Vice CEO Shane Smith Says He'll Eat Big Media's Lunch

Shane Smith WSJ cover - H 2016
Magnus Marding For WSJ. Magazine

The recent Los Angeles transplant opened the doors of his new home to WSJ Magazine in a revealing new profile.

A move out West has done little to mellow Shane Smith, but a new profile reveals that Los Angeles is seeing a softer side of Vice Media’s bon vivant CEO. 

Smith became an Angeleno in 2015 with his $23 million purchase of Santa Monica’s Villa Ruchello. After renovations led by his wife, Tamyka, the 46-year-old media guru opened his doors to WSJ Magazine, which shared its photos of the 14,000-square-foot home exclusively with The Hollywood Reporter

Built in the 1930s, the mansion is a perfect fit for a media executive with a penchant for fine wines, gambling and $300,000 dinners in Las Vegas. (Though, for the record, Smith says his dinner bill that night was closer to $380,000 plus tip. “I broke the Vegas tip record,” he boasts to the Journal.) The white stucco Mediterranean-style villa boasts three separate buildings, a 72-foot-long-pool, and a secret nook dubbed Smith’s “drinking room.” 

And in true Smith form, statues that were heavily featured in the background of the shootout scene from Beverly Hills Cop have been carefully preserved along with original tiling in the bathroom and foyer. Smith says in the piece: “My wife wanted to get rid of the statues. And I said, ‘You gotta keep the statues from Beverly Hills Cop!’ ”

For the renovation, Smith and his wife called on decorator Kerry Joyce, who was also used by Vice advisor Tom Freston. “I thought I had a nice house,” the former Viacom CEO says. “I found out we’re all living like rats compared to Shane.”

It should come as little surprise that Smith’s home is as beautifully articulated as the brand that he has built over the last 20-plus years. What started as a free, alt newspaper in Montreal has become a $4 billion new media powerhouse that has reached well beyond its digital foundation through cable channel Viceland and an upcoming daily news show on HBO. And while, as the Journal notes, Smith is not of the millennial generation that Vice presides over, he is a sort of Pied Piper for both youthful audiences and traditional media investment dollars. 

“By all accounts, he’s a completely brilliant salesman,” says Gawker founder Nick Denton in the piece. “He’s got a lot of bravado and confidence that he uses with people who really don’t understand where things are going with the media. Shane tells them, ‘Yes, you’re right, you don’t understand this generation, but I do.’ It’s been the most successful salesmanship of advertising since the web arose. I can’t think of anyone who’s come close.” 

Vice emerged out of Montreal’s punk rock scene, but when the company was reborn in post-9/11 New York City, it became the voice of an alternative hipster class. Today its edge has softened some as it focuses on more issue-driven reporting and advertiser-friendly content that helped it score a $400 million investment from Disney. 

“I get a lot of shit because I used to like cocaine and supermodels and f—in’, and now we’re gonna try to do news,” acknowledges Smith. 

Smith's next act? A move to Los Angeles that allows him to bike to Vice’s Venice offices, take meetings with the company’s many entertainment-driven investors and raise his daughters, Martina, 4, and Piper, 6. 

But Smith, whose net worth WSJ values at around $1 billion, still has his vices, even if now they’re a bit more highbrow. Not long after he purchased Villa Ruchello, he bought another 2,600-square-foot home nearby that is planned as temporary housing for visiting Vice executives. And he hasn’t lost his bite. As he tells WSJ: “I go to war with the little guys because I’m the biggest of new media, so they’re all throwing spears, and I go to war with the big guys because they’re all throwing spears because I’m coming to eat their lunch.”