Friday, January 28, 2022
News for Independent BusinessBefore they were Big Time – Martha Stewart –...

Before they were Big Time – Martha Stewart – A Series…


It’s funny. The first thing that always comes to my mind when I think of Martha Stewart is her stint in the clink for insider trading. Let’s get the bad stuff out of the way first. On June 4, 2003, Stewart was indicted by the government on nine counts, including charges of securities fraud and obstruction of justice. Her broker at Merrill Lynch gave her the heads-up on ImClone Systems stock on December 27, 2001, which was about to tumble due to the FDA not approving one of their drugs.

She was sentenced in July 2004 to serve a five-month term in a federal correctional facility and a two-year period of supervised release, which included five months of electronic monitoring. The thing that gets me is this whole thing was over $45,000 and change. That might be a lot to you or me, but she was on the Forbes list of female self-made billionaires. She was incarcerated and did her 5 months. By the way, her moniker in the joint was M. Diddy! It takes confidence, resilience, and a lot of courage to bounce back from a felony conviction and continue an incredible entrepreneurial career. Indeed, that is what she did.

Martha Stewart gives the air of persona of the haute couture upbringing, but that isn’t so. She is actually from a middle-class family from Jersey City, NJ. Her father was a pharmaceutical salesperson, and her mother was a school teacher. Martha started learning ways of the home from a very young age. Her family taught her gardening, sewing, cooking and baking from the age of three. She began a modeling career around the age of 15, which included mostly television commercials and a few magazines. She used this money to help her with tuition at Barnard College in Manhattan. She married Andrew Stewart, an attorney, in 1961, and continued to use his name after divorcing in 1991. She has one child, Alexis Stewart.

Stewart actually began her career in the stock market, working for a brokerage house on Wall Street. Now I actually am wondering more about the insider trading case. I think the world assumed that she was the artsy gardener of her TV show Martha Stewart Living. Who knows, maybe she was. She segued into the entertainment world via her talent as a chef and hostess and later developed a cookbook, featuring recipes and photos from the parties that Stewart hosted.

The result was her first book, Entertaining, published in 1982. In 1990, Stewart signed with Time Publishing Ventures to develop a new magazine, Martha Stewart Living, for which Stewart would serve as editor-in-chief. The first issue was released in late 1990 with an initial rate base of 250,000. Circulation would peak in 2002 at more than 2 million copies per issue. She combined all her endeavors into a company called Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia in 1997.

The exit strategy and key to her wealth came in 1999, when Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia went public on the NYSE at an initial offering price of $18. By the end of trading that first day, the stock closed at $38 per share, making her the first self-made “paper” female billionaire in America.


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