housewives. Of course, that program, along with others created under her watch, helped lift ABC out of the ratings basement.

"It's not the worst thing in the world" to get fired, Lyne says. "And it forces you to look at what you do well and you don't do well."

My colleague Jennifer Reingold's profile in the current issue of Fortune offers more career guidelines and is a poignant portrait of an executive who has led many lives. And here's Lyne, in an interview with me, talking about lessons she learned working with Martha Stewart:

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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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