Vice Media, Known as a Boys Club, Gets a Female Leader

Rocked by charges of sexual harassment and lax management, the Brooklyn media company hires Nancy Dubuc of A+E

Nancy Dubuc at a History Channel series premiere in 2016 (Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP)

Vice Media, the Brooklyn-based digital-media maverick, is getting a new chief. The company said today that Nancy Dubuc, the departing CEO of A+E Networks, will take over as Vice’s CEO from co-founder Shane Smith, who moves into a new position of executive chairman.

Vice, which started as a magazine company in Montreal in 1994, has grown into a content-producing juggernaut with 3,000 employees but has had a troubled maturation process. In the past year, that situation came to a head as the company faced sexual-harassment allegations, lost key executives involved in those charges, and reportedly failed to meet its 2017 revenue target.

Dubuc, 49, already serves on the Vice board in connection with A+E’s partnership with Vice on the Viceland cable channel and A+E’s $250 million investment in the Brooklyn company. As chief of A+E since 2013, Dubuc ran a sprawling collection of cable networks including A+E, Lifetime and History. “Why Nancy Dubuc? Simply put, because rarely in business do you get to work in a perfect partnership,” Smith, 48, said in a statement. “First off, she is better than me at everything. Second, it allows me to move to Executive Chairman, where I can concentrate on the only things that I am good at–content and dealmaking.”

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Shane Smith, Vice’s co-founder and leader for two decades, will move into the role of executive chairman (Photo by Annie Collinge/The Guardian/Sipa USA)

Besides being “an operator extraordinaire,” as Smith put it, Dubuc is likely to bring a cultural shift at a company plagued by a boys-club environment and a loose management style. “That reputation has grown less appealing to advertisers as the media industry tries to combat decades of gender inequality and harassment,” observed Bloomberg in reporting today’s news. The endemic problem burst into the headlines in December, when a New York Times investigation found a pattern of mistreatment of women at the company, four settlements involving charges of sexual harassment or defamation, and accounts from more than two dozen women about sexual misconduct at the company.

In response to the exposé, Smith and his co-founder Suroosh Alvi said in a statement, “from the top down, we have failed as a company to create a safe and inclusive workplace where everyone, especially women, can feel respected and thrive.” Besides the mea culpa, the company installed new workplace guidelines and hired a new human-resources director.

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A Vice video editing room in Brooklyn. The company faced allegations that it was a hostile work environment for its female employees (Malin Fezehai/The New York Times/Redux)

The company faces financial challenges as well, partly because of the high expectations surrounding its ability to capture the market for millennials. In February, the Wall Street Journal reported that the company, while still growing briskly, missed its 2017 revenue goal of $805 million by more than $100 million, in part because of disappointing viewership levels for the Viceland channel. Other programming has done better, including the daily Vice News Tonight, which runs on HBO.



Vice Media has powerful masters to please: major investors including 21st Century Fox, the Walt Disney Co. and the private-equity firm TPG, who have pumped $1.4 billion into the company, bringing its market valuation to nearly $6 billion. “As we go forward Vice needs a best-in-class management team to harness all of this growth and control our own destiny, whether it be staying independent, strategically partnering with someone or going public,” Smith stated.

No doubt Dubuc will bring tectonic changes to Vice. “Anyone who knows me well know I am an entrepreneur, creator, rebel and disruptor at heart. I have a famous neon sign in my office that blares, ‘Who dares wins,'” she said in a statement about her departure from A+E. “As a creative executive and leader, and to stay true to my personal mantra, I need my next dare and my next challenge.”

Steve Koepp is the editor of The Bridge. Previously, he was editorial director of Time Inc. Books, executive editor of Fortune and deputy managing editor of Time.