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Rob Segal and his date with destiny

by David Silverberg | May 8, 2017

Rob Segal
Rob Segal, BA’89, was named CEO of Toronto-based Ruby Corp., the parent company of Ashley Madison, Cougar Life and Established Men.

He knows it is one of the most challenging jobs in Canadian digital media. But when Rob Segal, BA’89, sees a challenge, he sees an opportunity.

In the last two years, Ashley Madison, a Canadian online dating service marketed to people who are married or in a committed relationship, has faced a slew of negative headlines.

Most notably, a major breach of its database in July 2015 exposed the identities of 32 million users. Soon afterward, hackers uncovered data revealing how some of Ashley Madison’s supposed female users were actually automated bots created by the company to offer a more balanced male-female user ratio.

The ensuing scandal rocked the digital world.

Funny enough, when Segal first heard of the data breach, he thought to himself, “Wow, I feel sorry for whomever has to run that company now.”

In July 2016, Segal was named CEO of Toronto-based Ruby Corp., the parent company of Ashley Madison, Cougar Life and Established Men. When a head-hunter offered him the Ruby CEO position, Segal remembers thinking: “If I can pull it off – to bring back this company – that would be an incredible feat.”

Segal replaced outgoing CEO Neal Biderman, and admits it was no easy decision to take the helm of Ruby. He did several months of due diligence, discussed the position with his wife and family, and chatted with attorneys and key staff at the company.

The actual sites’ intention didn’t appeal to him, as Ashley Madison is known for polyamory and kinky hook-ups. “It’s exciting to be part of a fast-growing segment in online dating – the open-minded space,” he said.

Segal’s marketing touch has already influenced the dating platform’s messaging.

Gone were the shock-and-awe tactics mainly appealing to men, and in their place were ads targeting women, and a hint of that open-mindedness. “Our sites let people explore the boundaries of relationships and human sexuality in general,” Segal said.

Most notably, Avid Life Media, the parent company of the sites, changed its name to the more feminine- and elegant-sounding Ruby. That same month, the company dropped its signature tagline – ‘Life is Short. Have an Affair.’ – and changed it to Find your moment,’ while also updating its brand to replace the image of a woman wearing a wedding ring with a red gem-shaped symbol as its logo.

As untoward as some may find the site, someone signs onto Ashley Madison every five seconds, and 39 million people in 53 countries have joined the site since it was launched in 2002.

Segal is excited to be getting out of sales and having dozens of clients, and instead being his own client. The 49-year-old Toronto resident cut his teeth in marketing as the founder and president of Segal Communications, an agency he sold to marketing giant InterPublic in 2000. His many clients included Sony, Ford, and Unilever, and boasted 130 employees at its peak.

Before Ruby came knocking, Segal was CEO of WorldGaming, an online video gaming platform that hosts head-to-head matches and tournaments and for console and PC gamers. “We were inventing a new space back then; we were blazing our own path rather than riding a wave or a trend,” he said.

By working with so many brands over the years, Segal says his experience will only help Ruby polish its reputation. “Great marketing is all about great storytelling, and Ruby has a story to tell much like any other brand does,” he said.

Of his years at Western, Segal says he credits his English courses and degree for “helping me form coherent arguments, and living on campus and away from home for the first time really opened my eyes to new experiences.”

And now Segal is throwing himself into an experience many executives wouldn’t find enviable at first blush: turning around a company that endured a scandal reported across the world.

“I want to bring to Ruby a fresh set of eyes and a different perspective on valuing your customers and staff, and giving everyone a voice to help build a strong work culture,” Segal said.

This article appeared in the Spring 2017 edition of Alumni Gazette
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