I got involved in Democratic politics on the side. That led me to the first significant job of my career, which was serving as then-Sen. Gary Hart’s press secretary. I was 26 years old and scared to death that someone would find out I didn’t know anything.
But I had the time of my life.
Congress was a fun place to be because people were trying to get things done. As press secretary, I was the person trying to communicate and push this big vision of fixing the economy and changing all kinds of things in the world.
That led to Hart’s decision to run for president in 1984.
There were two female press secretaries that year. We were the first ever.
President Ronald Reagan was incredibly popular but we ran a credible campaign that surfaced a lot of issues about changing demographics and values.
One of the things the Hart campaign was focused on was looking to identify the young people who were trying to create the next generation of ideas. I was intrigued in that demographic shift in issues and values. U.S. News & World Report was also trying to reach that demographic.
I was lucky enough to join the magazine. I had never worked in journalism but I sure had worked with journalists.
We tried to create an environment where people were able to co-create. We were one of the first news organizations to go online. We were ahead of the game in terms of how we were able to shake up our own business but also anticipate the future.
I was there 12 years. I adopted two kids during that period.
Near the end of that time, I got fascinated with the power of the Internet.
I had an offer to join Steve Case at AOL. He also had a big vision of what AOL would be — not only as a service but as a revolutionary place that would change the way people shop, communicate and learn about the world around them.
I joined as chief communications officer in 1997 when the Internet was just coming on the scene. We had 10 million members. Our stock was at $4. The membership was 60 percent male and 40 percent female. Within a year, everything changed.
The membership was skyrocketing and there were more women than men. We cleared news releases at 10:30 every night.
It was a 24/7 life but a privilege to be there.
The company merged with Time Warner, and it was a challenge for these very different companies to find their way forward.
I became the president of the AOL Time Warner Foundation and led our corporate social responsibility efforts.
I started looking at how the foundation should actually lead in international work for the company. When I left AOL Time Warner in 2003, I wouldn’t have guessed that my next stop would be the United Nations Foundation, but there it was and it didn’t seem that far removed from where I was going.
I took over as chief operating officer. Now I am chief executive. The biggest shift is that I led our implementation and development of strategy as COO and now as president and chief executive I will be setting the vision and leading our teams in taking the U.N. Foundation into its next era.
It really pays off to understand the business, government and nonprofit worlds and how they do their work. It allows us as an institution to be smart about working with the best parts of all three.
— Interview with Vanessa Small