- Martha Stewart has had a fascinating career path from model, to stockbroker, to cookbook author, to cooking show cohost with the rapper Snoop Dogg.
- More than once, it has seemed like Stewart had finally failed – but she always comes back.
- “I’m not Lenin or Stalin; I don’t have a master plan,” Stewart said in 1989. “There are just so many things can come along and interrupt it.”
Martha Stewart has lived the lives and careers of at least a dozen people in the last 76 years.
From model, to stockbroker, to cookbook author, to cooking show cohost with the rapper Snoop Dogg, Stewart has done it all.
There were times when it seemed that Stewart had reached the end of her career. In 2004, Stewart was found guilty on charges related to insider trading, and she spent five months in jail.
But since the scandal, Stewart has only come back stronger. Today, she has a show on VH1 with the rapper Snoop Dogg, called“Martha & Snoop’s Potluck Dinner Party.” She has authored 87 books. Stewart’s reach extends to everything from her own meal-kit brand to a craft line at Michaels.
Stewart’s success took time
Stewart was born in 1941 as Martha Kostyra. She was raised in Nutley, New Jersey.
By the time Stewart was in high school, she had started her modelling career, which continued into her time at Barnard College. Living in New York City, the $US50 an hour she could make modelling helped provide her with some spending money.
She married Andrew Stewart, a Yale Law School student, before graduating from Barnard with a degree in art and architectural history. Her first career was as a stockbroker at a boutique firm, but her passions lay elsewhere.
After moving with her husband to Westport, Connecticut, Stewart threw herself into renovating a farmhouse built in 1805 on Turkey Hill Road – a house that would become an iconic part of her lifestyle brand.
She started a catering company, which cooked gourmet meals for as many as 1,500 people at a time and exploded into a $US1 million business.
The catering business also led to the book that launched her career.
Publishing executive Alan Mirken saw Stewart’s potential when she was catering a book-launch party, and he encouraged her to write a cookbook herself. The result was her first book, published in 1982 and titled “Entertaining.”
Becoming a “one-woman, multimillion-dollar industry”
“Entertaining” was a hit and sold 625,000 copies, according to Entrepreneur magazine.
Stewart quickly followed it up with more books, including “Martha Stewart’s Quick Cook Menus,” “The Wedding Planner,” and “Martha Stewart’s Christmas.” She became a regular guest on TV programs like “The Oprah Winfrey Show” while growing into a role as the go-to home-cooking guru for millions of Americans. By the late 1980s, people would spend $US900 to fly to Connecticut for a three-day “entertaining seminar” at Turkey Hill.
“Today, the 48-year-old former model and Wall Street stockbroker is a one-woman, multimillion-dollar industry whose name has become synonymous with gracious living,” The Sun-Sentinel reported in 1989.
Stewart launched a magazine, Martha Stewart Living, in 1991. In 1997, she took over ownership of the magazine from Time Inc. by founding Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, which also included her books and TV show. Stewart was chairman, president, and CEO of the company.
The success required hard work – and some sacrifices. Mirken told The Sun-Sentinel that Stewart worked “28 hours a day and [made] commitments for 56.”
This intense work ethic seems to have contributed to Stewart’s divorce in 1990.
“I had to sacrifice a marriage because of the lure of the great job, the fabulous workplace,” Stewart told CNN recently. “But, I don’t regret it at all, because what I’ve done is something bigger and better than just one marriage.
In 2002, Stewart was hit hard by scandal when news broke that the US Securities and Exchange Commission was investigating her for insider trading. Suddenly, Stewart could no longer focus on her salads, but instead was swamped with negative press and forced to step down as Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia’s CEO.
In 2003, the SEC charged Stewart for insider trading, saying she sold stock in a biopharmaceutical company in late 2001 after receiving an unlawful tip from her former stockbroker. In March 2004, she was found guilty on all counts, including on charges of obstruction of justice, conspiracy, and making false statements.
“When judge said count 1, you could hear this gasp,” NBC News correspondent Ann Thompson reported at the time. “No one could believe it, no matter how you thought the trial was going, that this would be happening to this woman who is one of the biggest celebrities in this country of making false statements.”
Stewart served five months in West Virginia’s Alderson Federal Prison Camp. Stewart says that the prison stint cost her company an estimated $US1 billion.
After finishing her prison term, Stewart refused to keep a low profile. She was soon back on the air with “The Martha Stewart Show” and signed deals with Home Depot, PetSmart, and Michaels.
Stewart’s comeback has had its failures along with its successes. In 2015, Sequential Brands Group announced it would acquire Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia in a deal valued at $US353 million, after the company posted losses11 out of the previous 12 years.
But, in the last few years, Stewart has reemerged as a beloved and still shockingly relevant personality.
She was a surprise hit at the 2015 Comedy Central roast of Justin Bieber. In 2016, she launched a meal-kit line called “Martha & Marley Spoon.” She hosts a cooking show on VH1 with the rapper Snoop Dogg. And, her Twitter account is one of the best online.
In many ways, it makes sense. Stewart is constantly evolving – and she’s determined to come out on top.
“I’m not Lenin or Stalin; I don’t have a master plan,” Stewart told The Sun-Sentinel back in 1989. “There are just so many things can come along and interrupt it.”
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.