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Entrepreneurial inspiration – Martha Stewart’s lifestyle empire

By Samantha Garner | February 11, 2012

It’s a Martha Stewart world. No matter whether you bake, cook, throw parties or decorate, you can’t deny Stewart’s influence. She’s been called everything from “America’s most famous homemaker” to the third most powerful woman in America. But despite her immense fame, her story still has important lessons for small business owners.

Stewart’s knack for all things creative isn’t just for show. Like many entrepreneurs, her inspiration emerged in childhood. Born and raised in New Jersey, she was one of six children. Her whole family took part in pursuits of the home. Her mother taught her cooking and sewing, her father taught her gardening, and her grandparents taught her canning and preserving techniques. She was also part of her school’s newspaper and art club.

In 1961, Stewart got married and, a few years later, graduated from Barnard College with degrees in History and Architectural History. Out in the working world, she was a stockbroker for nearly 10 years, but decided to focus on her family and restoring their new home. This home, a farmhouse built in 1805, was a massive renovation that Stewart and her husband performed entirely by themselves – yet another hint at the future.

After the renovation, Stewart started her own catering business, where she quickly became noted for her creative recipes and unique presentation. Her reputation caught the attention of Alan Mirken, head of Crown Publishing Group, who asked her to create a cookbook based on her recipes and parties she had catered. This book, published in 1982, was called Entertaining, and it became a New York Times bestseller – in fact, the most popular cookbook at the time since Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Several more cookbooks followed, as well as newspaper columns and articles on creative and innovative homemaking ideas.

In 1990, the magazine Martha Stewart Living was created. Two years later, the Martha Stewart Living TV program was launched. And, with that, the Martha Stewart ethos began to pervade our society.

However, Stewart’s true legacy isn’t limited to cupcakes and curtains. She is also a shrewd businesswoman. She created the company Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia in an effort to organize all of her various brands under one name. This way, she can have greater control over her business’ direction and operations – very important considerations for businesses operating under a real person’s name. She controls nearly 100% of her company’s voting shares and, at the time of writing, her net worth is estimated at $638 million.

Stewart’s creative vision lends itself to many things from furniture, houseware, baking, gardening and even wine. She manages to undertake several different ventures which unite under the principles of accessible creativity and “good things” for any home. It is this all-encompassing inspiration and forward-thinking vision that led New York Magazine to christen Martha Stewart “the definitive American woman of our time.”

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