Now that the Huffington Post acquisition has been consummated, there are about 1,200 people “dedicated to content creation” at AOL, AOL CEO Tim Armstrong recently told staffers in an internal memo.In charge of them all – leading “the content vision,” according to the same Armstrong memo – is Arianna Huffington.
Arianna’s official title is president and editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post Media Group. But based on her recent visibility, she’s clearly the second most important executive at AOL.
Huffington’s last job was editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post. There, she supervised a team of about 100 total editorial staffers.
So jumping to leading 1,200 editorial staffers and a huge integration project is a big leap.
With a huge integration looming – one that would challenge even the 6 Sigma managers – the obvious question is: Can Huffington integrate and manage an organisation that is so much larger than any she has ever managed before?
We took this question to a number of sources close to Huffington – people who worked directly with her at Huffington Post.
Below is what we heard.
The main gripe we heard from Huffington-doubters is that Arianna is a “extremely hands-on” micro-manager with an inability to delegate.
One former Huffington Post reporter told us that back in 2007, Huffington would read all of her posts and call from LA if she found any errors – even typos.
Another source, a former intern, tells us that site editors would get calls at all hours from Huffington, asking them, for example, to ding stories from the site’s front page if they didn’t meet her standards.
That kind of management might work at a startup, but a higher-up source close to HuffPo wonders if it’ll fly at AOL.
“She’s a genius on television, a genius in front of an office, and she should do that full-time – and maintain control through means other than the way she did it. She was extremely hands-on. Going from 70 editors to 700, with that style, I don’t know how you’re going to do it.”
The most disturbing complaint we heard against Huffington was that she’s reluctant to let others take credit for the company’s success.
“During the time I was there, if you did an interview in the press, if you spoke publicly, and lit any kind of a spotlight on technology as one of the reasons [for Huffington Post’s success], Arianna would have a meltdown.”
“If she read something in the paper, or even at staff meetings that there was too much acknowledgement on technology, there was a real deep, dark downside.”
A meltdown! Interesting. What’s an Arianna “meltdown” like?
“Really unpleasant. That’s all. That intern who made the typo thinks that not only are they going to be fired – they might be killed.”
It is important to point out that even the most sceptical of our sources took a moment to recognise that we’re talking about someone who just pulled off the impressive feat of selling a company she cofounded for an astounding $315 million.
In fact, even the most negative source we spoke to told us, “You can’t bet against her because she’s done incredible things against all odds.”
And on the much more positive side, another source told us the best sign of Huffington’s ability to manage is the lack of turnover among the people she worked with. Anya Strzemien, head of the style page, has been at Huffington Post for four years. Danny Shea, who heads up media, has been there since 2007. Mario Ruiz, Huffpo’s PR guru, has worked with Huffington personally since the beginning.
Another source summarized the views of many, saying, “Arianna is human and like everyone else has her strengths and weaknesses.”
“AOL is a public company so now the doubters can bet against her – but I wouldn’t recommend it!”
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