Gilt Groupe’s Hunt for a CEO Ends With Board Member Michelle Peluso

Online luxury retailer Gilt Groupe has named Michelle Peluso, a member of the board, to the position of chief executive after conducting a months-long search for someone to replace founder and CEO Kevin Ryan.

AllThingsD has learned that Peluso, who is currently the Global Consumer Chief Marketing and Internet Officer at Citigroup — and a Gilt director since 2009 — will be taking over in February. Ryan will become chairman and Susan Lyne will become vice chairman.

Over the past year, Ryan has focused on the company’s financial performance, trying to ready the fast-growing flash sales site for an initial public offering. In doing so, the company has gone through a number of restructurings, including a round of layoffs and the closure of some divisions, such as the men’s apparel business Park & Bond. Most recently, the company has decided to sell-off Jetsetter, its luxury travel division.

The appointment of Peluso will provide some stability to the organization since, as a board member, she is familiar with the business. At the same time, she will provide a fresh perspective to the executive team. Ryan, who became CEO two years ago, has been aggressive about moving into new areas, including the full-priced men’s apparel business, Park & Bond, and a grocery business, called Gilt Taste, which has also faced cutbacks.

“I’m biased because I’ve been working with her for three years, I think she’s great,” Ryan said. “She’s fantastic. I approached her a year and a half ago to persuade her to be here permanently. When I told the board five months ago that I wanted to start the search, I went to her first.”

Peluso has been with Citigroup since 2009, and prior to that, she was the CEO of Travelocity for six years. She joined Travelocity following the company’s 2002 acquisition of Site59, a travel site she created. Site59 was focused on last-minute travel deals, similarly to Gilt, which sells heavily discounted merchandise. “I’ll be getting back to my roots of running an e-commerce company,” she said in an interview. “I’ve gotten to know the team really well over the past three years on the board, and when the board approached and asked if I would consider doing it, I felt like it would be a great fit.”

The five-year-old site has grown quickly, selling high-end apparel at a discount online from brands that are looking to sell off overstock. Gilt was valued at $1 billion last May when it raised $138 million. Ryan, who made his name as CEO of DoubleClick, which was acquired by Google, said he will now be turning his attention to other start-ups that he has co-founded with his business partner, Dwight Merriman, including news site Business Insider and 10gen, a database software company.

“Both of them were quite small two years ago, and today they are getting pretty big and interesting. 10gen now has 200 people, and by summer 300. I’m not planning on being the day-to-day CEO anywhere, but I do plan to spend more time at the companies. I’m a very active board member.”

He said starting this quarter, Gilt has reached profitability, excluding some expenses, and that the business is starting to generate cash — a huge turnaround since losing $50 million last year. For now, the emphasis on going public seems to be on the back burner. Ryan said its a goal that “will happen at some point in one to two years.” Previously, the timeline had been the fourth quarter this year or early 2013. “It’s not something I want to rush into. You look at Zynga and Groupon, and it doesn’t excite me.”

Of course, that’s now also a decision that Peluso will be weighing in on, but so far it doesn’t seem to be her first priority. “My most important job is to build a foundation, and make sure we have an extraordinary business,” she said.

Will she be making big changes at the company, which has already gone through a lot? “It’s too soon to say,” said Peluso, which is the safe answer for now. “I have an inside perspective. I’ve been able to spend lots of time with the team, but I’m not going to presume to know everything. I’ll be starting in [February], and when I do, I’ll be eager to dive in and learn a lot.”

The full press release:

GILT APPOINTS MICHELLE PELUSO AS CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER

NEW YORK, December 6, 2012 – Gilt, www.gilt.com, today announced it has appointed Michelle Peluso as Chief Executive Officer effective February 2013. Ms. Peluso is currently the Global Consumer Chief Marketing and Internet Officer at Citigroup and has served on the Board of Directors of Gilt since October 2009. Kevin Ryan, Gilt’s Founder and current CEO will become Chairman and Susan Lyne will become Vice-Chairman.

“I’m tremendously excited to be leading a company with a brand I love and a team I’ve come to greatly admire,” said Peluso. “Gilt has done a terrific job establishing itself as one of the most innovative online shopping destinations and I am looking forward to continuing to build on Gilt’s growth and success.”

Every day at noon EST, Gilt launches new, limited-time sales of the most sought-after products and most desirable brands in fashion, home décor and leisure. Launched in December 2007, the company is the leader in the flash-sale space and has attracted millions of loyalists by offering them special access to coveted merchandise and experiences at insider prices.

Ms. Peluso has been with Citigroup since 2009. Prior to that she was the Chief Executive Officer of Travelocity from 2003 to 2009 after serving as the company’s Chief Operating Officer and Senior Vice President of Product Strategy and Distribution. Under her leadership, Travelocity experienced a significant upturn in both revenue growth and profitability. Ms. Peluso joined Travelocity following the company’s acquisition of Site59, a travel site she created and launched in 2000. Site59 was the leader in the US “last minute deals” arena and won numerous honors for innovation before it was acquired by Travelocity in March 2002. Prior to leading Site59, Ms. Peluso served as a White House Fellow and Senior Advisor to Labor Secretary Alexis Herman and worked as a case leader for The Boston Consulting Group in New York and London.

“Michelle’s deep Internet experience, coupled with her operating and marketing background, made her my ideal choice to be Gilt’s CEO going forward,” said Kevin Ryan, Founder and CEO, Gilt. “We have worked together for three years as fellow Board members and I am thrilled she will be leading Gilt to its next level of growth and market leadership.”

“We have had the opportunity to get to know Michelle as a Board member and her insight and strategic advice have been invaluable,” said Susan Lyne, Chairman, Gilt. “She has a clear vision for Gilt and the Board and I are confident in her leadership and excited about the many opportunities ahead.”

Ms. Peluso has received the Stevie Award for Lifetime Achievement in Business; she has been recognized by the National Italian American Foundation with the Special Achievement Award in Business, and Fast Company Magazine named her a “customer-centered leader.” Most recently she was named as one of the world’s most influential CMO’s according to a Forbes study conducted by Appinions. She received her master’s degree in economics, philosophy and politics from Pembroke College at Oxford University where she was a Thoroun Scholar, and her bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business.


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