by Patricia Sellers
Liz Smith, who was on track to succeed Andrea Jung as CEO of Avon Products (AVP), is moving to a new company and a new industry. Again.
The onetime star exec at Kraft (KFT), who made an unlikely leap from food to cosmetics in 2004, is the newly named chief executive of OSI, a chain of casual-dining eateries.
"What?!!" is a question that Smith admits she's been asked often throughout her career. She says she follows her own guideline: "Be open to opportunity."
There's plenty of opportunity--and risk--at OSI, which you may not have heard of but is a giant in the casual-dining category. With 2008 revenues of $4 billion, OSI operates chains such as Outback Steakhouse, Carrabba's Italian Grill, Bonefish Grill, Roy's, and Fleming's Prime Steakhouse and Wine Bar. Good brands, as restaurant brands go--and as Bain Capital and Catterton Partners thought when they acquired the company for $3.2 billion in 2007. But the global recession brutalized the business, which operates across the U.S. and in 20 other countries. OSI lost $739.4 million last year, and it's been suffering serious declines in same-store sales.
Which may be ideal for Smith, since she adores companies that are ripe for overhaul. "It's really always been in my DNA," she told my colleague Jessica Shambora in September, on the day she announced her departure from Avon.
Smith's exit from Avon shocked many people, since she was crucial to the cosmetic giant's turnaround, well-liked across the company, and widely viewed as Jung's eventual successor. But "eventual" was looking to be too long from now. While Smith, who is No. 29 on Fortune's Most Powerful Women in Business list, is just 46 years old and has plenty of runway ahead, she lost patience. That's understandable since Jung, who was named Avon's CEO at age 41 a decade ago, has no plans to retire.
So now, Smith--who began her career at Morgan Stanley (MS) and then, as a Stanford MBA student, "wanted to start the next Microsoft or H-P"--is off in yet another new direction. Geographically, this time it is Manhattan to Tampa, Florida, where OSI is based. Smith plans to commute initially and then relocate with her husband and two young sons.
And though retail isn't entirely new to Smith--she's on the board of Staples (SPLS)--she'll be testing herself against her own measure of leadership. "Nothing is more important than a nimble, agile leader who is comfortable with ambiguity," she told me a few months ago.
"We have to be comfortable figuring it out as we go along," Smith added. Definitely, she's living her philosophy.
by Jessica Shambora
Who's hiring? Hardly anybody, yet. But as you dream about recovery, you'd better be thinking about how to upgrade your talent. You'll be hiring again someday. Really.
We talked about hiring at the recent Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit, where this year's theme was "Betting on the Future." A session called "Building a Standout Start-up" was led by two CEOs who are in major hiring mode. We thought we'd MOREJessica Shambora, Writer-Reporter - Oct 7, 2009 1:55 AM ET
by Jessica Shambora
Some say patience is a virtue. Others say that if you want something, you have to go for it. This is the tactic Avon (AVP) president Liz Smith is taking, as the company announced today that she will step down from her post on October 30, to pursue a CEO job elsewhere. Smith, No. 29 on Fortune's Most Powerful Women list, will not be replaced, and the global MOREJessica Shambora, Writer-Reporter - Sep 17, 2009 7:06 PM ET
"Right now, nothing is more important than a nimble, agile leader, who is comfortable with ambiguity and figuring it out as they go along."
--Avon (AVP) President Liz Smith, in a discussion led by Pattie Sellers at NYU today. The panel, which also included Cece Sutton, Morgan Stanley's (MS) new retail banking president, was hosted by Forte Foundation. (To view video of the dialogue, click here.)
Smith and Sutton, both on Fortune's MOREJessica Shambora, Writer-Reporter - Jun 26, 2009 6:54 PM ET
The ouster of Bank of America's (BAC) chief risk officer, Amy Brinkley, was inevitable, as I wrote in "Behind the shakeup at BofA" on Friday.
And as I mentioned in that piece, two years ago, Fortune featured Brinkley and five other execs in "One Step Away," about rising-star Most Powerful Women on track to be CEOs of Fortune 500 companies someday. So what's happened to the other five?
One woman made it MOREPatricia Sellers - Jun 8, 2009 12:31 PM ET
I'm on the run in Washington, following meetings at the White House yesterday and a spectacular "Most Powerful Women Evening With..." dinner that Fortune hosted on Monday night in the Benjamin Franklin Room at the State Department. We had eight U.S. Senators with us--including our speakers, Senators Barbara Boxer of California and Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas--and scores of women leaders, a touch of royalty (HM Queen Noor, who is MOREJessica Shambora, Writer-Reporter - Apr 29, 2009 3:25 PM ET
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