Unflappable Lyne needs to reinvigorate Martha empire

By Published on .

Susan Lyne is running a company that's gone through several successive stomach-turning earnings reports. Ad pages at the company's single largest property have fallen 65.1% in two years. Its founder and guiding spirit is in jail. And it must brace for yet another turn under the media microscope following an expected prison release of the founder next month.

But to hear a former deputy tell it, don't expect Ms. Lyne, who's been CEO of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia since mid-November, to wilt under pressure.

"She has this amazing, unflappable quality," said Cyndi Stivers, the president-editorial director of Time Out New York who was the No. 2 editor when Ms. Lyne edited Premiere. "When she was pregnant with Jane, her younger daughter, she had driven a bunch of the staff to a screening, dropped them off, and drove herself to the hospital and had the baby in the hallway or something. No one had any idea she was about to give birth." (Through a spokeswoman, Ms. Lyne confirms the outlines of this story, with two exceptions: It was a taxi, not her car; and she averted giving birth in the hallway, but only by a few minutes.)

Unflappability likely came in handy during her recent roller-coaster ride as president of ABC Entertainment. There, as is now famous, she was unceremoniously ousted just before the debut of two shows she greenlighted, the smash hits "Lost" and "Desperate Housewives." But, Ms. Lyne said, "I got a call from a headhunter the day after I was fired from ABC" to join the board at Martha Stewart Omnimedia. From there, she quickly ascended upon the surprise resignation of previous CEO Sharon Patrick in mid-November.

wide experience

Ms. Lyne's a media polymath, with experience that spans the founding of Hachette Filipacchi's Premiere and editing alt-weekly Village Voice to her stints in movies at Walt Disney Co. and ABC. She's mum on the details of her vision for her new company, save for some key brush strokes that testify to her most recent executive roles.

"I do expect TV to become a larger part of the revenue base," said Ms. Lyne, who cites the inking and selling of Ms. Stewart's as-yet-untitled syndicated show as the company's biggest move in her tenure. "Most companies have to spend a phenomenal amount to get the kind of exposure we get on TV."

Her comments on the company's DNA testify to a savvy sense of its attributes, plus a clever pivot to soften the edges of Ms. Stewart's vaunted perfectionism. "This brand is identified with expertise in areas that never go out of style, that are truly evergreen, whether it's nesting and home as a reflection of a personal style, or whether making time with your families and friends richer and more memorable." She also hints at some additional future strategy. "We own all of our content. There are enormously valuable libraries on TV and on the print side that I believe can work on multiple platforms." At the moment, for example, no Martha Stewart-branded DVDs are available.

Ms. Lyne made much of stressing the primacy of the Martha Stewart brand when she took the job, which led some observers to wonder what would happen to Ms. Patrick's most recent acquisitions-the health-and-wellness titles Body & Soul and media properties built around holistic-minded Dr. Andrew Weil. Body & Soul will relaunch later this year, "with a cleaner ... very beautiful design," she said.

Those smaller titles will hardly stand center-stage when Ms. Stewart is back. But this brings up a potentially uncomfortable point-what if a comeback for Ms. Stewart herself becomes separate from the comeback of the company, which in its last quarter posted a net loss of $15 million on revenues of $38.7 million?

Ms. Lyne is predictably unruffled. "I remain optimistic," she said that "the enormous interest in Martha, the person, can translate into success in business."

Most Popular
In this article: