Speaking With Martha Stewart, Captain of Industry

BusinessWeek Editor-in-chief Stephen J. Adler talks with the founder of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia at Manhattan's 92nd Street Y

Like many in the media business, Martha Stewart has had a tumultuous year. While readership of her flagship magazine remains strong, the stock price of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia (MSO) has dropped from almost 10 to just over 2 a share. Stewart sat down with BusinessWeek (MHP) Editor-in-Chief Stephen J. Adler on Feb. 19 as part of BusinessWeek's Captains of Industry series at the 92nd Street Y in Manhattan. Some excerpts of their conversation:


Do you have any advice for Barack and Michelle Obama?


The lawn is big and it's not so "green" to have a lawn. I support Alice Waters in her desire that there be a vegetable garden at the White House. I don't think they should rip up the Rose Garden, because that's something that I love. They should probably dig up another patch and grow some vegetables there.

One of the things that really interests me is time management. Do you keep to-do lists?

I know what I have to do. It's all up here. I get up really early, and I go to bed really late. Sometimes I get tired, but it's not important. I have an exciting existence, and there's so much to do. And I never want to get depressed. You mentioned my stock price. That could get somebody really depressed. I used to be a captain of industry. I just figured out backstage that I'm now a lieutenant.

So if you have something that you really don't want to do, do you do it early or do you put it off?

I don't do it.

Are you hard to work for?

I don't think so. I have people who've worked for me for 25, 26 years. I have cats who are 19 years old. They're still hanging out there.

That's different.

No, they work for me every single day. They pose for pictures. They'll do anything I want them to do. My animals are also employees, actually. Tell the IRS that. Franchesca and Sharkey, my French bulldogs, have their own blog. And they are brilliant at it.

Do you yell?

Not very much. I used to probably yell more. I have to yell at one employee because she's deaf. Sometimes if she's in the room I'm accused of yelling. It's because she has a cochlear implant and a raised voice helps her hear better.

You have exposure to different media. Are there some that you're really concerned about, and others less so?

Everybody's worried about the world of magazines. But it's hard to get what Martha Stewart Living offers you on the screen. People want to take it to the beach or on the train. So I don't think paper is going to be dead for a while. That said, it's very competitive. People are going to listen to the radio forever. They might get it on their iPod (AAPL) or BlackBerry (RIMM) but they're going to listen. I think they're going to watch television for a long time. I'd be concerned about newspapers. Newspapers are secondary to the television for news.

There is the question of whether the brand actually needs you and your ideas. It evokes the Apple situation, which is: "What would Apple do without Steve Jobs?"

They have fewer products, and Steve is instrumental in design and everything. But there are other people at Apple doing phenomenal work, just like in my company. We have a wonderful craft business. It's pretty recession-proof because people want to do things. They have time on their hands. [The employees] don't need me at all. Every now and then, I offer some little piece of advice. Today I gave them a new finish for the craft tools. We have white ones and green ones. But I came up with a new color, and they all thought: "Oh boy, this is great." Maybe they were just humoring me, but I think they actually liked what I came up with.

You were once a stockbroker. What's your investing approach now?

I keep wanting to invest, but I'm still holding back because the market keeps going down every single day. There is going to be a lot of money made in the stock market. There are a lot of good companies that are selling at a fraction of what they're worth. Our company has money in the bank and no debt.

What did you learn from your legal difficulties?

Well, I learned before everybody else that I can live without a lot of things. What everybody is experiencing now, I just learned faster. And I learned to be patient. There are a lot of people in prison who shouldn't be there. You have to take an example from other countries. They figured out that it's a hideous expense, and it's not rehabilitation.

What have you not yet done that you'd really love to do?

I haven't written my autobiography. I could just do it in pictures. I'm an amateur photographer. Maybe I'll even write a novel. I can tell all the things in the novel I could never tell in an autobiography. There are many places I'd like to see that I haven't really had time to see. I haven't been to Tasmania. I haven't been to the South Pole, and I haven't been to the North Pole. I want to see the polar bear migration before there are no polar bears. I want to see Glacier National Park before the glacier melts.

What would people be surprised to learn about you?

Oh, that I stop at 86th Street and 3rd Avenue to have my coconut milk and my hot dog. And I work really hard. I'll sweep the floor if it has to be swept.

See a video excerpt of the Martha Stewart interview at businessweek.com/go/09/martha

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