The former Gilt Groupe CEO has let the same guiding principle take her from developing ‘The Bachelor’ to running Martha Stewart’s empire to challenging Silicon Valley

Susan Lyne has been able to succeed in a wide variety of fields simply because she’s been unafraid to fail. Cindy Ord/Getty Images
  • Susan Lyne is a founding partner of BBG Ventures, a venture capital firm that invests in startups with at least one female founder.
  • Her career has included leadership roles in journalism, primetime television, and tech.
  • She said she has been driven by opportunities to enact change, and that she made “multiple leaps” where success was either not guaranteed or even unlikely.

In 2001, when Susan Lyne was considering taking the job of president of ABC Entertainment, Lyne remembers a friend in the industry telling her: “Nobody retires from these jobs. You will be fired at some point.”

She took the job, and despite green-lighting eventual mega-hits like “The Bachelor” and “Grey’s Anatomy,” was not given enough time to see them through their launch and eventual success. Her friend’s prediction came true and she was fired after two and a half years. But she doesn’t regret it for a moment.

“Because it’s one of the great jobs,” she said in a recent interview for Business Insider’s podcast, “Success! How I Did It.”

“So if you are somebody who is not afraid of risk and you love the creative process, it’s great,” she said. “Why would you not do it?”

You can listen to the full episode here:

“I made multiple leaps where there were no guarantees that I was going to be successful,” Lyne said. “By the way, I was not always successful. But I think if you go into something new with an open mind, and you let people around you know what you don’t know, for the most part they’re going to link arms with you.”

This mindset took her from running her own magazine about movies to entering the movie business with Disney in the late 1990s,to taking the ABC job, to accepting the role of CEO of Martha Stewart’s media company while Stewart was in prison, and then then pivoting to the startup world when she became CEO of Gilt Groupe in 2013.

This career arc is by no means conventional, and isn’t remotely “safe.”

Lyne explained that “you can’t plan a career so closely that you never make a move unless you know that it’s going to work. There’s always going to be risk involved in change, right?”

She did note, however, that from a young age she wanted her life to be defined by enacting positive change, particularly for women. And that’s why she said she feels especially fulfilled in her current role at BBG, where she invests in startups with at least one female founder.

“I see many, many young women now – and that’s part of what excites me about the startup world – who have left great jobs and said, ‘I think I can build something,'” Lyne said. “Eighty per cent of them will probably fail at it, but they will learn a ton, and they will either be much better when they go back into a corporate job or they will start a second company and they will succeed. That’s the way that we learn. We learn by making mistakes.

“If you genuinely want to have a multifaceted career that takes you into multiple industries, then I think you have to be willing to fail.”