Jay Penske taps veteran exec for key leadership role

Michelle Sobrino-Stearns has been named publisher of Variety, the first time in its 107-year history that the showbiz bible has been headed by a woman.

Sobrino-Stearns’ promotion is the first strategic change made by Variety’s new owner, Jay Penske, whose Penske Media Corp. acquired the brand on Oct. 9. She succeeds Brian Gott, who ankled the post earlier this week.

“Michelle has an extraordinary level of experience and industry understanding, coupled with an undeniable love for the brand and respect for its heritage. She is the right leader to pilot Variety through an exciting time of innovation and growth,” said Penske.

Sobrino-Stearns has been with Variety for more than 15 years. She rose through the ranks from sales director to managing director of features to her most recent role as veep and associate publisher. She will work closely with Penske on new business plans as PMC expands and enhances Variety’s operations, particularly in the digital realm. Sobrino-Stearns reports to Penske and will continue to be based in Variety’s Los Angeles office.

“I’m very excited and sincerely grateful to Jay for this opportunity,” Sobrino-Stearns said. “When he addressed the staff at his first town-hall meeting, he won everyone over, and got them very excited about the future of Variety. He has terrific plans to take our business to the next level and beyond. I’m so happy to be part of that process.”

Will there be further changes? “Yes, of course,” Penske told Variety staffers at the all-hands meeting on Thursday. “Variety needs to move forward aggressively after years of neglect by the former parent company. It seems as everyone within the company is galvanized about Michelle’s new role, and I like that energy and enthusiasm.”

Sobrino-Stearns has been the driving force behind Variety’s annual Power of Women philanthropic initiative, which has supported and spotlighted dozens of causes and orgs since its inception in 2009. She’s a member of the board of the Noreen Fraser Foundation, which raises money for women’s cancer research, and the Variety Foundation.

“What I like most about this appointment is the fact that we are promoting from within,” Penske told Variety. “It is interesting to remember Janice Min’s comments to the New York Times after taking over editorial at the Hollywood Reporter, when she said of Hollywood, ‘I like the people here, but I don’t have a deep investment in becoming one of them.’ In contrast, Michelle is a part of the community, and has been respected by people in the industry and within Variety for more than 15 years. She’s proud of that, and so am I.”

Penske’s PMC includes a portfolio of industry-leading brands such as Deadline Hollywood, HollywoodLife, MovieLine and TVLine. Each of PMC’s brands will remain separate and distinct, but will leverage their own strengths to support PMC’s broader range of initiatives.

Gott had been with Variety since 1999, and was upped to publisher in February 2009. Gott told Variety staffers he intends to continue his rewarding work in the philanthropic arena and may assist PMC in its future efforts relating to philanthropy and the entertainment community. Under Gott’s leadership Variety has developed deep ties with the United Nations and the United Nations Foundation, and on Tuesday Variety received the United Nations Foundation’s Global Leadership Award at its annual gala in NYC, for its work helping to engage the creative community with the U.N.’s millennium development goals.

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