Vice Grows Up by Hiring a Sheryl Sandberg of its Own


Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has admitted that hiring Sheryl Sandberg as COO helped the company grow up. Now Vice Media CEO Shane Smith is hoping to do the same.

Vice Media has hired former White House Deputy Chief of Staff Alyssa Mastromonaco as COO, starting in the job in January.

“We operate on a kind of free-flowing-quasi-hierarchical-non-traditional-management structure that just sort of happened over the year,” stated Vice co-founder and CEO Shane Smith. “It’s essentially a cult, and thus a nightmare for most status-quo managers.” 

Vice, which started life as a free street magazine with a punkish attitude in Canada, is a clear leader in global youth media and online video content and their digital channels cover all the bases of pop culture including Noisey, a music discovery channel; The Creators Project, dedicated to arts and creativity with backing from Intel; a new digital content platform with Live Nation; and an Emmy award-winning series with HBO that made headlines by bringing Dennis Rodman to North Korea. [more]

Smith recently relaunched, while Mastromonaco, one of President Obama’s longest-serving staffers, recently left Washington politics to try her hand in media as a contributing editor at Marie Claire magazine. Now she’ll have a perch atop one of media’s red-hot brands, which has sparked a bidding war by Time Warner, A&E and other suitors eager for a piece of Vice’s influence with millennials.

“When presented with the opportunity to join Vice, I didn’t hesitate in accepting,” stated Mastromonaco. “I have always been drawn to an organization made up of people who know exactly what they stand for, where they’re going, and how they want to get there.”

“Even as Vice continues to flourish and grow, they’ve remained true to their mission: telling important, compelling stories in a way others don’t, in a visceral way,” she added. “Behind Vice is an eclectic cast of some of the sharpest and most creative minds in media, and I’m thrilled to be joining the ranks, albeit a little less young than most.”

Mastromonaco told the New York Times that she and Smith “completely clicked” and that his vision was reminiscent of the early days of Obama’s campaign, adding, “My goal for Vice is for it to be exactly what Vice is, just make it a little bit better.”  

Based in Brooklyn, Vice began in Montreal 20 years ago as a free punk-style magazine. Now operating in 36 countries, Vice has raised $250m from Technology Crossover Ventures, and another $250m from A&E Networks.

Returning to its roots, Vice recently announced a $100 million (Canadian) joint venture with Rogers Communications for a Toronto production facility for locally produced content and a Vice-branded TV/digital network to launch in 2015, focused on 18-34 year olds.

As the Times commented on Mastromonaco’s decision to join the Vice squad, which also counts former Viacom co-CEO and MTV Networks head Tom Freston as an adviser: “The hiring signals how Vice, known for its renegade reporting and on-the-edge articles and videos, is seeking a new level of management as it navigates its next stage of growth.” 

Vice rebel-in-chief Smith sees politics and tech as natural allies—and his new COO’s background the perfect sherpa to guide the company to the next level, commenting that “The only thing in this world crazier and more freaky than Vice right now is the U.S. government, and as such I believe that there is no one out there better or more uniquely suited in their skill set of managing chaos than Alyssa, and am sure that she will quickly and nimbly take the reins of this wild pony and harness the trajectory of our amazingly talented staff and new stable of emerging stars.” 

In a March 2008 interview with the Guardian, Smith commented on the brand’s political allegiances, “We’re not trying to say anything politically in a paradigmatic left/right way … We don’t do that because we don’t believe in either side. Are my politics Democrat or Republican? I think both are horrific. And it doesn’t matter anyway. Money runs America; money runs everywhere.”

Thanks to his new COO, he’ll have a better understanding of America’s money and politics from an executive who was at the center of it.