BUSINESS | COMPANIES

Meeting Martha Stewart

Michelle Baltazar

How much star power can you fit within the four walls of the Bayside Auditorium at the Sydney Convention Centre? Last week, more than you could dream of.

The Australian Filipina was there to cover one of the most celebrity-packed event on the calendar this year: a one-day Global Leadership Forum featuring a list of luminaries who helped shape the lives of so many around the world.

First on stage was Martha Stewart, she who has had “more influence on how Americans eat, entertain, and decorate their homes and gardens than any other single person in US history”.

That’s how she was described in the Forum’s program brochure and it’s hard to come up with a better way to sum up how many people she’s inspired since she started her first business.

She is no overnight success. She started a catering business in the 70s and published a groundbreaking book on homemaking titled 'Entertaining' in 1982. Since then, Martha has repeatedly blazed the trail in homemaking ideas and products until she listed her company on the Stock Exchange in 1999.

While not an overnight success, the public float did make her a billionaire overnight

The session covered a lot of ground, from her career as a young and successful model who used to wear Balenciaga outfits to college to her days managing a global empire. While many people know of her talents in and around the house (she can rewire a lamp and has great tips around how not to lose your garden tools), it was a revelation to know how much of an early-adopter of technology she was.

“I got my first computer in 1982,” she said, a decision she made not because she thought it’s good for business but more “out of curiosity”.

Stewart said that she then found out how much time computers saved her and that time she could devote on other activities she was passionate about, from tending her garden to expanding her business.

She became a pioneer in the use of technology, launching the Martha Stewart website to complement her magazines and, more recently, launching an iPad app, now one of the most downloaded apps in its category.

The interview wouldn’t be complete without the interviewer (Ellen Fanning) touching on a dark chapter in her life: Seven years ago, in 2004, Stewart went to jail for five months for what was loosely and incorrectly reported at the time as an insider trading charge against her.

Stewart made a point to say she wasn't charged for insider trading issue but lied to officials during the investigation. It has been reported that had she admitted she knew insider trading was going on she would not have gone to jail. Her sentencing was conspiracy, obstruction of an agency proceeding, and making false statements to federal investigators. 

She didn’t linger on the topic but said it was one of the most horrible time in her life and that she’ll never go to West Virginia (where she was imprisoned) ever again.

While her critics thought her brand wouldn’t recover from the prison scandal, she has slowly but steadily established the brand back to its former glory over the past five years. There's an expanding overseas product line, including potential distribution in Australia, and a new deal with JC Penney.

Asked how she managed to fit it all in, Stewart said that time management is key.

But her idea of time management is slightly different than most people. She sleeps four to five hours on average, which means she's got more time than others who sleep more than she does.

Sleeping is over-rated, she said.

THREE THINGS I LEARNT FROM MARTHA STEWART THAT EVERY FILIPINA SHOULD KNOW:

1) Fact: Martha bought a computer in the '80s out of sheer curiousity but being an early adopter of technology made her a pioneer on business applications over the web.

Lesson: Being tech-savvy can make you more efficient and frees up your time for more important things, like spending time with family and friends, doing outdoor activities or pursuing your hobbies.

2) Fact: Asked whether it was possible to have both a successful career and family life, Martha told the audience that she and her ex-husband separated after 27 years. She said she really can't say whether her commitment to her work contributed to the relationship breakdown but admitted that she certainly spent a lot of time on her career.

Lesson: It is possible to have the best of both worlds but there will be sacrifices and trade-offs along the way. Prioritise.

3) Fact: Martha Stewart is not as well-known and in-the-press in Australia as much as she is in the US, where she is a household icon. So it's easy to "judge" her with the sweeping statement that she's an uber-successful woman who ultimately ended up in prison. However, check out http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martha_stewart to see that her life is way more than that period in 2004-05. At the Growth Faculty Forum, she told the interviewer that she became a model in her teens and she used her modelling fees to help her family financially and to pay for her studies.

Lesson: Don't judge a book by its cover. We are all more than the persona portrayed in the public or even in our own social media networks.

This is Part One of a Four-Part Series of The Australian Filipina's Event review: Great minds grace Sydney in whirlwind visit

Part Two of a Four-Part series: Muhammad Yunus

Part Three of a Four-Part series: George Clooney

Part Four of a Four-Part series: Russell Simmons

Photos courtesy of The Growth Faculty.

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