Katie Vanneck-Smith has risen to the top ranks of Dow Jones by constantly challenging the status quo. We can all learn a lot from how she has deliberately managed her career, cultivating relationships with sponsors, achieving internal promotion and even leaving a job when the opportunity ahead of her was not obvious. Katie is passionate about how her work supports the greater good: by establishing a sustainable future for quality journalism.
Fairygodboss of the Week: Katie Vanneck-Smith
Chief Customer Officer and Global Managing Director, Dow Jones
FGB: Tell us about your career. How did you get to where you are now?
KVS: Originally I wanted to go into educational fundraising in the UK, but after countless interviews where jobs were offered with no pay (errrr... how does one eat?), someone told me to get some experience in sales and marketing. Over 20 years ago, I saw a job advertisement in The Sunday Times (UK best-selling quality paper) for graduates in sales and marketing, applied and that’s how it all started. News Corp is a wonderfully meritocratic, entrepreneurial of spirit, and fast-paced company. Opportunities are there for the taking and there is no time to get bored.
A few strategic jobs outside of the organisation along the way helped me "re-brand” myself, and helped the company see me through new eyes (and reset my pay!). I've had a job in every commercial function of the organisation, on multiple brands, which has helped me achieve my current position: The internal cheerleader for the customer within Dow Jones, responsible for 75% of the company’s revenues. I pride myself on never taking no for an answer, and challenging the naysayers. Every day, I think about working hard, having fun and making history.
FGB: What is an accomplishment that you are proud of?
KVS: I’m proud of the role I’ve taken on various teams through News Corp in leading the future of consumer-supported journalism. Prior my current role at The Wall Street Journal and Dow Jones, I was CMO of NewsUK, and responsible for launching The Times of London paywall. Four years later, this move resulted in sustainable profitability for the paper for the first time in its 230-year history.
FGB: What is a challenge that you've faced and overcome?
KVS: The main challenge I feel like I constantly confront is people's love of, and inability to see beyond, the status quo. For many years, most commercial models for news were based on advertising.
Whilst advertising will always be an important part of our future revenue mix, this legacy thinking allowed most publishers (with the exception of The Wall Street Journal and the FT) to believe their own hype: that the free publishing, ad-supported revenue model would always work. You have to remember most commercial leaders in news organizations at the time had risen through the advertising departments. The business challenge of trying to transform the publishing revenue model makes a great case study for the issues we face around unconscious and conscious gender bias in the workplace.
FGB: What do you do when you’re not working?
KVS: Surround myself with family and friends - the more the merrier. Then occasionally retreat into yoga, a walk outdoors (countryside or beach), or a massage for silence, “me” time, and a chance to breathe.
FGB: If you could have dinner with one famous person - dead or alive - who would it be?
KVS: Margaret Thatcher
FGB: What is your karaoke song?
KVS: Solo: Buffalo Stance - Neneh Cherry
Duo : I know him so well - from Chess
Group : Don't Stop Believing - Journey
FGB: What is your favorite movie
FGB: What book would you bring with you on a desert island?
KVS: The Magus by John Fowles
FGB: What is your shopping vice? What would you buy if you won the lottery?
KVS: Homes and interiors.
I love having people to come stay in our home. If I won the lottery I would buy more homes for all my family and friends in all the places we'd want to holiday and spend time: the beach, the mountains (for my husband and son, not me), across Europe.
FGB: Who is your Fairygodboss?
KVS: I have 2 - and controversially one is a man!
1. Paul Hayes - who once told me to be patient or leave. I left - it was the best advice I ever received. He also told me to stop raging against the machine and change it. Something I hope I am doing everyday - and making him proud!
2.Rebekah Brooks - CEO of NewsUK
One of the strongest people I know (personally and professionally) - yet also one of the best sponsors out there. The ultimate Fairygodboss - part mother, big sister and best friend - all in one.
FGB: What is the #1 career tip you'd like to share with other women who want to have successful careers like you?
KVS: Get a sponsor. Not a mentor or coach. Someone who has your back, goes out of their way to promote and push you, but equally has the tough talks with you, and calls you out when you are being blind or just blind stupid.
FGB: Why do you love where you work?
KVS: Because the world is a better place, and we are better people within that world, when there are great storytellers in it -- storytellers who make sense of the complicated world we live in, and hold those in power to account every day.
Fairygodboss is all about women helping other women. So each week, we celebrate a woman who makes a difference in other women’s careers. Is there a woman who has made a difference in your career? Celebrate and thank her by nominating her here.