Gilt Chairman Susan Lyne Shares Upside to Failure at Power Breakfast

Lyne advises the crowd to plunge into the digital world during TheWrap's third annual Power Women event

Susan Lyne, chairman of Gilt Groupe, Inc. and former president of ABC Entertainment, talked about learning from failure and adjusting to digital realities during TheWrap's third-annual Power Women breakfast Monday morning at the Hotel Bel-Air.

The head of the fast-growing online shopping site also spoke about juggling career and family during the conversation moderated by TheWrap's Editor-in-Chief Sharon Waxman and Cathy Schulman, president of Women In Film and Mandalay Pictures. 

She said her husband's death from cancer six years ago taught her to live in the moment at home and at work.

"The last gift he gave me was to just be present," Lyne said, choking up and causing the room of powerful women to grow silent. "I have this moment, and that's it. I've tried to carry that into work and life."

Among the industry executives and talent attending were Fox Searchlight President Nancy Utley and marketing chief Michelle Hooper; Sundance lab director Michelle Satter; director Kimberly Pierce; American Film Institute Vice Chair Jean Picker Firstenberg; Dick Clark Productions President Orly Adelson; Nancy Tellem, CBS senior advisor; Teri Schwartz, dean for UCLA's School of Theater, Film and Television; actresses Sharon Lawrence, Olga Fonda and Brie Larson.

Also read: Inside TheWrap's Power Women Breakfast (Slideshow)

Lyne said she grew up in an "old-media world" where "I saw a lot of people with their blinders of, who didn't want to acknowledge that the world was changing more profoundly than we understood or didn't want to take the risk to change their business models."

When Lyne told her friends she was joining Gilt in 2008, she said, "My friends all thought I was out of my mind. They'd say, 'Oh, that's so nice,' or 'What are you thinking? Why are you doing this?' "

Lyne told the audience that the site will likely go public within the next 18 months. The online-shopping company raked in $500 million in revenue during the 2010-2011 fiscal year.

Prior to joining Gilt as CEO, Lyne was the founder/editor-in-chief of Premiere magazine, CEO of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia and president of ABC Entertainment.

She said her firing at ABC — which had fallen to the  No. 4 spot among networks — was a first in her career. She noted that it was "a really public firing. … It was on the front page of the business section of every paper I cared about."

But while she was devastated afterward, Lyne said she also found it to be "incredibly liberating. I realized I had never decided what I had wanted to do before, except my first job, in magazines. It was the first time I could remember feeling in control of my destiny."

Added Lyne, who cited Arianna Huffington as one of her inspirations, "anyone who has never been fired from a job is probably someone who has not taken enough risks."

Also read: Scenes From a Power Women's Breakfast Slideshow

Schulman agreed with Lyne that "a lot of people in this room need to reinvent themselves."

"We have a failing industry that can't make money and hasn't tapped into digital marketing," she said of the entertainment business.

Lyne pointed out that it's easier for the TV businesses to become more digital in their outreach, given the ongoing connection viewers can build with shows. Lyne said the reason ABC program "Lost" succeeded was because, following the first season, creator J.J. Abrams engaged online in conversations about the show.

"When the show came back, it came back so much bigger and stronger," she said.

TheWrap's third-annual Power Women breakfast also included a charity auction that raised money for Girl Up, a campaign supporting United Nations programs that promote education for girls in developing countries and in disadvantaged locations in the United States.

The event was sponsored by Women in Film, the newly-renovated Hotel Bel-Air and Screen Shop.