In honor of our co-founders Hillary Kerr and Katherine Power’s upcoming book, The Career Code: Must-Know Rules for a Strategic, Stylish, and Self-Made Career ($13), we’re kicking off an interview series featuring 17 questions (to parallel the book’s 17 chapters) about the work lives of inspirational female leaders who are at the top of their fields. We last spoke with Bumble CEO Whitney Wolfe on altering the digital landscape of modern dating. Next up is Goop’s powerhouse CEO, Lisa Gersh.
Truthfully, 2008 was a different time—an age when if you wanted to know where to get a good facial in San Francisco, you might have tapped your most cultured jet-setter friend. Gwyneth Paltrow changed all that when she asked Christy Turlington just that question. From there, Paltrow flipped her A-list personal Rolodex into a weekly newsletter punctuated with the crème de la crème of personal recommendations. Goop launched as a haven for vouched-for amenities and lifestyle hacks, but it was the subject of our interview, CEO Lisa Gersh, who scaled the now fully shoppable brand into an entirely different animal.
A successful lawyer turned exec, Gersh is well deserving of words like “dynamo” and “powerhouse” considering her incredible résumé. As the co-founder, president, and COO of Oxygen, she engineered the sale of the network to NBC in 2007 for a cool $925 million, moving on to serve as president of strategic initiatives at NBCUniversal. In 2008, she took up as CEO of Martha Stewart Living before being tapped by Paltrow to helm Goop in 2014.
As Goop’s chief of command, she’s overseen the launch of Goop’s first products to market, Goop Skincare, along with the brand’s forthcoming debut fashion line. Her visionary leadership catapulted the e-commerce and digital media startup into a full-fledged lifestyle juggernaut, diversifying the site’s opportunities and elevating it into the reputable multifaceted platform it is today. If anyone has a finger on the pulse of the finer things in life, it’s Gersh. We can’t wait to let you in on her wisdom and expertise.
From gracefully navigating male-dominated fields to her daily evening ritual, these are some gems from the insider’s brilliant mind.
“I liken my role as CEO as a cross between basketball coach and air traffic controller. On the coaching side, you set the strategy (the playbook) and then you need to make sure that each member of your team is fulfilling their responsibilities (playing their position) and working with the rest of the team effectively (passing the ball at the right time). At Goop, we are a very integrated team, mixing content and commerce, creating native advertising, and working with outside partners. All of this requires our team to work collaboratively at the highest level.
The air traffic controller skills come in especially at startups, which are moving fast with multiple initiatives. As the CEO, you need to make sure that all the initiatives fit together, and when they are completed (when you land the plane), that it all adds up to something important.”
“I think most people think of a CEO as someone who sits on top of an organization, but I think a good CEO sits in the middle. So it might be surprising to know the level of detail in which I often get involved. We are a small, tight team at Goop, so whether it’s a weekly status meeting with our retail team or a meet-and-greet with a new potential partner, I do my best to get involved and support my team.”
“My first job was umpiring girls’ softball at 13, and that was most likely jeans and a T-shirt. My first real job after school was at a law firm, and this was at a time when women wore skirt suits and shirts with bows. Thank goodness there was no Instagram then!”
“Meg Whitman. Because she took an old idea—auctions—put it on a new platform—the Internet—and built one of the great digital brands, eBay. Often the best ideas are reimaginations of really simple concepts—much like Goop was started as Gwyneth’s reimagination of how to give and receive advice about the things that were most important to her. Women have been sharing tips and favorite things with friends for years, but Goop found a way to scale.”
“BoF, New York Times, WSJ, Crunch, Vox, the NY Post, and of course Who What Wear.”
“I was a lawyer for the first 13 years of my career, and while I loved it, I wish I had entered the business world sooner.”
“Passion, intelligence, humility, ambition, and experience.”
“The old adage is very true—dress for the job you want, not the one you have. If I am speaking, I generally wear a well-tailored dress. Tailoring everything perfectly makes all the difference. We all have pieces of clothing that make us feel powerful. For me, I will pull out one of my old Chanel jackets. They never fail. My advice to women is always wear what makes you feel powerful.’
“I thought she would say ‘too busy, tireless, and occasionally moody.’ But when I asked her she said ‘a strong leader, always on the go, great problem solver.’”
“Take a break. If it is a short break, I take a walk around the block. If I need a longer break, I go play golf.”
“There really is no good way if you are a valued employee, but never leave after a vacation.”
“I really struggle with lunch—I am a much bigger breakfast fan and when I am in L.A., I very often have breakfast at Tavern in Brentwood. With lunch, I go through phases where I get the same thing every day for a few weeks. Right now, when I am in NYC, I am all about turkey sandwiches on rye toast with Swiss cheese and Russian dressing from Eisenberg’s. I very rarely go out for lunch unless it is for an outside meeting, but I do love lunch at The Wayfarer in NYC and the farmers market in Brentwood.”
“New employees often do not take the time to understand the company culture. Every company has their own particular ways of doing things, and that is important to learn before you get going. With respect to more senior employees, I think the biggest issue is not focusing on the job in front of them and worrying about areas that they cannot control. When you’re a manager or leader, it’s easy to get so wrapped up in your own workload that you don’t make yourself available to your team. Listening actively and blocking time out on your schedule to talk to your employees will allow you to be more aware of your teams’ needs.”
“Every morning, I wake up, push the button on the coffee pot, and sit at my desk, which I share with my husband, reading email, newspapers, and all my online sources of news. I then do any heavy writing or thinking I need to do because I think best in the morning. Then I go work out.
“My evening ritual is a very hot bath. I always take one no matter what time I get home. It’s my favorite way to unwind. And then I usually watch TV. Right now I am obsessed with Billions and The People vs. OJ Simpson.”
“The best advice I ever received came from my former partner at Oxygen (and best friend and lifelong mentor), Gerry Laybourne: Learn how to say yes. The first time she gave me that advice, it was about my then two-year-old daughter, Samantha. While most parents are busy saying no, if you learn how to set boundaries by saying yes, you have done something really special. And then when we started Oxygen, Gerry explained that it’s really easy to kill an idea with a no, but the smartest people in the room—and the best executives—learn how to say yes to an idea and make it work.
It does not mean that you will agree with every idea and implement them, but you will always work through the idea, and by saying yes, your team will come to you with their best thinking. The more ideas you kill with no, the fewer you will receive.”
“We have so many exciting projects at Goop—it’s hard to pick one! But the launch of Goop Skincare, our first own label product, is really exciting.”
Ready to be the CEO of your career? Preorder The Career Code ($13) today.