February 27, 2024

The Boss: Staying Open to Opportunity

For my last three years of high school I attended the Hotchkiss School in Lakeville, Conn. Then I attended the University of North Carolina as a Morehead Scholar. The program paid for college and it funded terrific summer internships. I completed an Outward Bound program in Colorado, I worked for the county police department in Portland, Ore., and one summer I worked for the Coors brewery in the public relations department.

In 1985, after graduating with a bachelor’s degree in political science, a couple of friends and I started a video production company. For me, it was a way to stay in Chapel Hill while my girlfriend, Jane, finished. We got married in 1989 and moved to Boston so I could attend Harvard for an M.B.A. I graduated in 1991.

My first job after that was working for the Walt Disney Company in California in the home video group. As a senior financial analyst, I focused on financial modeling using Excel spreadsheets. I developed carpal tunnel syndrome and had to wear wrist braces while typing.

In 1994 I moved to Hong Kong to help set up an office in Asia, and in 1997 I was promoted to managing director for the region. It was a fantastic climb in a booming business, but then the Asian economic climate took a nosedive and video piracy exploded in the region. In turn, our business imploded. Learning to manage in crisis stayed with me longer than managing in the boom. In 1999 we shuttered the office and I returned to California. I commuted to Asia part of the month visiting one of our other offices there, but that got old fast. I started looking for new opportunities.

I was interested in the Internet, so next I joined Ticketmaster Online-CitySearch as vice president of e-commerce. I was hired to build a business to sell concert memorabilia on the site, but the venture wasn’t successful.

IAC took over the company and in 2001 company executives asked me to move to Dallas and become C.E.O. of Match.com. I had a fantastic run building the business, but in 2004, Barry Diller, then chief executive of IAC, Match.com’s parent company, decided to make a change in leadership and I stepped down.

A headhunter contacted me about the C.E.O. job at MyFamily.com, a precursor of Ancestry.com. It seemed to be a highly promising business that hadn’t reached its full potential. It also offered the chance to live in the mountains. I joined MyFamily.com in 2005, and in 2009 we changed the name to Ancestry.com and took the company public. Our target audience is someone at least 45 years old at a stage in life where they’re interested in their heritage. Our biggest season is after the holidays, after families have gotten together. Perhaps a family member has passed away, and another member becomes reflective.

I’ve never had a master plan. I don’t think there’s a linear path from high school to college to where a person ends up in their 40s. I’ve tried to be opportunistic and react intelligently to events. Leaving Match.com involuntarily was probably the best thing that ever happened to me. It taught me that what seems like a negative at the time can be a positive change. It led me to my position at Ancestry.com, which I love.

As told to Patricia R. Olsen.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=39a22d13ecb16619b50bf3fb0135b7e8

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