The Funny and Useful Things We Learned From Martha Stewart’s Manila Talk
Martha Stewart was her candid and funny self at the ANC Leadership Series talk moderated by ABS-CBN's Karen Davila last week.
The over-an-hour-long chat with the lifestyle guru and legendary entrepreneur was attended by hundreds of guests including many of Manila’s most prominent names in business, politics, and society. Stewart shared many tips to note and lessons to remember during her inspiring talk. Here, a summary of her best quotes.
“Homekeeping is not housekeeping—it is not a chore. Homekeeping is an art form and we have elevated it,” she shared, acknowledging how scrubbing the floor or ironing clothes may feel like a chore. A lesson we can take from Martha? Think of it as an art form. “I love taking care of things and making things pretty,” she said.
On How To Be A Successful Entrepreneur
It’s no secret Stewart became the first female American self-made billionaire when her company went public in 1999. While this shocked many, it was really just another day for the lifestyle guru. “I was not surprised because I am never surprised over stuff like that, but my bankers were surprised. My lawyer sent me a pumpkin plant after going public and said, “I was mistaken, Martha. Congratulations!” He should not have been surprised because it was filling the void. Another thing an entrepreneur must do is fill a void. What doesn’t exist that you love, that you have in your mind that can fill that void that everyone needs and wants? Needs and wants and void—think about those three words all the time. They are very important.”
On Being Called a Neat Freak
“I love it,” she said. “Actually they can call my daughter neat freak, she is the real neat freak, and my granddaughter is even worse! Neat freak is a compliment. There are other things that you could be called that you don’t want to be called. So that is not an insult.”
“I love organization and I love keeping things where they belong so that you can find them when you need them, you know what I mean. Not that crappy, crowded kitchen drawer that we all have. For crafting, you must be very neat.”
On Starting A Business
Stewart said back when she started,” lifestyle” wasn’t really an industry, at least not what it is now, and therefore she was lucky to have been able to recognize that. “It was emerging; there was Good Housekeeping magazine. It was not lifestyle as we know it today—elegant and fun and beautiful; it was not promoted in any way,” she said. “I promoted [it], I am good at promotion and public relations. I thought living is such a vast subject, it is limitless. I found a subject that was limitless, special, and I needed it. All my friends needed it and so did all the people I meet and that is why it was successful. It was a big enough idea to make a good business out of it. It is much tinier than Steve Jobs at Apple, although it is almost as far-reaching. You have to have that lifestyle to get that iPhone. It is all related in a way.”
On Never Making Ugly Things
If you want to emulate the Martha Stewart brand success in today’s fast-changing market, the entrepreneur has a tip: “Find that niche that is big enough and important enough to fill that void,” she reiterated. She also talked about how to make a strong brand and shares how quality has always been important for her products. “I think resiliency is very important with the demands of day-in, day-out market climate and interest rates and trade patterns… But that strong brand will generally survive,” she said.
“We make nice things, we make things for the kitchen, we make things for the bed and bathroom, we make Christmas decorations, we make crafting tools. These will always be in demand. We continue to make them in the highest quality and more appealing appearance because if you start making things that are ugly people are not going to want them. They don’t want stuff in their house that is ugly, you don’t want them to have things in their house that are ugly.”
She recalled a particular instance when a designer was working on teacups. “I couldn’t put my finger on the handle of the teacup. I sent him back to the drawing board so that he could make a handle that was useful. So, utility is very important as is price.”
On Embracing Technology
Stewart acknowledged if you want to keep up, you have to be where your audience or market is. “We have so many opportunities now. When I first started out, opportunities were in the newspaper, television talk shows, and radio. Period. That was it. Now we have Pinterest, Instagram, Instagram TV, Facebook Live, YouTube… I embraced all of them and I have channels on pretty much everything. That is how you do it. You have to embrace technology and try to build a name in all those areas. It is hard sometimes I am banging my head against the wall thinking I will never have 22 million followers like Kim Kardashian. But I am pretty happy with my two million or so and they are harnessed toward the Martha Stewart brand,” she said.
It was for this reason the tech-savvy 78-year-old entrepreneur was still tapped by Uber for the relaunch of Uber Black even after she had slammed the car service on Instagram last year, when she tried it for the first time and ended up getting a “filthy-dirty” car. “I photographed all the leaves and dirty walls. I love Uber, but I don't like dirty cars so now they have Uber Black which are clean cars. So I am promoting Uber Black. They asked me to do their commercials because they knew that Martha would be valid proponent of Uber. That is what you have to do, embrace all of the opportunities to build your brand.”
On Borrowing Money and Being Generous With Money
“You told me that if you are going to start a small business, borrow from family and not from your friends,” Davila said to Stewart. “Well, you don’t want to lose your friends,” quipped Stewart. “My PR person—I use her as an example all the time—she wanted to start her own PR firm and she needed $10,000. She asked me for it and I said “no, Susan, I am not going to give you $10,000. I already pay you a fee for doing my PR. Borrow it from your father.” He had that much, and so she borrowed it from her father. I said be a little more generous, she was not very generous to her employees. Her sister was working for her and all along the way I was giving her advice. She has built a powerhouse PR firm and paid her father back in one year. Never had to borrow another cent and made her sister the president, finally. It is nice, she is the CEO and her sister is the president. You can get that in business school and you can also get advice from others and talking to other successful business people.”
On Snoop Dog and Being A ‘Cool Weed Grandma’
Davila asked about Stewart’s friendship with rapper Snoop Dog, who got her into the cannabis business, and their partnership with a Canadian cannabis company for CBD products. “You’re an unlikely pair as he raps and smokes a lot of weed. I think that was a surprise to your audience,” said Davila. “Are we allowed to talk about cannabis to this audience? I know it’s illegal here, I read all about this! I have no cannabis on me, by the way!” Stewart replied.
“What we are working on is not pot itself, we extract the oil, CBD, that comes from the plant. It is a different thing,” Stewart clarified. “We are working on cosmetics and skincare to have some of its properties instilled in them. We are also working on food, you are going to see a company in the U.S. with the best brownie mix you have ever tasted with CBD in it. So I think that is going to be a big hit. I mean we already have the best brownie recipe and now we just have to infuse it with CBD.” This partnership has inked her the monicker ‘America’s New Cool Weed Grandma,’ said Davila, who proceeded to ask Stewart she likes it. “Yeah, that is great,” Stewart replied. “As far as my grandchildren think, weed’s in the garden, you know.”
On Marriage and Balance
“I am one of the few divorced, unmarried women in my group. Most of my friends have long marriages and I am jealous. It makes it easier. There is someone to take out the trash. I’m just kidding,” Stewart said. “It is balance. Balance is hard to maintain. So when people say, ‘Oh, you have balance.’ No, you don’t have balance. No one has balance these days. It’s a crazy upside-down world and to find that balance is really difficult. So you have to make a good life in whichever way it ends up. I believe in marriage and having children. I think it is terribly important for women to have children, I get upset when my friends don’t have children because they are a joy. Grandchildren are even more joyous. You can have my daughter, just give me my grandchildren.”
On Doing More and Carrying On
Since she started building her eponymous brand, Stewart never took it slow. Not even after becoming a self-made billionaire. “If I was [going to take it slow], I would have sold all my stock that day and gone to Hawaii. That is what I should have done. But I did not. I never stopped,” she said. Nothing much has changed since then, so don’t expect the queen of domesticity to retire any time soon. “I just signed a 10-year contract,” she said, as the audience cheered. “Really, it’s no big deal.”
“I’ll give you secrets on how not to get in a rut. First, do not start your day after 7 a.m. My workers at home, my two housekeepers, garden guys and farm guys [all start at] 7. I can’t be still in bed if they are there at 7. Your trainer has to be there, so trainer comes at 6:30 a.m. so you are definitely up. Don’t build your gym in your house, build it another building so you have to walk in the snow. It goes on and on. I have all these horrible catches in my life that will never let me relax. Don’t relax, ever!” she said.
On succession planning and longevity
“I have aligned myself with a new company now called Marquee brands which is a part of Neuberger Berman, a large investment company in New York City. Marquee brands are run by a young group, half my age. They are bright and successful and they want to build a very strong home brand centered around the Martha brand. That to me is one way to continue the power of the brand by extending it to another place and another group. I think that will help the brand endure,” Stewart revealed. “And maybe, maybe, you never know, I keep my fingers crossed, maybe my beautiful daughter, Alexis or my granddaughter who is eight years old, her name is Jude Stewart, [would take over]. We have a big long table in Maine where we have all of our meals and I always sit at the head of the table. I came down last week and guess who was sitting down at the head of the table, my chair. I said, ‘That’s my seat,’ and she said, ‘I like this seat,’ so she might be the heiress to the throne.”
On Inspiration, Perseverance, and Perfectionism
Like many successful women, Stewart revealed she finds inspiration in everything every day. “I try to learn something new every day. It might be a picture I saw in a magazine and I look at lots and lots of magazines and publications. It might be something that I am reading that is inspiring. I am reading a really good book that I can hardly put down now; it is called The Overstory. It is a series about trees and its influence or a person or persons or a place. It is a beautiful story and it is available on Amazon and other bookstores. I get inspired by people, by how somebody cuts a piece of sushi, how somebody prepares a lechon like I had the other day which was a delicious big pig. I am always learning from other people, always. It is very important.
“Perseverance is very important. Believing in what you are creating. Perfectionism is another thing. Being a perfectionist in what you learn and what you teach.
“You have to be able to change if necessary. Change is good. Don’t be afraid of it. Learn something new every day. Those are very important mottos to me and the more you pay attention to stuff like that, the more successful you will be. Flexibility and curiosity, all of that are so important in today’s world.”
On the Toughest Year of Her Life
What the lifestyle mogul had to endure and go through careerwise in 2004 is no secret. But not only did she survive it, she made a comeback so incredible the world couldn’t help but just be awed and inspired. What was that experience like?
“Not everyone survives a debacle that I had to go through. I was at the wrong place at the wrong time. It was a terrible time. People were being sent to jail for infractions that were not really infractions, if you want to put it that way. It was a very tough time, but I had the most fabulous company and I had a very serious sense of self-worth,” she said. “Being sure of yourself and believing in what you do and who you are, plus I had a very supportive family around me. Our company did not suffer, some advisers had to pull out, but they were right back there at the end of it because we had the best product. It was a tough time, but I do not think about that very much. It was unpleasant, I didn’t have wine, I didn’t have coffee, I didn’t have luxuries. But it was not life-threatening. I had my health and I had my family which is what matters.”
When something interests Stewart, she does her research whether it’s about a new product, an idea, or a place and tries to find out as much about that subject matter. “When I have an idea, it comes to me in a big way… I also have a deep interest in creating authentic reactions to an idea. Inquisitiveness toward a subject matter is very important to me. I learned that in school. I went to very good schools that instilled that sort of curiosity in me. It is not easy and it is not a simple process, but it is an interesting process,” she said.
“On a trip like this, I read the whole history of the Philippines on the plane coming over and learned as much as I could about the history of this fascinating place. That is my big motto: research, research, and more investigation.”
On the Woman She Has Become
“I am younger than I am. I am fun. I am hardworking. I have a hard time remembering when things happen, which is good. I have no place and time.”