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From housewife to billionaire CEO, Martha Stewart is not just the businesswoman with the Midas touch, she is also a lightning 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.
Martha Stewart's story is part Horatio Alger success story and part "Citizen Kane" drama, reaching from the modest homes of Nutley, New Jersey, to the palatial estates of Long Island, from the suburban kitchens of Connecticut to the boardrooms of Wall Street. At each step of the way, Byron gets inside Martha’s world, from her troubled working class upbringing to her years of peddling speculative stocks on Wall Street in the go-go 60s. Thereafter, Byron follows Martha through the ordeal of her failing marriage to the launch of her magazine. Finally, we accompany Martha in her triumphant and climactic return to Wall Street at century’s end to sell stock in her company in an IPO that would make her a billionaire. Byron attends, through fly-on-the-wall sources, executive meetings with some of the most powerful individuals in American business to watch as they try to deal with a woman who emerged from nowhere to overpower them all. He eavesdrops as they bad-mouth her as she leaves the room, often with a fabulous deal in her hand. He watches as they discover, only too late, this former housewife outsmarts them at their own game. Martha Inc. gets up-close-and-personal with the personality of Martha, one of the most complex and driven people in the history of business.
All this and more unfolds in the pages of Martha Inc.–a compelling three-dimensional view of the woman, her business, and her unique hold on domestic culture. Set against the backdrop of the vast changes that reshaped the role of women in post-WWII American life–the stages of which became rungs on a ladder Martha climbed to success–this is Martha's story, a saga filled with power, drama, conflict, and tragedy.
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About 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.
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.
Table of ContentsPrologue.
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.
What People are Saying About This
In this spectacular book, Christopher Byron gets all the way to the heart of Martha Stewart. (David McClintick, author,Indecent Exposure)
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 postWorld 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)