Martha Stewart to Return to Board of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia

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The company founded by Stewart also hires former Oxygen Media and NBC top executive Lisa Gersh as president and COO and brings in an investment advisor to explore deals.

NEW YORK – Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia said Wednesday that founder Martha Stewart is expected to return to the company’s board in the third quarter and has hired an advisor to explore possible deals.

The company, founded by Stewart, also named former Oxygen Media and NBC top executive Lisa Gersh president and COO and said she is expected to take on the CEO role down the line.

MSLO said it has hired Blackstone Advisory Partners, an investment and advisory firm, “to review and respond to various parties that have expressed interest in potentially partnering with or investing in the company, as well as exploring other opportunities.” Stewart said: "As the founder and largest stockholder, I fully support this initiative to take our business and iconic brand to the next level."

The statements didn't specifically mention a possible outright sale of the company, but a big increase in the company's stock seemed to be a sign that investors felt the company may consider that as well. Observers have in the past sometimes suggested a sale to a bigger media company or a going-private deal led by Stewart or private equity firms - or both. Private equity firms tend to reduce costs and streamline businesses, which observers have said would benefit MSLO and could improve its bottom line.

MSLO shares soared in Wednesday trading and closed up 23.9 percent to $4.67.

Meanwhile, Stewart's return, which the New York Post had predicted earlier this year, will come after the end of a five-year period that was part of her settlement over insider trading charges.

Stewart spent five months in prison after being convicted of lying to investigators about a 2001 sale of Imclone shares. A settlement for a related civil case with the SEC from Aug. 2006 barred her from serving as a board member or officer in a public company for five years.

Gersh's appointment is effective June 6. She will oversee MSLO's day-to-day operations and is expected to ascend to the CEO role within 12-20 months.

Gersh, a co-founder and former president and COO of Oxygen Media, will report to executive chairman and principal executive officer Charles Koppelman. After Oxygen's acquisition by NBCUniversal, Gersh held various executive roles. At one point, she served as managing director and CEO of The Weather Channel Companies.Most recently, she was president, strategic initiatives.

"MSLO is a company I've watched closely as a fan, a partner and even a competitor during my career, and I know first-hand that Martha Stewart is a powerful, growing and enduring brand," said Gersh. "I'm thrilled to be joining Martha now as the company moves towards a strategic transformation that I believe sets the stage for significant growth in the years ahead, and I look forward to lending my skills and experience as the company moves forward on an exciting path."

Sid Stewart: "MSLO has so much opportunity to expand, grow and prosper, and I believe Lisa's entrepreneurial spirit and operational acumen will be invaluable to the entire organization."


Twitter: @georgszalai