Martha Stewart

Founder of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia

Martha Stewart: America's First Self-Made Female Billionaire

Mother, TV personality, author, model, chef, businesswoman, convict, social media personality—it’s safe to say that Martha Stewart wears many hats.

Here’s how the woman CNN calls a “feminist icon” built her billion-dollar empire:

Stewart, the second-oldest of six, is from New Jersey. Both of her parents worked throughout her childhood, encouraging her “to set my sights high.”

Stewart’s work ethic and mind toward opportunity sets her apart from other entrepreneurs today, but the practice dates back to her childhood. Stewart began modeling at age 13. Modelling paid much better than babysitting, and she stashed away as much as possible to save for college.

In high school, Stewart did it all: She actively participated in school programs and was involved in the newspaper and art club. Stewart didn’t let her involvement hinder her grades. She was the first woman at her high school to take advanced math.

Her involvement and grades earned Stewart a coveted spot at Barnard College, now part of Columbia University. Stewart studied history while modelling part-time, even doing a Chanel campaign.

When she met Andy Stewart, a Yale law student, Stewart saw an opportunity. The two married in 1961, and she took the following few years off to care for her daughter.

Stewart returned to the workforce as a stockbroker in 1967, inspired by her mother's ethos. Her math skills came in handy, and Stewart rose through the ranks unchallenged as a woman in the competitive industry.

One of Stewart’s most impressive traits is her curiosity. Stewart is “always thinking of some new project, some new thing I can do.” A few years later, the couple purchased an old home in Connecticut and embarked on a lengthy restoration. The work inspired Stewart, and she began to consider another career change.

In 1976, Stewart left her job as a stockbroker and co-founded a catering business in her basement. The venture took off, and she bought out her co-founder.

Throughout this time, Stewart’s husband began his own publishing company. He contracted Stewart to cater a book release party, and she jumped on the idea. At the party, Stewart sought an introduction to the head of Crown Publishing Group, Alan Mirken. Mirkin was so impressed by her tenacity that he contracted her to write a cookbook.

Stewart’s first book, Entertaining, was published in 1982. The book became the best-selling cookbook since Julia Child’s.

Stewart says, “I think that people want to know how to do practical and everyday things like how to get the pomegranate seeds out of a pomegranate.” She leveraged the public’s interest in practicality into nearly ten more bestselling books throughout the 80s. In 1990, she signed with a publisher to develop Martha Stewart Living, a lifestyle magazine that became wildly popular.

Opportunity bred more opportunity, and ever-busy Stewart began a weekly TV show based on her magazine.

One of Stewart’s essential entrepreneurial instincts is her mind toward relationships.  She leverages every connection in her phone book and creates profitable, lasting businesses.

Doing just that, she partnered with Sharon Patrick to purchase all of the TV, print, and merchandising rights for her own brand. She consolidated these into her new company, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia (MSLO). Today, Stewart remains the majority shareholder with 96% control over her firm.

Unfortunately, her vast empire came crashing down in the early 2000s. In 2003, Stewart was accused of avoiding a stock loss and charged with securities fraud and obstruction of justice.

Stewart was convicted in 2004 and went to prison that year. Though media outlets “expected America's goddess of domestic perfection to fall into terminal despair,” Stewart did the opposite, joking freely about her prison nickname “M. Diddy.”

Quick to bounce back, Stewart launched a massive comeback in 2005. Hard work characterized this era, and she began a Martha Stewart Everyday line sold at KMart and returned to TV with an updated version of The Apprentice and a new talk show.

Diversification became the name of the game throughout the 2000s and 2010s: Stewart leveraged her network into new regular shows, guest-starred on TV shows like Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, began advising a Canadian marijuana company, and even appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

Today, “​​maniacal perfectionist” Stewart is the head of a billion-dollar empire that includes stakes in homeware, TV, social media, and publishing.

Here’s what we can learn from Martha Stewart about diversification, curiosity, and personal investment.


Adaptability is a profitable skill. There’s a reason why Stewart’s name is still on the tips of our tongues, even at age 81. Martha Stewart’s empire spans books and publishing multiple bestsellers, countless TV programs, merchandise, home goods, modeling, and even a collaboration with a CBD brand. Her product offerings are endlessly diverse, but diversification isn’t the key to her success. It’s adaptability. Stewart cultivated a brand focused on lifestyle, not homemaking or cooking. The word ‘lifestyle’ is up for interpretation, allowing Stewart to shift approaches along with the market. More recently, Stewart illustrates a unique propensity for adaptability. She turned prison lemons into lemonade on her TV show following her stint in jail. In the face of failure or irrelevance, Stewart shifts approach, making lemonade (so to speak) out of what would’ve been a career-ending situation. She says, “There is no successful executive, anywhere, whose journey is without setbacks and crossroads.” Businesses looking to Stewart can harness her trademark adaptability by shifting per changing market conditions.

Build a diverse yet influential network. Stewart’s mind is constantly searching for opportunity, wherever it may lie. Often, she’s found, it lies in people. Stewart surrounds herself with a large group of interesting people. Successful or not, she “always look[s] for creative entrepreneurs, whether it's artisans and craftsmen, small farmers and gardeners, or restaurateurs who use fresh, locally sourced ingredients.” Stewart isn’t afraid to leverage her network, first with her husband, whose connections led to Stewart’s bestselling book. You are who you surround yourself with, so “Search for advisors and partners who complement your skills and understand your ideals,” she advises. More so than many, Stewart looks for those whose skills complement hers—people who have what she lacks. Today, she leverages relationships with likely and unlikely players. She’s even close with Snoop Dogg, an unlikely ally. Executives forming their teams can do the same: Those with diverse skills and interests energize you. An organization is only as strong as its team—build one as interesting and diverse as possible.

Making things more accessible to the public is a winning strategy. Stewart is “always asking myself how I can improve the lives of my customers, my colleagues, my shareholders, my family, and my friends.” Her genius isn’t in how well she cooks or decorates—she’s far from the world’s first celebrity chef. Stewart’s success lies in the idea that she makes the complex simple. She says, “I think that people want to know how to do practical and everyday things like how to get the pomegranate seeds out of a pomegranate.” Her mind is focused on optimization and practicality. Consumers don’t always want a product to complicate their lives—many want an easier way to do life’s simple tasks. Other companies like Uber, Rolex, or Air Bnb adopted a similar strategy. Rolex, for example, found a more straightforward way to tell the time. Improving consumers' lives through decomplication maintains relevance and share in today’s competitive market. For Stewart, making life better is among her claims to fame—a key reason behind her relevance and sixty-year-long career.

Remain constantly inquisitive. Stewart lives by her motto, “Learn something new every day.” She does just that, constantly learning new things and continually asking questions. Stewart’s curiosity dates back to her childhood. She says, “I was an inquisitive person because of my parents. They encouraged me to be as curious about many things as possible.” Throughout her career, Stewart dared not to ask “Why?” but “Why not?” Time and again, she sought opportunities to develop rare skill sets, taking on modeling and financial advising only because she was curious. The skills she collects through curiosity and asking questions lend themselves to the vastness of her business empire. Though she’s never formally studied business, Stewart gleans knowledge from the successful people around her, asking questions and seeking advice. She writes, “My curiosity knows no bounds. I continue to learn each and every day and will continue to teach what I know to as many people as will listen.”

Wake up early to make time for deep work. Stewart famously wakes up at 4:30 am each morning, only sleeping for four or fewer hours a night. Waking up early breeds Stewart’s insane work ethic. Her neighbor once said, “She is basically available 24 hours a day because she is always involved in a project.” Stewart’s passion remains apparent to anyone who knows her. She’s genuinely excited about her ventures, and more time in the day allows for high personal investment. Stewart says, “Once you realize that you have identified a passion, invest in yourself.” Her assistant says, “Truly, she never stops…her mind is always in gear.” Stewart’s daytimer is packed, so she copes by waking before the sun rises. Though her mind is ‘always in gear,’ the practice allows her to invest her creativity into her current projects, yielding stronger, higher-quality results.

Martha Stewart Quotes

On taking yourself seriously: “I think baking cookies is equal to Queen Victoria running an empire. There's no difference in how seriously you take the job, how seriously you approach your whole life.”

On adaptability: “When you're through changing, you're through.”

On variety: “The ultimate goal is to be an interesting, useful, wholesome person. If you're successful on top of that, then you're way ahead of everybody.”

On dreaming: “There are two kinds of people... There are the dreamers who go and buy, and there are the doers who go and make. And I've always recognized that. So the dreamers are what support our company because they will buy the product that they could make if they wanted to, had time to, or were so inclined to.”

On seeking advice: “It's a constant evolution. If I planted a tree one way yesterday, and somebody tells me of a better way to plant a tree, I think, 'You know, they're right, that's better.' Then I change my way to accommodate the new way of planting trees.”

On quality: “Whether you're a programmer or a seamstress, it's all about new techniques, simplifying old techniques, and consolidating steps. Making things go faster but not worse.”



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