Martha Stewart’s New President Opens Up

Meet Lisa Gersh, who's now in line to be CEO

Wednesday brought big changes for Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, which announced that its founder and namesake is returning to the board, that Oxygen Media co-founder Lisa Gersh is in line to become its next CEO, and that the company retained Blackstone Advisory Partners, potentially putting it in play.

Speculation about Stewart’s future role had been heating up as she wraps up a five-year probationary period in which, as part of her penalty for lying to investigators over a stock sale, she was prohibited from holding any officer or director roles at the company. She’ll rejoin the board in the third quarter.

Gersh was named president and COO effective June 6, with the plan that she’ll become CEO in a year to 20 months. She’ll report to Charles Koppelman, who has been MSLO’s executive chairman and principal executive officer since 2008. 

She has her work cut out for her: MSLO has had a series of top management shake-ups in recent years; in the latest, Robin Marino stepped down as head of merchandising and was replaced by Patsy Pollack. Stewart’s merchandising division, the company’s cash cow, has been doing well, but her TV show has struggled since it moved to Hallmark Channels last year. And its flagship magazine had an impressive turnaround after Stewart’s imprisonment, but lately it’s been pressured by competition from other food and lifestyle magazines and high advertising rates. In an interview on Wednesday, Adweek talked with Gersh about her plans for the company and the import of Stewart’s return to the board.

Adweek: What are the top three things on your to-do list?

Lisa Gersh: First I want to meet everybody and get to know what they do. The second thing is looking at where we’re heading and focusing on our top-line opportunities. And the third thing is to get out and meet our important partners.

What do you see as the challenges for the company today?

It’s an incredible brand that’s essentially larger than the company. I think we have a lot of tentacles, and we’ve built horizontally, and now we have to build those businesses.

How will your strong broadcasting background figure into the company’s future?

The fact that I have a cable and Internet background doesn’t mean that’s where the company is going to focus. There’s been a great deal of focus on merchandising and publishing. All of publishing has been challenged. But we were just recognized for our apps. The ability to use that [content] across multiple platforms has a lot of opportunity.

Are you concerned about Martha’s poor ratings on the Hallmark Channel?

I’m not concerned. Could we do better? Sure. It takes time on cable because there’s so much choice on cable. And it takes a while to find it. Television takes time. It took Oxygen five years to get to profitability. You’re looking at 500 choices, and driving an audience is challenging.

What will Martha Stewart’s return to the board mean to the company?

Look, she’s the largest stockholder in the company. She is the essence of the brand, and her role in the company and having her participate at board meetings is fabulous for the company. Boards work with the CEO to set strategic vision. Having her in the room can only benefit the company.

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