Interview: Wenda Harris Millard, Co-CEO, MSLO: Continuing The Comeback; No Other Changes Planned

imageSusan Lyne, the outgoing CEO of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia hardly ever missed a chance to trumpet the company’s strengths to marketers and investors at media conferences the past few years. During each presentation, like a lawyer arguing a case, she would put forth an argument that the company’s fortunes were becoming more secure thanks to its efforts on both the media side and the merchandising side.

With Lyne’s departure in less than 30 days, those two sides will become more entwined, says Wenda Harris Millard, promoted today to co-CEO from president of media. She’ll share the CEO spot with Robin Marino, until now president of merchandising. Despite the bifurcation of the post and the new roles for Millard and Marino, Millard told paidContent she otherwise sees very little change about to occur: “Robin and I have been working together for three years. When she joined the company, I was already on the board, then I joined [from Yahoo] to work here a year ago and our roles were distinct: me on media, she on merchandise. Our new positions keeps us running those two areas and will make us more collaborative. It brings the merchandising and media segments closer together and even could allow each side to leverage the other even more than before.” More from my interview with Millard after the jump.

Definitely ready: Back in January, NYP reported on speculation that Lyne would be exiting after SEC filings showed she had not renewed her contract. Lyne moved from the board to CEO in November 2004, as founder Martha Stewart began serving a federal prison sentence related to obstruction of justice and insider trading. As Slate pointed out, MSLO’s stock traded at $30 a share in 2005 and today is trading around $8.

However, in the past year, MSLO has returned to profitability and Lyne has received some credit for that. During the interview, Millard stressed that she planned to keep the strategies in place that helped the company continue to narrow its quarterly losses and increase revenues. She sidestepped questions about whether she knew Lyne’s exit was coming, offering instead confidence in her own preparedness. “I’ve known Martha for 10 years and I’ve been on the board for three years. And now I have one year of having been operating inside the company [as president of media]. The company company is on very solid footing. Susan was a fantastic CEO and she did restore the company to profitability. I will miss Susan a lot. But do I feel ready? Yes, I do.”

Online growth: Back in December 2006, Lyne said she expected online to comprise one-third of its EBITDA by 2010 with long-term margins of 40 percent. Asked if the goals Lyne outlined were on track, Millard noted that a lot has changed since then: “We’re focusing very determinedly right now on the weddings arena and on the Living.com site, which we’re launching. One of the things you really have to factor in is that we’ve been very successful on the merchandising side. So I’d have to go back and look at [Lyne’s figures]. We have 15 partners right now in merchandising. That growth has been so fantastic, so it’s hard to say. What I can say is that our digital business is really healthy and we’re going to continue to grow it.”

Acquisitions: The $50 million recently spent for Emeril Lagasse

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