Gilt Groupe's Lyne: "Go toward the heat"October 7, 2011: 11:15 AM ET
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: