Martha Stewart has given the world advice on everything from building the proper campfire to making scrambled eggs with a cappuccino machine.
But the Doyenne of Domesticity offered a different type of counsel to the high-powered crowd at the Boston College Chief Executives Club luncheon on Wednesday: tips for starting and running a business.
At age 77, Stewart shows no sign of retiring. She remains the public face of her media business, now owned by Sequential Brands Group (which works with publisher Meredith Corp. to produce her eponymous magazines). She sells recipes through meal delivery service Marley Spoon. And she’s busy with TV, including two cooking shows on public television and her unorthodox collaboration with rapper Snoop Dogg, “Martha & Snoop’s Potluck Dinner Party.” (Season three of the VH1 variety show is in the works.)
Stewart touched on other projects, on the horizon: a long-delayed autobiography, a new line of cosmetics that may use the marijuana compound known as CBD, and a software venture akin to Amazon’s Alexa.
TJX Cos. executive chairman Carol Meyrowitz served up questions in an informal way, making the whole affair more loosey-goosey than the typical BC CEOs club lunch. Here are a few business lessons those in the room might have gleaned from the Carol & Martha Show.
Surround yourself with the right people. Stewart stressed the importance of picking good mentors — Julia Child among them — as well as business partners. Thoughtfulness and intellect are important traits. She said she “learned a lot” from a former boyfriend who is a computer expert, lessons that presumably could come in handy with her new side venture. (She was referring to Charles Simonyi, who led the design of the popular Word program while at Microsoft.)
Widen your audience. Colleagues scratched their heads when she first proposed the project with Snoop Dogg. The Home Depot, she was told, wouldn’t want her hanging out with rappers. But she remains convinced that teaming up with Mr. Straight Outta Compton was the right move, one that opened doors to a whole new audience, a “melding of cultures.” (She probably should have stopped short, though, before telling a joke about being able to drive through Compton now without being shot.)
Don’t let age slow you down. OK, so Stewart admits she won’t be taking up kitesurfing anytime soon. But she made it clear that she isn’t close to wrapping up her career, and she remains relentlessly curious. There’s still so much to do. It was in this context that she mentioned the software project, “that I’m hoping will be useful to the homemaker.” Think “ask Martha” instead of Alexa.
When life hands you crab apples, make crab apple jelly. Stewart briefly joked about her stint at “Camp Cupcake,” the nickname for the minimum-security prison in West Virginia where she spent five months after being convicted in 2004 of federal charges in an insider trading scandal. She apparently put her time to good use, coming up with at least one new recipe. “I’m not anybody to be put down,” Stewart said. “I made crab apple jelly. It was totally against the rules. But there were crab apples on the trees.”
Work-life balance? Many of the well-dressed Type As in the room probably wondered how Stewart continues to juggles so much: magazines, grandkids, Snoop Dogg, a surprising interest in falconry. Meyrowitz asked the obvious question: How do you balance it all? “I don’t. It’s impossible. There’s no balance whatsoever,” Stewart deadpanned. “That’s why I don’t have a husband, I’m sure. Any men in the audience that don’t want a balanced life, just come over and see me.”