Who is Laura Lang, Time Inc.'s New CEO?

Hasn't Run a Consumer-Facing Business, but Brings Welcome Collaborative Style

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Laura Lang, Time Inc.'s next CEO
Laura Lang, Time Inc.'s next CEO

Digitas CEO Laura Lang will deliver digital expertise and a tough but collaborative leadership style when she becomes CEO of Time Inc. in January, according to people who know her.

She doesn't have any publishing experience or much of a profile among Time Inc.'s rank and file, insiders noted, but she is likely to help Time Warner 's publishing division better serve marketers.

Time Inc.'s prior CEO, Jack Griffin, was ousted after alienating other senior executives with much longer tenure at Time Inc. People who have worked with Ms. Lang said she's calm, consultative and well-liked by her team, for whom she sets clear goals.

"She is tough-minded and demands execution, but people like being on a winning team," David Kenny, Ms. Lang's predecessor at Digitas, told Ad Age via email. "I do not think she is prone to drama at all."

"There's no issue with Laura and who she is as a leader," another executive said.

She's "not the public speaker" at events but instead "the hostess," a third person said. "She puts a great group of people together and stands back and lets them have a great time."

While some have called Ms. Lang formal, others call her funny. She once played bass with a rock cover band, donning a wig to perform at a company party. She no longer plays the bass, having lost some agility after chemotherapy to treat breast cancer.

She uses her iPad, iPhone, and Android and Blackberry smartphones regularly and interchangeably. In the last year, she's become friendly with digital media muckraker Arianna Huffington.

Inside Time Inc., where many people aren't familiar with her, insiders scrambled Tuesday to interpret her selection by Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes.

"It's not like she's a Rob Norman kind of person who's a thought leader and out there a lot," one Time Inc. executive said. Mr. Norman is CEO for North America at Group M, part of Publicis rival WPP Group. "I've never even seen her speak. We don't know a lot about her."

"It's really shocking I have to say for a lot of people in the building," the executive added. "Look, I think it's great that she's digital. We have a lot of people here who know print really well. But she's very marketing-services focused. She doesn't have much consumer experience. So I'm wondering if what Jeff is thinking is let's bring her in to make the company more of a marketing services company, which is kind of ironic because that was Jack Griffin's whole thing."

While Mr. Griffin is credited as a major catalyst for Meredith Corp.'s marketing services division, which last year brought in $173 million in revenue by providing digital agency services, Ms. Lang is coming from the largest digital agency in the U.S., with more than a half-billion dollars in revenue in 2010, according to Ad Age Data Center.

Ms. Lang's lack of publishing experience is perhaps less surprising than her lack of experience at a company that depends directly on consumers, the Time Inc. executive said. "I always thought if Jeff brought in someone from outside it would be someone with much broader experience, not just ad revenue experience," the executive said. "There's no advertising without consumers."

Her work for clients that depend directly on consumers gives her plenty of experience, another Time Inc. executive said. "She's not consumer-facing, but she represents clients who are exceedingly consumer-facing such as American Express," the executive said.

Her selection should please the Brahmins at Time Inc., whose displeasure with Mr. Griffin led to his quick exit, because their print expertise should protect their continued influence, one print buyer said. "Given her lack of publishing experience, I think this is a choice that will make the John Huey's of the world happy," the buyer said, referring to Time Inc.'s editor in chief.

Mr. Huey, exec VP Howard Averill and exec VP Maurice Edelson have run the company as an interim management committee since February.

"She has very strong day-to-day people underneath her who can compensate for her lack of publishing experience," the buyer said. "Her job will be to create a vision for the future, which they are pegging as a future rooted in digital."

Ms. Lang, a Wharton grad, is in the process of moving to New York from Boston, where Digitas is headquartered. Ms. Lang raised a daughter in the Boston area who is set to graduate college soon.

The decision to leave Digitas, which she helped take public and later helped sell to Publicis Groupe , wasn't easy, Ms. Lang told staff in a memo. But it was "the right one for this time," she said. "It's an opportunity to influence the industry from a different sector."

Time Inc. is one of the country's biggest magazine companies, publishing titles including People, Time , Fortune, Sports Illustrated, InStyle, Real Simple, This Old House and Entertainment Weekly.

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