When A+E Networks CEO Nancy Dubuc announced earlier this year that she was stepping down from her post to take over as chief executive at Vice Media, it marked a bold transition in the media landscape. For Dubuc, that was the whole point.
In an conversation with TheWrap’s Sharon Waxman onstage at the Power Women Summit on Friday in downtown Los Angeles, Dubuc explained that the opportunity to help shape the next generation with a next-generation media company was too good to pass up.
“When this opportunity came up, it occurred to me that the greatest impact I could have is working in an organization of young people who needed me,” said Dubuc. “That would be my legacy if successful. And if not, shame on me, but if so, then that was more important to do.”
“I look around, and I don’t think many of my peers think that way or act that way,” she said.
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It wasn’t a move that came with few trade-offs or little risk, as she put it: “I definitely went to a harder job and got paid less money.” But at the end of the day, it came down to three words hanging on a sign in her office: “Who dares, wins.”
“I was staring at the sign at A+E for a while and started to feel like a fraud,” said Dubuc.
Packing up that sign and moving it to a new office at Vice surely qualified as a daring move. At the time of Dubuc’s appointment, the company was a month off reporting that it missed its 2017 earnings target by $100 million and had been racked by a series of #MeToo scandals resulting in the departure its chief digital officer and president.
But what Dubuc saw was opportunity. A corporate culture changing for the better and a group of young people passionate about their mission.
“When I got there, the overwhelming sense that I got is that the majority of the organization wanted to be trumpeted and celebrated,” she said. “Because most of the organization was doing the right thing.”
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She continued, “So how do we get the Vice story right, and how do we get the Vice story out there? Because we are one of the only media companies out there that is in service of youth in the way that we are.”
Putting the company back on the right trajectory is a “process,” Dubuc said, but it’s one that’s already in progress. “We have to get our structure right, we have to get our vision right, we have to obviously put a lot in place. The rapid growth of the company happened without a lot of structure in place, and a lot of things went wrong.”
Part of that process is ensuring a more inclusive workplace, one that better represents its audience and the company at large, because instituting top-down changes doesn’t work at a company aiming to serve the next generation.
“It’s all about who’s in the room,” said Dubuc. “The decision-making processes have to be made in a room that looks like the audience we’re serving media to.”
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“We already look shockingly different than most media companies,” she said. “Young, diverse, everything looks different, feels different.”
As such, the conversations she’s having internally at Vice already differ from the issues other media companies are just beginning to tackle. For instance, “When the next generation isn’t identifying as male or female, you’re not talking about 50-50 [gender parity].”
Those shifts in the media landscape are exactly the kind of legacy-building opportunities Dubuc was looking for in leaving A+E. Not just leading a successful company, but shaping a new kind of company that gives the next generation the best chance for success.
“We have to take them seriously,” she said, “There’s a lot of them.”
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