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Grossman is not a power-suit kind of CEO. She does not cultivate a macho image. She's a fan of chunky, colorful jewelry and high heels. She sends a lot of gifts, often Huggable Hangers, which are more useful than they sound and which she considers something of an HSN gateway drug. She has an immaculate Oprah-visit-worthy country home in upstate New York, and she loves to entertain. "Mindy is all work, but she's a girl's girl," says Stefani Greenfield, who was an HSN regular until she became chief creative officer of the Jones Group, in an interview she conducted from a Jacuzzi in Malibu, Calif. "She's an amazing cook. She has a vegetable garden where she grows eggplant and squash."
It was while cooking that Grossman had her retail revelation.
At the time, she was vice president in charge of global apparel at Nike. She had spent the previous half-decade spreading the gospel of aspirational athletic apparel across the globe, spearheading the company's presence at the Beijing Olympics and juicing up its women's business. "I worship at the altar of [Nike CEO] Phil Knight," says Grossman. "Working for him was my M.B.A." But she was stuck. She wanted to run something, and she knew it wouldn't be the Beaverton behemoth.
Her move to Nike had surprised friends; her background was pure fashion. Grossman had been in on the ground floor at Tommy Hilfiger before becoming president of Ralph Lauren's midprice department-store brand Chaps and then pretty much creating the Polo Jeans line, taking it from a standing start to a $450 million business.
Then again, subverting people's expectations is something of a habit of Grossman's. It must have been quite a phone call, the one Donald and Elaine Waldman, a produce dealer and homemaker on Long Island, New York, took from their beloved only adopted daughter in 1977. She was not going to law school, she explained. She was not going to marry the nice high school boyfriend to whom she got engaged at 19. After not only becoming the first member of her family to go to college but also skipping a year of high school to get there, she was going into fashion. "When I got my first VP title at 26," Grossman recalls, "my parents finally stopped asking when I was going to get my law degree."
She's Going Where?
As she began to bump the ceiling at Nike, Grossman heard that Barry Diller was looking for someone to head IAC's retailing business, made up primarily of HSN and a high-end catalog company, Cornerstone. Dubious about her suitability for the job, she began watching HSN as she cooked (Puck was on), flicking back to one of her favorite cooking shows. And it hit her. What if HSN offered more lifestyle programming, only with all the products for sale? It would be as if Rachael Ray actually sold the extra-virgin olive oil she was drizzling over everything while operators stood by. She took the idea to Diller, and he bit.
Grossman's doubts about her fit for HSN were slight compared with the echo chamber of dismay that surrounded her as fashion colleagues digested her move from one of the hippest companies in the U.S. to one of the most mocked. "People were awful," she says. "You ever have that feeling when you know people are talking behind your back, but you can't turn around? There was so much whispering."