Martha Stewart, BC ’69, returned to Barnard College this past Thursday for an intimate “Evening with Martha Stewart” in which she discussed her personal college experience and a lifetime of entrepreneurial successes.
The conversational Q&A was hosted by the Barnard Speaking Fellows in association with the Barnard department of art history and was moderated by student Jessica Hopen, BC ’18. Hopen, a longtime Stewart fan who has interned at Stewart’s corporation for the past two summers, invited Stewart back to her alma mater for the event.
Stewart is an internationally renowned businesswoman, television personality, and writer, with her many media endeavors dedicated to showcasing an overall look into modern American life. Her success has made her the “first female self-made billionaire in America.”
After a brief introduction by Barnard President Sian Beilock, Stewart provided insight into her time at Barnard, her entrepreneurial experiences, and her more recent accomplishments. On learning the skills that characterize her current success as both a lifestyle connoisseur and a businesswoman, Stewart compared her career training to her time at college.
Stewart noted that the most valuable lessons she gleaned from her time in college were how to study, concentrate, and research.
“[I] learn things as a subject, approach[ing] [topics] like any of my courses at Barnard,” Stewart said.
At Barnard, most of her academic time was spent studying history and architecture, her dual majors and lasting passions. But post-fame, newfound passions and methods of learning have come about through sources besides textbooks and professors.
“When I wanted to learn sushi,” Stewart said, “I worked with [celebrity chef] Nobu ... I don’t have time to master everything, but I try.”
Her early career ventures were varied: During her time as a student, she worked as a model for Chanel, even starring in the occasional television commercial. Following graduation, she became a stockbroker on Wall Street, working closely with business bigwigs like Ross Perot.
In this intimate setting, Stewart didn’t shy from more personal topics, hinting at her time in an Alderson, WV penitentiary (which she described as “more like a vacation home”) and a personal connection with the recent ‘Me Too’ movement. In her modeling days, attending a “go-see” audition, Stewart was asked to model in a bikini, even though it wasn’t required for the gig. Unimpressed, she refused and left the audition.
Stewart’s somewhat unconventional friendship with artist and rapper Snoop Dogg, with whom she collaborated on their cooking television program, “Martha & Snoop’s Potluck Dinner Party,” was perhaps one of the most anticipated topics of conversation. On Snoop Dogg, she spoke warmly.
“[He is] a very good musician, very smart, very fit — despite smoking all of the time,” Stewart said.
She even teased a topic for a future cookbook, saying that companies have reached out to her to collaborate on a collection of recipes involving marijuana.
“You have to keep up with the trends,” she said.
Hopeful up-and-coming Barnard entrepreneurs in the audience gained no shortage of profitable advice on ideal business attitudes, keys to success, and personal lifestyle choices as Stewart drew from her seemingly boundless reserve of enterprising spirit and savvy.
To combat intimidation, she accentuates self-assuredness as key, to “[know] who you are and what you can do,” and to “take risks, [but] don’t take stupid chances.”
Stewart also disclosed her “five P’s” (actually four P’s and a B), characteristics she believes are manifested within successful business people: “persist, passion, persevere, put up (with a lot), and believe in yourself.”
Stewart continues to keep busy: She will soon travel to the Arctic Circle to visit the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, a program designed to ensure the protection of global crop diversity. Less than two weeks afterwards, she will travel to the opposite end of the world, the Antarctic, to study photography.
Moreover, on February 27th, she will release her 90th book, titled “Martha’s Flowers.” At the age of 76, still handling a multitude of simultaneously running projects with apparent ease, Stewart has no intentions of slowing down.
“When you’re through changing, you’re through,” she said.