The straight path to success has never much interested Susan Lyne.
Starting as a journalist, she went from creating magazines for Rupert Murdoch to running ABC Entertainment for Walt Disney (DIS) to heading Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia (MSO)--then led online fashion retailer Gilt Groupe.
So Lyne's arrival today at AOL (AOL), as CEO of its Brand Group, comes as a surprise…and not.
"This represents a convergence of all that came before--print, video, technology and brand-building," she says, pinpointing the logic of her new gig. "It's as close as I can imagine to having it all."
An AOL director since 2009, Lyne says that before Christmas, AOL chief Tim Armstrong asked her if she would consider stepping off the board and into a key position inside the company. Over a 10-day holiday with friends in Burma, Lyne weighed Armstrong's offer—and considered why she shouldn't accept it. Having moved from Gilt CEO to chairman to vice-chairman, she envisioned her future: "I thought, I'm going to start investing and advising, and it's going to be a wonderful free existence."
Then Lyne thought about why she should take the job. Gilt had just brought in a new CEO--board member Michele Peluso from Citigroup (C)--and was on track to go public in the coming year. While the "wonderful free existence" tempted her, Lyne, at 62, wasn't ready to hang it up. In fact, she decided, the prospect of "putting my head down and working 12 hours a day" sounded fun.
So here she is on her first day at AOL. As chief of the Brand Group, Lyne is overseeing the company's content assets including Tech Crunch, Engadget and Patch, a collection of local-news sites. The one site not in Lyne's charge: the Huffington Post. Arianna Huffington and Lyne, longtime friends, rank as equals and both report to Armstrong.
Perpetually drawn to "where the heat is," Lyne sees in AOL the chance to help Armstrong, who came from Google in 2009, create "the media company of the future," she says. "I really sense an attitude shift around content--from commodity status to critical differentiator." As for Armstrong, she adds, "I adore Tim. After he acquired the Huffington Post and Tech Crunch, all the naysayers thought he would destroy them or lose control of them. Instead, they've flourished and grown in value."
Indeed, Armstrong has AOL growing again for the first time in eight years. And the stock, at $36, has doubled in the past year.
Says Armstrong about Lyne: "My job is to bring in the world's most powerful brand people, and Susan is one of them." And it's no coincidence that she adds to his stable of C-suite women. "The Internet was designed primarily by men, but at least half of the users are women," Armstrong says. "To design products and services with women in leadership positions is one of the best opportunities in the world."
How to thrive in the digital world? The best advice may be to change the way you think about your power.
From London, where Fortune hosted a Most Powerful Women conference on Monday, to Cannes, where I'm now at the ad industry's Lions Festival of Creativity, the most fevered discussion has been about how to succeed in the digital space. Success seems to derive, ironically, from divesting your power and putting it MOREPatricia Sellers - Jun 20, 2012 10:03 AM ET
Here in Rio de Janiero, the growth is booming. The infrastructure is creaking--the electricity went out here at the Sheraton twice this morning. And the talk at the Dell Women's Entrepreneur Network conference is about how to break through the clutter in building businesses and brands.
On a brand-building panel led by Dell (DELL) Chief Marketing Officer Karen Quintos, I talked about Fortune's Most Powerful Women brand--the value of being first MOREPatricia Sellers - Jun 7, 2011 1:16 PM ET
by Patricia Sellers
The most head-spinning thing about Arianna Huffington's deal to sell the Huffington Post to AOL (AOL)--besides the sweet $315 million price, which is 10 times HuffPo's 2010 revenues and almost all in cash--is her expanded job description.
Once the acquisition closes, Huffington will oversee all of AOL's media content including the recently purchased TechCrunch, Engadget, AOL Daily Finance, and MapQuest and Moviefone as well.
Her new purview--overseeing platforms that reached MOREPatricia Sellers - Feb 8, 2011 2:58 PM ET
by Patricia Sellers
While rumors keep swirling about Yahoo (YHOO) merging with AOL (AOL) in a deal that would include private equity, don't hold your breath. A source close to Yahoo told me today that neither AOL nor private equity buyers have contacted the company to discuss a potential deal.
Meanwhile, Yahoo news that should transpire sooner: layoffs. Sources tell me that Yahoo next week plans to announce 10% cuts in the MOREPatricia Sellers - Dec 6, 2010 2:48 PM ET
What theater! Jerry Levin went on CNBC's Squawk Box this morning, a decade after the merger of AOL and Time Warner (TWX), and confessed: "I presided over the worst deal of the century, apparently."
Gray-bearded and skinny, Levin called for lots of public-company CEOs to step up and say, "I'm really very sorry about the pain and suffering and loss that was caused. I take responsibility." About himself and the wealth-obliterating MOREPatricia Sellers - Jan 4, 2010 4:57 PM 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 MOREPatricia Sellers - Nov 6, 2009 11:32 AM ET
"Most of the money we're investing as part of this plan will get out the door immediately and go directly to job creation, generating or saving 3 to 4 million new jobs. And the vast majority of these jobs will be created in the private sector -- because, as these CEOs well know, business, not government, is the engine of growth in this country."
-- President Barack Obama to business leaders, MOREJessica Shambora, Writer-Reporter - Jan 28, 2009 7:14 PM ET
I've gotten to know Gina Bianchini. She's the CEO of Ning, the Silicon Valley startup that supplies the infrastructure to help you build your own social networking Web site. Think Home Depot for the social-network set. The other day, she "introduced" me via e-mail to her chairman and financial backer, Marc Andreessen. I had to laugh and tell both of them that Marc and I actually had met before, though MOREPatricia Sellers - Aug 29, 2008 12:01 PM ET
As any serial conference-goer can tell you, the conversations that occur outside the scheduled panels and sessions offer equally compelling opportunities for learning and discovery. This was perhaps even more true at this week's Fortune Brainstorm Tech conference due to the broad spectrum of attendees from the wide world of technology.
On Tuesday evening, during an uncharacteristically clear sunset over Half Moon Bay, I met Dina Kaplan, co-founder and COO of blip.tv, a video-sharing MOREJessica Shambora, Writer-Reporter - Jul 24, 2008 7:40 AM ET
|Chrysler relents, agrees to recall 2.7 million Jeeps|
|Google files First Amendment court case against NSA surveillance secrecy|
|China's fastest-growing cities for millionaires|
|Immigration bill could cut deficits by $175 billion - CBO|
|Why Apple's new MacBook Air is the ultimate road warrior's notebook|