How HSNi’s CEO kicked off a turnaround with one symbolic gesture

HSNi CEO Mindy Grossman
Stephen Lovekin | Getty Images | Soledad O'Brien & Brad Raymond Starfish Foundation

Mindy Grossman has worked for some the biggest companies out there: Tommy Hilfiger, Ralph Lauren, Nike.

In 2006, she took the helm at the then-floundering Home Shopping Network, relaunching the brand two years later. Fast-forward to the present day, and HSNi now boasts almost 7,000 employees and has become a $4 billion multichannel-retailer that reaches nearly 100 million households.

When she began at HSN, Grossman was its eighth CEO in 10 years. She credits her ability to turn the company around to boosting employee morale, thoroughly understanding the business and what was broken, and dramatically shifting the company culture.

One of the first things Grossman did was clean house, and she drew that inspiration from an unlikely source, she recently told CNBC.

"I'd just moved to St. Petersburg from New York City and remembered that when [former New York City mayor] Rudy Giuliani became mayor, one of the first things he did was get rid of all the graffiti." That led her to make an unusual decision: replacing every chair on HSN's campus with a new Aeron office chair.

That, Grossman explained, "was my way of getting rid of graffiti. It was a symbolic gesture of a new beginning and a catalyst for the work we did to reposition the brand."

Under Grossman, HSN expanded to become a multiplatform business that broadened beyond its television origins, and is now an online and mobile retail powerhouse. In a 2014 interview with Stanford Business School, the CEO explained she made a series of dramatic business decisions motivated by the idea that "if you don't disrupt yourself, you will be disrupted by someone else."

iPhone 7
Mark Neuling | CNBC

That gambit appears to have paid off.

"When I first started at HSN, I knew that retailers would have to be poised to take advantage of technology and the rapidly changing ways in which people shop," she told CNBC. "It was one of the things that drew me to the company."

HSN's transformation came not a moment too soon, as consumers increasingly flock online for shopping deals. This season, mobile devices dominate the market, with 51 percent of consumers purchasing something through their cellphones. More than one-third of shoppers report that 100 percent of their purchases were on sale.

Throughout her long and successful career, Grossman said she never felt as if her gender counted against her, and she wants to ensure that all women feel the same. She believes in a woman's intuition and tells her mentees to follow their instincts — even if that means leaving their job for a role where their gifts will be more appreciated.

"I firmly believe in the old adage 'Actions speak louder than words.' This means proactively seeking women for roles within boards, identifying opportunities for diversity within teams and finding ways to use your platform to mentor women — and then encourage them to do the same," Grossman said.

"Women must do a better job of supporting each other. However, real change will happen when both men and women unite to demand diversity," she added.

HSN growth in every category: CEO

Grossman also works to empower women through HSN Cares and American Dreams, offering guidance and support to first-time entrepreneurs to help increase their chances of success.

Her advice to entrepreneurs is, "Believe in yourself. People may doubt your decisions or question the risks that you take, but nothing will prove more important than the [transformative] power of believing in yourself."

Grossman also cited the need for a trustworthy team and a supportive network. "It's OK to not have all the answers, and in fact, the more extraordinary people you are able to surround yourself with, the better you will become."

Correction: This story was updated to reflect that Mindy Grossman is the CEO of HSNi.

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