Martha Inc.: The Incredible Story of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia

Overview

From housewife to billionaire CEO, Martha Stewart is not just the businesswoman with the Midas touch, she is also a lightening rod for many of the most important and controversial social and economic issues of post-WWII American life.

In the unauthorized Martha Inc.: The Incredible Story of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, business writer and columnist Christopher Byron traces Martha's journey from the troubled world of a working class family in New Jersey to the pinnacle of ...

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Overview

From housewife to billionaire CEO, Martha Stewart is not just the businesswoman with the Midas touch, she is also a lightening rod for many of the most important and controversial social and economic issues of post-WWII American life.

In the unauthorized Martha Inc.: The Incredible Story of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, business writer and columnist Christopher Byron traces Martha's journey from the troubled world of a working class family in New Jersey to the pinnacle of fame and power as the head of the billion dollar business bearing her name. In Martha Inc., Byron shows that the great irony in Martha's triumph is that she has grown to global fame by celebrating a domestic life she never actually knew. Out of an imagined bliss, Martha created a media and merchandising empire devoted to the celebration of home, food, and family.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Comedy shows satirize her domestic craftiness, but no one can belittle the business genius of Martha Stewart. This trend-setting entrepreneur is one of the most successful self-made business owners in our history, ringing up a net personal worth of nearly $2 billion. Veteran business journalist Christopher Byron explains how this former Connecticut caterer has created a multimedia merchandising empire that even Wall Street envies.
Detroit News
[MARTHA INC. is] a can't-put-down read
Strait Times (Singapore)
Byron connects the dots between Martha the private person and Martha the brand, ending up with a book that is as much in the celebrity gossip genre as it is a business biography.... More fascinating is what lies behind the curtains that Byron pulls back...
BusinessWeek
...makes for a fascinating...read...a meaty account
New York Post
Martha Stewart is a success story you either love or hate—but until now you've only heard her side of it. In "Martha Inc.", author Christopher Byron chronicles the whole story...
New York Times
Mr. Byron will not disappoint those who crave even more evidence of [Martha's] excess.
USA Today
...it's clear [Byron] is a fan of Stewart's business acumen...[the book is] a riveting twist on an old story.
New Yorker
Though gleefully heralded in the press as a hatchet job, this biography of Martha Stewart turns out to be surprisingly evenhanded.
Economist
Studying the two faces of Martha makes for a good, if opinionated, read.
Connecticut Post
...many intriguing questions [are] posed in Byron's hot new business book/biography, which is among the most talked-about and successful books of the spring.
Wall Street Journal
...more than perfunctory kudos go to Christopher Byron for assembling so much information about his subject, and a few more pats on the back for presenting it in so readable a form.
New Yorker
Though gleefully heralded in the press as a hatchet job, this biography of Martha Stewart turns out to be surprisingly evenhanded. The author's mixture of distaste and respect for his subject is informed by his own contact with her: nodding acquaintances for years, they briefly were friends after Byron wrote an admiring article. But when his questions headed in uncomfortable directions Stewart's enthusiasm for the book turned to hostility. Byron, a business columnist for the Post, is most persuasive when he describes her professional maneuverings -- particularly her genius for using any partnership to her advantage, from her marriage to her Kmart deal. Byron sifts the now familiar elements of Stewart's personal life -- impoverished upbringing, bullying dad, cohorts of betrayed friends -- and arrives at the plausible if predictable conclusion that character problems like ruthless egotism are at the root of her business success. Given that her net worth is $650 million, we should all have these problems.
Booknews
Business and finance writer Byron traces Stewart's transformation from a working class New Jersey child to a housewife and to a billionaire CEO of a corporation with her name in it. Earlier photographs are family snapshots; later ones are publicity shots. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Soundview Executive Book Summaries
The Controversial Career and Stunning Success of Martha Stewart
The dramatic rise of Martha Stewart from a working class New Jersey family to a billionaire businesswoman is a story filled with intense drama, power struggles and personal conflict. Byron, a respected business journalist, provides a compelling look at Stewart's struggles and triumphs while digging into her history for a three-dimensional view. Byron set out to discover "the secret world of Martha Stewart and her dreams," and came back from his research and experiences with an amazing (and unauthorized) story of a woman whose very name can polarize any group of people, and who turned the renovation of a run-down farmhouse in Westport, Conn., into a billion-dollar multimedia empire.

Modest Beginnings
The story of the richest self-made businesswoman in America starts in a working-class home in New Jersey where she was the second child (of six) born to Eddie Kostyra, a man who drank too much and had trouble keeping a job. Byron writes that his "standards of excellence and intolerance ... became in time dominant characteristics of her own personality as well."

From a family life set against "a backdrop of parental tension and ugliness," Martha grew up and graduated from high school in 1959, a year when many women listed gardening, cooking and homemaking in her high school yearbook as their primary interests in life. From her modest beginnings, Martha Kostyra struck out on her own and became a fashion model in New York City while attending Barnard College for Women as an art history major. She was selected as a "Best Dressed College Girl" in 1961 by a leading fashion magazine. It was at this time inher life that she met the man who would become her husband for the next 20 years, a Yale Law School student named Andy Stewart.

After putting her modeling aspirations on hold so her husband could get his law degree, and getting pregnant a couple years later, Martha Stewart became a socialite, hosting parties for dozens of "New York's fast tracking young power people." As her modeling career dwindled, and motherhood became a chore, she became one of a handful of female stockbrokers in 1968. By 1973, she decided she had enough and fled Wall Street as the bull market of the 1960s became the bear market of the 1970s, and her own brokerage firm became entangled in scandal.

A New Vocation
It was about this time that Martha and Andy scraped together enough money to buy a run-down house in Westport that the couple would spend every spare moment and dime refurbishing. This house, according to Byron, was where Martha began to exhibit the controlling and domineering behavior of her father, belittling her husband for being less of a provider than she had expected. As her relationship with her husband and daughter suffered, her friend and mentor Norma Collier helped her focus on turning her avocation of catering for friends into a true vocation. After six months of booming success, Byron describes a ruthless Stewart dumping her partner with cold indifference. How does Collier describe her once best friend now? "She's a sociopath and a horrible woman, and I never want to encounter her again or think about her as long as I live."

Martha went on to sell her pies and cakes in Westport boutiques. In no time, she was opening up her own commercial establishment, The Market Basket. Great publicity from local editors and writers from Family Circle and Cuisine brought her instant fame and fortune, and on the first day of 1977, Martha Stewart, Inc. was born. Soon after, riding on the coattails of her husband's unexpected success in the world of publishing, her book Entertaining was launched, making her a best-selling author. As her marriage finally crumbled into divorce, she made decisive moves into TV, Kmart, and her own magazine. The climax to her story arrives when Martha returns to Wall Street at the end of the century to sell stocks in her own company in an IPO that raised her worth to $1.27 billion.

Why Soundview Likes This Book
Martha Inc. is a page-turner filled with rare personal glimpses of celebrity, creating a panoramic view of the realm where Martha Stewart reigns supreme. Many of the unattractive details that brought her to an iconic height are placed into plain view, along with her successes and amazing accomplishments. Martha's rise in business looms larger than life, but remains rooted in the human drama and tragedy that make this book fascinating. Byron's writing talents turn Stewart's life into a visible experience that jumps from the pages; filled with literary and pop culture references that illustrate his subject with depth and precision, Byron's book reveals a character as complex as she is determined to succeed. Copyright (c) 2002 Soundview Executive Book Summaries

From the Publisher
The queen of home entertaining, and much else domestic, is writing her autobiography for Clarkson Potter, the Crown imprint that has publisher her throughout her successful career. Meanwhile, a journalist who once intended to collaborate with Stewart on her personal book is doing a study of his own. Martha's book, signed with the author by Crown president Chip Gibson and Potter editorial director Lauren Shakely, will be, said Stewart, a study-"bumps in the road," imperfections and all-of her progress to the chairmanship of her own prosperous multimedia company and her position as the doyenne of home how-to. It will be, she added, "the ultimate recipe book for success." Crown bought world rights to the tale, tentatively titled Martha: Really and Truly, and plans to publish in 2003.
Beating her own book into the stores by some distance, however, will be one by New York Observer and Bloomberg financial commentator Christopher Byron, whose Martha Inc. promises an investigative look at the lady and her company.
It's being written for John Wiley, where senior editor Pamela Van Giessen signed it from agent Joni Evans at William Morris, and it will be published, they say, as soon as next April. Byron, who has been a not-unsympathetic observer of Stewart and her Omnimedia company, said he originally had planned to do the book with her, but that she had backed out when she apparently became "uncomfortable" with some of the questions his researcher was asking. Byron added that she decided to do her own book only after it became clear that he would go ahead without her. Crown responded that Steward had always planned to do her own memoir. (Publishers Weekly, June 25, 2001)

"Martha Stewart is a success story you either love or hate--but until now you've only heard her side of it. In "Martha Inc.", author Christopher Byron chronicles the whole story..." (New York Post, April 8, 2002)

"Mr. Byron will not disappoint those who crave even more evidence of [Martha's] excess." (New York Times Business section, April 14, 2002).

"...it's clear [Byron] is a fan of Stewart's business acumen...[the book is] a riveting twist on an old story." (USA Today's, April 15, 2002)

"makes for a fascinating...read...a meaty account" (BusinessWeek, April 22, 2002)

Though gleefully heralded in the press as a hatchet job, this biography of Martha Stewart turns out to be surprisingly evenhanded. The author's mixture of distaste and respect for his subject is informed by his own contact with her: nodding acquaintances for years, they briefly were friends after Byron wrote an admiring article. But when his questions headed in uncomfortable directions Stewart's enthusiasm for the book turned to hostility. Byron, a business columnist for the Post, is most persuasive when he describes her professional maneuverings-particularly her genius for using any partnership to her advantage, from her marriage to her Kmart deal. Byron sifts the now familiar elements of Stewart's personal life-impoverished upbringing, bullying dad, cohorts of betrayed friends-and arrives at the plausible if predictable conclusion that character problems like ruthless egotism are at the root of her business success. Given that her net worth is $650 million, we should all have these problems. (The New Yorker, April 22 & 29, 2002)

"Studying the two faces of Martha makes for a good, if opinionated, read." (The Economist, April 20, 2002)

"...many intriguing questions [are] posed in Byron's hot new business book/biography, which is among the most talked-about and successful books of the spring." (Connecticut Post, April 21, 2002)

"...more than perfunctory kudos go to Christopher Byron for assembling so much information about his subject, and a few more pats on the back for presenting it in so readable a form." (Wall Street Journal, April 23, 2002)At a 1995 dinner for Princess Diana, an unfortunate soul mistook Martha Stewart for someone else. "If you don't know who I am, then you don't deserve to be at this table!" she responded.

Modern conversation owes much to the bizarre behavior and outrageous rhymes-with-witch-icisms of Martha Stewart. And the new Martha Inc. by Christopher Byron is full of both-plus plenty on Stewart's astounding business acumen. The New York Post business columnist cites countless classic Martha Moments, such as how she maneuvered Kmart into paying for her new home and its restoration. And how, on the eve of her $121 million IPO, she snubbed magazine editor Tina Brown, answering a "How are you?" with a curt "I'm rich." Sadly, the book's index makes no mention of Stewart's 15 pet chinchillas. Perhaps in Martha: Really and Truly, the autobiography she plans to write. —Holly J. Morris (U.S. News & World Report, April 22, 2002)

[MARTHA INC. is] "a can't-put-down read" (Detroit News, April 27, 2002)

"Byron connects the dots between Martha the private person and Martha the brand, ending up with a book that is as much in the celebrity gossip genre as it is a business biography.... More fascinating is what lies behind the curtains that Byron pulls back..." (The Strait Times (Singapore), April 28, 2002)

"...takes readers on a fascinating journey into the making of the domestic demigoddess.... Byron writes with a lively and informative hand. He zeroes in with facts..." (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 1, 2002)

"Byron has written a balanced book that highlights both [Martha's] strengths and her abundance of warts. That makes Byron's book credible..." (Fort Worth Star-Telegram, May 3, 2002)

There's enough dish to feed Martha Stewart lovers and loathers alike in this scrupulously reported bio. The author says he spoke to more than 100 people, but most of the revelations feel unsurprising.
Byron paints Stewart as a remote mother to her daughter and a cold wife who berated her husband until he walked out on her 25 years later. (She once called him "f------ stupid" in front of guests when he failed to stack firewood to her liking, a friend of the pair's said.) And (gasp!) power has made her no sweeter. Walking through the corridors of her corporate offices one day, she stopped to watch her dog poop on the carpet, telling an assistant, "I just wish I could get my employees to do that when I say."
The book goes on too long though, and Byron, a New York Post business columnist, wastes ink endlessly reworking his idea that Stewart is a sour apple who didn't fall too far from the tree: Her dad emerges as a nasty bully. Byron does nail Martha's undisputed genius for exploiting women's domestic fantasies, and the stories of how she wiped the floor with some of America's top male execs at Kmart and Time Warner go down like a delicious dessert. (People Magazine, May 13, 2002)

"...a dishy book...a few more pats on the back for presenting it in so readable a form." (Wall Street Journal (Europe), 24 April 2002)

"The most fascinating parts of "Martha Inc." focus on Martha's dealings with Kmart and Time Warner. These sections showcase Byron's understanding of the business world. His ability to analyze the needs and wants of major corporations and Martha's demands make good reading." (The Capital Times, May 17, 2002)

Who would not envy Martha Stewart? The 60-year-old lifestyle doyenne has sold more than 10 million books, publishes a monthly magazine with a circulation of more than 2 million, is the host of a six-day-a-week television show and, as a result of the initial public offering of her company in 1999, the aptly named Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, is a multimillion-dollar concern. Christopher M. Byron, a business reporter who is also Stewart's neighbor in Westport, Conn., as well as a former friend (they got to know each other after Byron published a column calling her forthcoming stock offering "the deal of all time"), attempts to present a picture of "the richest self-made businesswoman in America." "Martha Inc." is balanced, and Byron's financial analysis of the company is sophisticated. Nonetheless, his argument that Stewart's success is driven by anger at her cruel father and resentment of her working-class up-bringing seems simplistic. Occasionally Byron describes Stewart as "two different people" --there is successful Martha, and the "Other Martha," who is bitter and vengeful off camera. One wishes Byron had constructed a more nuanced portrait of this woman who, like most moguls, is a great but flawed character. As Byron himself wrote in a column on Stewart, "The lady deserves better." (New York Times Book Review, Sunday June 9, 2002)

"...viciously entertaining biography..." (Barron's, 1 July 2002)

Here's a business book that's right at home on the beach. It's got juicy anecdotes: After one of her dogs defecates on the carpet in her corporate offices, Martha quips, "I just wish I could get my employees to do that when I say." And some pop psychology: In the "relationship script" she learned from her domineering father, Byron writes, "the authority figure maintains control by yelling the loudest and oppressing the most harshly while insisting on undifferentiated love and blind obedience."
All this is fun--and even relevant, since what Martha so brilliantly sells is herself. But the most interesting part of this book is its account of how she transformed her association with K Mart from a tool to promote the discounter into a tool to promote Martha--both as a brand and as a financial juggernaut. According to Byron, when Martha bought out Time Warner's majority stake in her company, $ 16 million of the $ 18 million cash portion of the price came directly from K Mart. Her out-of-pocket cost: $ 2 million. The value of her stock the day the company went public: $ 1.27 billion. Now that's crafty. --DENISE MARTIN (MONEY Magazine, August, 2002)

Speaking of scandals, does Martha Stewart know how to keep her name before the public or what? For a scathing portrait of the domestic diva, check out Martha Inc.: The Incredible Story of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia (Wiley) by journalist Christopher Byron. The book was published before Stewart's insider-trading scandal erupted, and therefore can't provide the details that many readers crave. Nonetheless, it colorfully chronicles Stewart's life and rapid ascent following the publication of her book Entertaining in 1982. Although Byron clearly admires Stewart's ability to turn herself into a multimillion-dollar brand, he revels in unflattering anecdotes from such sources as her former catering partner, ex-colleagues from Kmart Corp., and the tour guides, neighbors, and journalists she has alienated. It's not exactly a balanced effort since those who might feel more positively about Stewart, such as business partner Sharon Patrick - not to mention Stewart herself - did not grant interviews to the author. Byron's best moments come when he examines the business, underscoring the difficulty of maintaining any operation built around one human being. "It makes for a fascinating, if clearly lopsided, read," said reviewer Diane Brady. (BusinessWeek, December 9, 2002)

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781413205572
  • Publisher: Wiley, John & Sons, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 3/28/2002
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 416
  • Product dimensions: 6.46 (w) x 9.08 (h) x 1.31 (d)

Meet the Author

CHRISTOPHER BYRON has been writing about business and finance for over thirty years. He writes a weekly column for the New York Post and a monthly column for Red Herring, is the host of a syndicated daily radio show, "Wall Street Wakeup with Chris Byron," and appears frequently on CNBC, Fox News Network, MSNBC, and CBS Evening News, among other places. Byron graduated from Yale College and the Columbia University School of Law. He is a veteran of the U.S. Navy and lives in Connecticut with his family.
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Read an Excerpt

It was the autumn of 1999, few days before Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, Inc. sold stock to the public in one of the most talked about IPOs of the year, and I was sitting at my desk working when, out of the blue, the telephone rang and it was Martha Stewart on the other end. She had phoned to thank me, in so many words, for setting her up to become a billionaire. It was, as you might imagine, a rather dislocating moment, for I had really done nothing very much at all. In fact, my sole contribution had been to have read her company's offering prospectus, which had been filed with the Securities & Exchange Commission several weeks earlier, and to have declared thereafter in print how well put together the company's financials looked to be.

And now here was Martha herself, on the phone, saying, "Wow? that was some column?!" and launching into all the reasons why she thought it was the best thing that had been written about herself and her company in years. By the time the conversation ended, we had agreed to have breakfast the following Sunday morning at a local Westport, Connecticut restaurant. I arrived a few minutes early, sat down, glanced at the menu, and began to imagine how the breakfast would go. Would she turn out to be arrogant and snooty, like everyone in town said she was? Or would Westport's wealthiest resident turn out to be a nice down to earth babe? I picked up a roll of bread, and squeezed to see if it was fresh. Crisp on the outside, nice and soft on the inside. Like Martha, I fantasized. I stared at the wall and imagined her sweeping elegantly into the restaurant, like Loretta Young in the movies, "Chris, my darling, it's been so long." as we hurried to the limo for the night flight to Saint Tropez.

And then suddenly there she was, in the doorway, dressed in jeans and a tee-shirt, and looking half my age, and I was younger than she. It was too much the perfect entrance. Martha Stewart Everyday. She was grand. It was a virtuoso performance. I'd heard all these stories about how busy she was, how every waking minute of her day was booked and committed to something. Yet in the middle of all that she'd found time to have breakfast with me and with no ulterior motive at all. Who could not be impressed by that?

Toward the end of the conversation she turned to me and volunteered a piece of information. It wasn't about her dogs, or her housekeeper, or anything like the world of a woman in a tee-shirt and jeans on a Westport Sunday morning. It was news from another world altogether, of mansions bought from the estate of Edsel Ford, and chartered jets and autumn hikes up the slopes of Kilimanjaro and boat rides up the Amazon. She said, "I'm leaving tomorrow for bird-watching in Tierra del Fuego, you know?"

Only later, when the puzzle of her life began to snap into place, when I learned, for instance, that 20 years earlier her husband Andy had left her alone over Christmas, and had himself gone to Tierra del Fuego, in search of whatever lost parts of his soul he may have hoped to find there, only then did I realize the question I should have asked at that moment -- not about Andy or any of that, but about the emptiness she too seemed to be trying to fill by journeying to the ends of the earth. I should have responded, "Sounds like fun, Martha, are you going alone?"

When I began this book, I had no idea of the two worlds of Martha Stewart -- of the genteel and charming public person, and the lonely, complex and tortured private individual. Nor did I realize what an extraordinary -- and extraordinarily lucky -- businesswoman Martha Stewart really is, a woman who had the brains to recognize opportunities when they dropped in her lap . . . and who had the drive, energy, and determination to turn them into unprecedented success in business and on Wall Street, not least by gathering around her -- and often ruthlessly exploiting -- the talents, and sometimes even the loyalty, of many people.

The less visible story is the "how" and ultimately, the "why" all this happened, the secret world of Martha Stewart and her dreams. That is our story here, the story of a little girl who never got over what life never gave her, and wound up inventing for herself a past she had never known, a hologram of life so powerful that it not only convinced her personally but mesmerized the world. In this way, the quiet little girl from the house on Elm Place became, in time, the richest self-made businesswoman in America by selling the world all her missing parts. This is the story of what was missing, why it was missing, and how she turned it into a billion dollars.

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Table of Contents

Prologue.

1. Nancy Drew and the Case of the Hidden Childhood.

2. A Model Life.

3. To Wall Street.

4. The Page Turns.

5. A Nascent Empire: The Martha Moment Is Born.

6. Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

7. Making the Best-Seller List.

8. Kmart Calls.

9. How to Negotiate a Contract.

10. Strategy: Get Others to Pay.

11. Controlling the Stress Lines.

12. No Good Deed Goes Unpunished.

13. Time Takes Martha.

14. Martha Takes TV.

15. In the Company of Women.

16. Scheming Times.

17. A Taxing Situation.

18. Time Takes a Licking.

19. Labor Relations.

20. When Being in the Public Eye Is Not a Good Thing.

21. From Wall Street to Main Street.

22. To the Ends of the Earth.

Epilogue.

Acknowledgments.

Source Notes.

Index.

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Interviews & Essays

Author Essay
I began writing Martha, Inc. for two reasons: My publisher, John Wiley & Sons, asked me to write the book, and Martha Stewart said she would cooperate. But I continued writing it even after Martha changed her mind, for a single reason that outweighed all other considerations: I had come by that time to regard Martha Stewart as the most important, compelling, and complex woman in American public life today, and easily the most worthwhile and encompassing subject for a biography to be found anywhere.

Martha Stewart's story has been told in many ways and at many times -- most often, in fact, by Martha herself. But the versions of her life that she has authorized others to write, or has written herself, have basically been chapters in a kind of mythological "Martha Stewart story" that Martha has marketed to the world, and upon which she has built her business.

Underpinning that myth is the compelling -- and altogether different -- reality of a child born into a dysfunctional, financially stressed home, who grew into adulthood driven by the dream of the life she had never known in her youth. As an adult, Martha Stewart conjured up that dream so vividly in her writing that it resonated deeply and profoundly with women everywhere. It was that vision that Martha marketed to the world, by claiming that she herself was its living embodiment.

The untold story of Martha Stewart is the reason that vision had such a powerful hold on her, and the key to why she pursued it so relentlessly and obsessively, year after year, decade after decade, until it found expression in every major media channel on earth.

Martha's story is thus more than the biography of her life; it's also the epic of the post–World War II era, when women came into their own in American life. It is the story of the challenges, triumphs, frustrations, and disappointments of the American family itself, as women struggled to find fulfillment when, for the first time in history, millions upon millions of them could define for themselves what they wanted their lives to be.

That is the story I discovered in Martha Stewart, the reality behind the myth of her life, and the price that she had to pay in the struggle to market that myth to the people of America and, ultimately, the world. For me at least, it has been a compelling odyssey, and I hope you enjoy the end result. (Christopher Byron)

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