Most Powerful Women

Media-retail star's advice: Go beyond the obvious

April 25, 2013: 8:31 AM ET

Mindy GrossmanMindy Grossman was a rising-star retail executive, heading Ralph Lauren's (RL) Polo Jeans business and Nike's (NKE) global apparel, before she switched to TV and transformed HSN. By adding celebrity spark and digital dazzle to the once-dreary home-shopping channel, Grossman built a high-growth media-retail hybrid and multiplied HSN's stock price 10-fold from the dark days of 2008. For her unlikely success, she was honored this week at the Matrix Awards that go to top women in communications. Like NBC Universal's (CMCSA) Bonnie Hammer, whom I wrote about on Tuesday, Grossman gave an inspiring acceptance speech full of career lessons. Thanks, Mindy, for letting me share what the Matrix crowd heard:

In May 2006, while comfortably ensconced in my office at Nike (NKE), I received a call from a recruiter who said: "I have your next challenge. You need to meet Barry Diller and run IAC Retail."

IAC (IACI) Retail was a $3 billion  direct-to-consumer business that included HSN, HSN.com, and Cornerstone Brands, a catalog and e-commerce portfolio.

Sounded interesting.  But there were a few issues:

I had NO retail experience.

I had NO television or media experience.

And I had NEVER watched HSN.

The recruiter then told me, "Oh, and by the way, you would be the business's eighth CEO in 10 years."

So, YES, there were issues.

But I figured:  Who would pass on lunch with Barry Diller?

For me, the path to HSNi wasn't the obvious next step in a career.  "You're leaving Nike to run a TV shopping channel?" My friends and the fashion industry were in shock and disbelief.

But by then, I already knew from experience that the obvious next step isn't always the best.

Indeed, my journey over the past 35 years has been anything but linear.

In 1977, I was a 20-year-old college senior in Washington, D.C., majoring in English literature and philosophy, fully intent on going to Law School and engaged to be married to my high school boyfriend who was about to become a doctor

Sounds like a Jewish mother's dream for her daughter, right?

But something happened.  One morning, in the middle of the semester, I woke up and realized that I was living someone else's life. I had always been the dutiful adopted daughter -- the first generation in my family to go to college. I had a life that had been safe, predictable, and even enviable.

But inside me, I had a sense of passion, a feeling of purpose, and the desire to make an impact. I told my parents that I wanted to see what else life had to offer.

You can imagine the silence on the other end of the phone when I made that call!

In one fell swoop, I broke off my engagement, left school, and moved to New York City.

It was a leap. But it became the best education I ever had.

Today I try to give young women at the start of their career -- women like my daughter, Lizzy -- this advice: Don't look only at what is in front of you today. Instead, conceptualize a new vision -- and leap into it.

That lunch with Barry Diller reinforced my belief that risk-taking and boldness is the essence of transformation. The best ideas, as he has proven over and over again, are rarely obvious. I took that leap.

Then, in August 2008, we spun out from IAC and took HSNi (HSNI) public. A month later, the markets crashed.

My message to everyone was:  Block out the noise. Think about the vision. Look beyond what is directly in front of you.

So we kept moving forward. We grew our company every quarter through the recession and since. And we are redefining the experience of shopping.

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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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