Going the extra mile to find success
"...it's because we wouldn’t settle for less."
Settling for less than great just isn’t in the wheelhouse of this Goizueta Business School graduate, who is now the chief digital officer at CBS Corporation and chief executive officer at CBS Interactive. But before his career took him to new heights overseeing digital media strategies and helping launch industry-leading products, Lanzone was a student of untapped potential, figuring out his way in the world.
During his second year at Emory University’s School of Law, Lanzone, despite not having any “real business experience,” applied to Goizueta. He now says that’s “the move that changed the trajectory of [his] life.” He met classmates Roger Barnette 98MBA and Richard Carrano 98MBA and together they co-launched their first startup: eTour. It was exciting times for the young entrepreneur as eTour quickly became a successful search engine provider and cost-per-lead services. In 1998, the company was listed as a top-50 website and the Web's No. 1 site in user frequency. Lanzone was president of eTour until it was acquired by Ask.com in May 2001.
With the sale, Lanzone again found himself in the position of entrepreneurial ideator and chose to join forces with Ask.com as the head of product management — later expanding his purview into marketing and engineering. He was also senior vice president and general manager of Ask.com, until rising to become its leader and CEO from 2006 to 2008. Right before Lanzone became CEO though, Ask.com was sold to Barry Diller’s InterActiveCorp in 2005.
In 2008, after serving as Ask.com’s CEO for several years, Lanzone decided it was time again to switch gears — for yet another irresistible new challenge. He’d been ideating and creating nonstop, having started the internet television guide Clicker as well in 2000 — but it was now 2011 and he was ready to sell it to the CBS Corporation.
Upon his departure, Diller credited Lanzone as "the principal executive responsible for Ask.com's turnaround.” One of Lanzone's primary achievements as CEO was the overhaul and rebranding of AskJeeves (renamed Ask.com). Lanzone was praised for making the new site richer and better organized, offering users the most relevant results. Chris Sherman of Search Engine Land called the revamp, the "Apple of Search.”
However, challenges awaited Lanzone in his new role as president of CBS Interactive (CBSi), which includes CBS.com, GameSpot, CNET, Last.fm, TV.com and CBSSports.com. But he was ready to innovate and lead this new company through uncharted territory. He was hitting his stride as a ground-breaking game changer and leader, noting his success this way: “Was it because our team was more talented than others or was it because we wouldn’t settle for less?” he said. “I know it’s the latter.”
One may think his entrepreneurial leadership style wouldn’t work at a company like CBS. But Lanzone said, “The basics are the same.” He sets vision and strategy, picks the best team, builds great products, and evangelizes about the company internally and externally.
"They believe the world needs this product... And that is who should build a company!”
It’s a formula that hasn’t failed him.
“It’s a cliché to say you want to manage a large company as ‘the world’s biggest startup,’ but I truly believe that in the internet industry, it’s your only effective option,” Lanzone said. “Things evolve so quickly, there’s no such thing as a mature internet company. Grow or die!”
Growing, like not settling, is a strength of Lanzone’s. He’s been looking for ways to grow since his time at Emory. “I was taking three classes [at Goizueta] and three in the law school to try to graduate, which I can’t believe I did,” Lanzone said. “And we were off to the races. We were young. We had no track record. We were in Atlanta trying to raise money out of Silicon Valley, which was tough. But we put together a great team, had a compelling product and were able to grow into a real company.”
Looking back over a career of big risks and big rewards — and big lessons learned — Lanzone said he wants other entrepreneurs to keep not settling for less than their best.
"That’s the thing about being an entrepreneur,” he said. “I’ve had people in my office passionately tell me their great idea, and even if I think it’s a terrible idea — you can see the look in their eyes. They believe the world needs this product. And that is who should build a company!”
As for his next challenge, Lanzone said he believes his job is to be a source of energy, momentum and quality — never settling for things not being good enough and continuing to push the limits of what more is possible when you decide to go beyond in business and in life.