HSN’s CEO Mindy Grossman on Culture Trumps Strategy (Transcript)

But I was at a pivotal point in my career. I was in my late 40s and they had just announced a new CEO, a new president, both of whom were about 50 and had been at the company a long time and, most importantly they were in very good health. So as that succession plan wasn’t looking like it was happening, so fast but it was truly like, what was life after Nike going to be like? Where was I going to go? And I think, too many people were like she’s going to go run the Gap or she’s going to go run this, and I just knew that wasn’t the case. And I had the opportunity to travel the world and really see how technology was changing the landscape, much more so yet than it had in the United States. So really the explosion of mobile in Japan and what was happening around all the marketing efforts, whether it be the Olympics or World Cup. And I just said if I’m going to do anything I want to be in a direct-to-consumer business. Because I’d worked with all these great story telling brands and we would create the narrative around the product and we would create the technology, for example at Nike. And we’d have all these stories.

And then I would see my dreams dashed by going onto a selling floor and nobody was telling the story the right way to the customer. So I said I wanted direct-to-consumer business. I want a business that’s going to be able to take advantage of what’s happening in technology and what’s happening in changes in consumer behavior because the way consumers were consuming, right? Media, information how people were changing their habits of shopping. How could I take advantage of that?

And so when I got this call from Barry Diller, to say I got a call from a recruiter that, that Barry Diller wants to talk to you about going to take over IAC Retail. And I said that’s great, but what the hell is IAC Retail? I never even heard of it. And they said well, it’s HSN and this portfolio of these catalog and e-commerce brands. Some of those I had heard.

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And I said, well, not really sure but you wouldn’t want to have lunch with Barry Diller, but if I’m going to have lunch with him, I better have a point of view. So give me two weeks, let me do all my due diligence, let me see if this is something really interesting. So, I completely immersed myself in the business and the brand and the competition, and the marketplace and I’ll never forget. I was — I’m watching and I’m glued, and I wasn’t even familiar with it before, I’m glued to this channel, like constantly. And my husband’s like, oh my God, are we watching this again?

And I also was a big Food Network freak, right? I love Food Network, so this was eight years ago. And I’m going, what would I do with this, what would I do with this? How could I make it more engaging and interesting? And all of a sudden, I was watching Food Network and I clicked over to HSN and Wolfgang Puck, who was the only person in this video, that was on HSN at that time eight years ago. None of those other people had been launched. And the light bulb went off, and I said, we have to stop thinking of this as a selling channel. And we have to start thinking of it as a network that’s going to inspire people to want things. I started getting really excited. Well we could be like HGTV and Food Network and Style and DIY and we can transport people through experiences. And that’s when I had lunch with Barry and I said, okay, here’s the big idea. If you are willing to buy into this idea, I am willing to take this plunge and do this. And if you are not, it’s not really interesting and in great Barry fashion, because he epitomizes that, he said go for it.

Now, little did I know, yes I was the eightieth CEO in 10 years. The business has stalled. It was broken. But, I think that sometimes the biggest challenges actually transport you to the greatest places.

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Interviewer: So you decided to join HSN as CEO In the first 90 days, what was your top priority when you walked into the business?

Mindy Grossman: So I knew that, when you have eight CEOs in 10 years, that’s so disruptive to any culture. And, what happens is, the culture freezes. I always use the expression, it’s like Miss Havisham in Great Expectations. You know, there’s cobwebs. Because people are just waiting for the next person to go. So, no strategy has been implemented. The business wasn’t performing, so people were really feeling downtrodden. What were their opportunities going to be for success? They were trailing number two against the competition.

And so I knew that I was going to have to make people feel that something was very, very different. So, my head of HR actually called me and said — and I had not visited the campus before I took the job, because they were making all these changes before I came in. And she said, “Well, how do you want me arrange your first day?”

And I said let me ask you a question, “What does any other employee do on their first day?”

And she said, “Well, they go to employee orientation”.

And I said, “Well, I am going to go to employee orientation”.

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