A World of Inspiration: The Future of Content and Commerce

April Lane, chief e-commerce officer at Hearst, reveals how her time at BCG early in her career has helped shape her career path—particularly the mentorship of her supervisors and support from colleagues.

Tell us about your career path through brand management, product development, and media and e-commerce.

This might sound cliché, but my first project at BCG really shaped my career. In 2002, I started as an associate in the Chicago office and was assigned to work on a fashion retailer, which was a long-time client led by Neil Fiske and Christine Beauchamp, now two incredible BCG alumni. One of the pieces of work we did on that project was a “Wear to Work” pants strategy for one of their brands. I spent a few months in search of the best work pants for a 20-something professional woman. Not a bad gig for a 22-year-old who loved to shop. The result of that project was a product that launched the next summer: a pant that is still sold today, 20 years later, and has sold more than 31 million pairs. The moment I walked into one of their stores and saw it on display, I immediately knew that I loved retail.

I transferred to the LA office that summer to be closer to my family on the West Coast. I ended up following a project leader I admired, Jessica Jensen, to a small media client to help them drive new digital innovation. While there, I had my first end-to-end product development experience, launching their first mobile applications. Now, this was 2004, so the iPhone wasn’t around yet—these were carrier-specific apps that cost $4.99 to download on your flip phone. As exciting as that sounds, that role confirmed my passion was in retail and not in financial services media.

From there, I leveraged my BCG network and took an in-house strategy role at Express in New York, working for two BCG alumni, Geoffroy Van Raemdonck and Amy Korpus. In my last role at Limited Brands, I made the transition from strategy to product merchandising while working on Victoria’s Secret Sport. In that role, I discovered how much I loved operating a business versus just advising one. From there, I went to Nike, I worked on the launch of Hurley.com and realized that if I wanted a long career in retail, I would need to learn e-commerce.

At Amazon, I followed my passion and worked across several businesses from Amazon Sports to Fresh to Handmade. Amazon Sport’s philosophy was to create general athletes, so it was expected that you would change roles and job functions every 18–24 months. With each new role, I focused on learning new skills—either new functions, different businesses, or a broader management scope. By the time I left Amazon to join Hearst, I was running a $20B+ division of the company.

I joined Hearst a year ago because I believe that the future of content and commerce are converging. The endless aisle of e-commerce has created a new problem for consumers to try to sift through thousands of options. I think publishers such as Hearst can play a meaningful role in creating curated, engaging shopping experiences that will save consumers time and energy.

How has your global experience across various organizations helped shape your perspective on consumer behaviors influenced by digital trends? 

Great question. I think I’ve learned a bit at each stop along my career. At Limited Brands, I had a role where I helped run our global trend scout organization. We scoured the world for inspiration to drive product development for the US consumer—and it worked. We could be inspired by spa trends in Japan for Bath and Body Works or lingerie trends in Italy for Victoria’s Secret. At Nike, I saw the power of a truly global brand. The products we created transcended geographic boundaries.

In both experiences, I learned that consumers have more in common around the world than they don’t. Then, of course, I spent the last 12 years at Amazon—during a period when the company grew from $20 billion in revenue to over $500 billion. During that time, I witnessed the transition from e-commerce as an occasional way to purchase a book to it becoming how almost 20% of all items are purchased in the US. That’s a massive shift in consumer behavior. For example, in 2010, when I started, we designed for desktop; mobile was a very small percentage of our sales.

When I left in 2022, everything was designed mobile first—and in many cases, mobile only. The rise of smartphones as our primary computing device didn’t start with the US. It started in Asia, where e-commerce penetration in China is almost 50%. By having a global perspective and a global business, we could learn from other markets to help us stay ahead of the curve. Even today, I just came back from a trip to visit our Hearst magazine offices in Japan. The team there has been combining content and commerce for over 11 years, building tremendous consumer learnings that we can use around the organization.

What do you think are some of the challenges organizations are facing in media, and how can companies evolve and adapt in a time of such rapid technological advancements?

Media has changed dramatically in the past 10–20 years. The digital age has completely disrupted how we consume content and how media companies can monetize that content. One stat I think about often is that 20 years ago in the US, 50% of all advertising revenue went to newspapers and magazines. Today, that number is 4.5%, and declining. Without advertising or new forms of revenue, most of the publications we know and trust will cease to exist—this is a scary fact when you think about the rise of misinformation and its impact on democracy. Our traditional media businesses must completely reinvent themselves to survive. That’s part of the reason I came to Hearst: I want to be part of the solution to maintain a strong free press.

I think the most important thing any company can do during a time of rapid technological change like this one is stay close to their consumer. Don’t assume you know how people use your product, because it is evolving daily. Spend time with your consumers (and your non-consumers) to really learn what they are doing. In the case of media, our definition of what media is has had to expand beyond the traditional newspaper, magazine, and television model to include the rise of social media and practically any content you can consume or activity you can do on your iPhone. Long held beliefs of who your competitors are and what strategies work to win must be tossed aside and replaced with continuous customer insights and experiments designed to inform quickly what will resonate in this new world. I strongly believe that if consumers are excited and engaged in what you’re producing, monetization will follow.

How has your BCG experience benefitted your career since graduating from the firm? Are there any key lessons learned or professional advice you still carry with you?

After 20+ years, joining BCG after college is still one of the best career decisions I’ve made. The practical business skills I learned, combined with the strong network I gained there, have proven to be more valuable than any other single experience of my career. I’m still in touch with many of my BCG colleagues—both personally and professionally—all these years after leaving the firm.

One of the best pieces of professional advice I’ve ever received came from Jeff Hill, (senior partner, Los Angeles) when he was my project leader. Jeff and I carpooled every day from Manhattan Beach to Glendale for a project for about six months. On one of those long, traffic filled drives, he told me that every year or two he found it useful to interview externally, just to see what types of roles he was qualified for. Every time he did this, he ended up deciding that his job at BCG was a better fit for him—which must still be true because he’s been at BCG for over 23 years! This advice struck me as so powerful because doing that means you’re actively choosing your current role over others; it doesn’t mean you’re always jumping companies. It also gives you great direction and confidence to understand what you’re worth and to know what skills you might still need to develop to reach your career aspirations. I’ve taken this advice to heart over the years and have found that what I’ve learned about myself from the process has helped shape how I’ve navigated my career.

What skills and experiences have been integral to your success and career progression?

I would say that, early in my career, the deep analytical and consumer research skills I honed at BCG were instrumental to my career progression. As I’ve moved into larger people management roles, it has been more important for me to focus on developing my team. As Natalie Ellis, my first project leader at BCG, told me on my first day as an associate, “If I focus on developing you to be the best associate you can be, then our project will be a success.”

As a manager, nothing could be more important. You are only as good as your team, so hire the best people you can and invest your time and energy into making them the best they can be. If you do this well, you will be able to deliver greater results and create a culture where good people will follow you.