AOL has come a long way since those “You’ve got mail” days that got Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks so fired up. “We’re launching in 14 countries over the next 18 months,” Nisha Kumar, Chief Financial Officer of AOL tells us at their sprawling campus in Dulles. “We launched India, home to 45 million Internet users, in April. Spain and Italy were launched this summer.”
Kumar, who just gave birth to her second child, started her career with the bulls and bears on Wall Street. “I went to Wall Street right out of business school. I never wanted any question of whether I was analytical or if I could do a deal.”
On Wall Street or on the information superhighway, Kumar has always been involved in media. “I spent three years at Morgan Stanley in the investment banking division covering media companies, which I loved. Eventually I wanted to be more of a principal and less of an advisor. It was late 1998, the Internet was booming and there was a company that really intrigued me called Priceline.com.“
Nisha left the Big Board behind and moved to Priceline to do corporate development, an in-house M&A function. “When the bubble burst, I was still excited about the Internet.” She moved to AOL in 2001 to work for Ron Grant, current President and COO. From there, she went on to Time Warner for over three years before heading to AOL headquarters in March of this year.
Nisha returned to a completely different company. AOL has moved away from its access/subscriber roots and now relies on ad revenue à la Google and Yahoo. “The whole strategy and management team are different now but it’s still an amazing property with a lot of potential.” Not to mention a lot more fun. Want to see if Britney’s career is bouncing back after her VMA miscue? Check out AOL’s up to the minute gossip site, TMZ.com. The pop star’s subpar performance aside, the new free AOL remains the third largest on-line advertising platform in the world. Even Sarah Silverman couldn’t bash that.
Put a group of CFOs in a room and it probably wouldn’t resemble a girl’s night out. Still, Kumar does not think that female CFOs are underrepresented. She points out that Yahoo’s former CFO and current president is a woman, the motorcycle riding Susan Decker. She also mentions the former CFO of PepsiCo, Indra Nooyi, who will take over as CEO in October. Of course becoming head number cruncher in what was once seen as “a man’s world” is not a walk in the park. “I don’t think that women benefit from the networks that men have. You have to create your own network and you have to be very aggressive about doing that. No one calls you and says this is what you should do with your career. Especially when I was on Wall Street, this happened to many more men.”
One area where women are making enormous strides is in the myriad of benefits now available for new parents. AOL is certainly rolling with the times. When Nisha returns from maternity leave, she will be a part of an incredibly child-friendly environment. AOL offers everything from prenatal care to childcare to adoption assistance. Employees can even be reimbursed for adoption-related expenses. The company’s WellBaby program provides not only the mother but also the father and siblings with support through the stages of introducing the new member into the family.
“My parents are immigrants and they instilled the immigrant sensibility of working really hard and anything is possible. I can’t begin to describe the influence that that had on me,” says Kumar, already well aware of the importance of family. When we ask her about the greatest challenges she has faced in her career, she’s at a loss. “What’s a barrier when you come from a background where people give up their roots and transplant themselves?” We can only hope that the gossip hounds at TMZ.com are listening.