Thursday, September 19, 2013

Beneath the Surface with AOL Brand CEO Susan Lyne

I love how Moira Forbes conducts an interview:  It's professional and focused, yet warm and personal as well.  She seems perfectly comfortable asking about career trajectory and family loss.  So it is with Susan Lyne, selected last February to head up AOL Brand Group as CEO.

Lyne responds in kind with wonderful candor.  For example, she acknowledges being 62 years old and noticing the big age difference with Millennial staffers.  As it is with some executives and professionals, she relates how her career wasn't exactly planned and how, instead, she simply leaped in.  Moreover, losing her husband to cancer prompted her to be present in the situation and set aside efforts at multitasking.  In all, there doesn't seem to be any wistfulness in her voice, no regrets that weigh on her, no emotion she hadn't yet reconciled.  Rather, she is grounded and centered.

AOL’s Susan Lyne on embracing being the boss
I WAS THE NO. 2 at a lot of different magazines for, I would say, a decade. And [then] I got an opportunity to create a magazine about the movies, a magazine called Premiere, and spent six months putting together the first issue and was very excited about getting it out. I wrote my editor’s letter and instinctively sent it to my boss. He called me about 10 minutes later and said, “Why are you sending me this? I don’t buy a dog and bark for it.”
I was a little stunned. 
He called me back [again] about 10 minutes later and said, “You do understand what I meant by that. You have to make all the decisions now, this is your magazine. You’re going to have to make them on the fly, and you’re going to have to own them. You’ve got to get used to the fact that there’s no teacher, there’s no boss, there’s no person that you get to run things by. You own your success. You own your failures. Embrace it."  [emphasis, added]
Hey, AOL Content Makers!  Meet Your New Boss, Susan Lyne
We began with the present, then worked our way backward, with AOL Brand Group CEO, Susan Lyne. In this article, we get glimpses of those first few days on the job, earlier this year: content (check), brands (check), mobile (check).

Alexia Tsotsis
Alexia Tsotsis, co-editor of TechCrunch, was none too pleased about having yet another boss come into the picture. In fact, she publishes Lyne's e-mail, and takes a potshot at her repeated references to "brand." It looks like Lyne literally leaped in (alliteration, not intended), and neglected to contact Tsotsis and other editors under the AOL Brand Group ahead of that blanket e-mail.

Hence, Tsotsis titled her article: Aol Talks About Us More Than It Talks To Us.

Tim Armstrong
Earlier this year Tim Armstrong announced his high-level hire:  AOL CEO Calls New Content Head Susan Lyne A 'Game-Changing Player.'  Breathtaking for not saying much of anything specific.  Except that we do glimpse his helicopter-view expectations:
"We just picked up another game-changing player."
Asked if her hiring would change AOL's content strategy, Armstrong said no. "I think it is going to enhance it," he explained.

AOL needs to make and can still make "significant progress" on the programming side under Lyne's leadership, he said. "We need to be the world's best content company."

He also predicted continued video usage upside and predicted that in the network upfront ad selling season, "more and more money [will] be moved to digital" in integration with TV spending.
So, back to Lyne:  She comes into her role at AOL with quite an accomplished, diverse curriculum vitae, and this alone makes her a good fit for what Armstrong has in mind for AOL Brand Group.  He seems to have all the faith and confidence in her, but make no mistake about it, his expectations for the new CEO are a tall order indeed.  For the wisdom and the centeredness she's gained in her career, Lyne may very well manage upward (i.e., with bosses) better than she manages downward (i.e., with direct reports).  Hence, the glowing announcement from Armstrong, and the cranky article from Tsotsis.  

Thank you for reading, and let me know what you think!

Ron Villejo, PhD

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