Now, as the publisher of Time Inc.'s Fortune, she notes similarities between that part of her career and her current job leading an ad sales team.
"A lot of what we do is problem solving," she says.
Ms. Sykes' appointment came last April, when the magazine's editorial and marketing efforts appeared to be sagging. Not only was she the third publisher in three years, but the title was widely seen as adrift and morale was low.
"I can't blame people if there were some morale problems after so many changes," she says. "I did not come in with any personal agenda other than what do you do to get the job done."
The magazine is still third in ad pages among the three major business magazines. But in 1996, Fortune was up 4.4% in ad pages to 3,336 against relatively flat years for its two competitors. Particularly noted were the double-digit gains racked up in November and December.
It wasn't until her divorce 13 years ago that Ms. Sykes first sought out a publishing job. At the time, she parlayed her experience as a headhunter in the hotel and travel business into an ad sales job with Conde Nast's Bride's.
Four months later, she was recruited to Time as an ad sales representative in Atlanta. She served in various positions in Time Inc. before the Fortune job.
Looking back on her career, she says, "I feel I've almost lived two lives. I might have not been able to plan the ride -- but I knew when to jump on."