Neil Clark Warren has an enthusiasm for good conversation and the company of others. It was that passion for people that led him into a long career as a clinical psychologist. He also served as dean of Fuller Theological Seminary’s school of psychology from 1975 to 1982. His work counseling married couples gave him the idea to start eHarmony with son-in-law Greg Forgatch in 2000. The site quickly grew to one of the largest online dating services and found a niche primarily with Christian singles. The site raised $110 million from prominent technology investors in 2004 and was expected to go public, though the offering never came about. Warren, who has led the company as chairman since its inception, stepped down from day-to-day duties running the business in 2007. In the years that followed, the company saw a revolving door of chief executives as it lost subscribers to newer dating sites oriented toward younger singles. Warren came out of retirement last year and took over as chief executive. His strategy for reviving the business included asking all but one board member to resign, drastically reducing staff and returning money to investors. Now he’s also looking to expand eHarmony to add job- and friend-matching services. Warren recently sat down with the Business Journal at the company’s Santa Monica headquarters, where the walls are covered with photos of couples that met on eHarmony, to discuss his first year back, his relationship with his wife and why he’s having more fun than ever at 79. Question: Why did you come out of retirement to run eHarmony last year? Answer: When my son-in-law and I left the business, it kind of lost its way. We were losing end-of-period subscribers at a rate of 100,000 a year. We went through five CEOs in a short period of time. I was still chairman. I said to one of our very important board members named Greg Penner, “Do you think I could ever come back as CEO?” He asked, “Do you think you have it in you?” I said, “I think I do. I have a lot of energy and I love this company with all of my heart.”
How do you feel about returning to work at your age?
At first, I didn’t want anybody to know that I was 77 when I came back. Now I think it’s a plus. There are people well into their 80s and 90s like Warren Buffet and Rupert Murdoch that are leading big companies. So I sort of advertise it now.