Five Essential Leadership Traits: The Story Of Martha Stewart From Kmart To Macy's

Posted on October 5, 2010

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It was not long ago that Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia (MSLO) seemed doomed to failure. Kmart, its largest outlet for licensed household products, was in Chapter 11 and closing hundreds of stores. Its magazine was being challenged by the new upstart competitor by rival Rosie O’Donnell. Major television stations were canceling their daily show and critics were saying the show wouldn’t finish the season. Their company leader was ordered to resign by the Securities and Exchange Commission. Yet most devastating, Martha was headed to jail.

With plunging sales, vanishing profits, and stock prices falling, few gave the domestic diva’s business much chance of survival.

Fast forward to 2007. No longer do we see a company on the brink of eradication. The revamped daily television program is getting such respectable ratings and advertisers that it has been renewed through 2008. A second show, specializing in food, is seen on PBS and a radio program has been added debuted last week. Her single magazine has grown to six specialty magazines, each among the top in their genres. In addition to the continuing Kmart product line, MSLO has agreements to expand its product line to upscale retailer Macy’s and craft-marketer Michael’s. New ventures include furniture and flowers, and even Martha Stewart housing developments.

Most important of all, this now-admired company’s revenues are up more than 50%.

The turnaround

Ben Franklin once said, “What happens is not as important as how you react to what happens.” Despite the bevy of unfortunate events, Stewart continually looked at the future. She saw the company as a thriving entity with tremendous growth and maintained a public persona equal to her vision of success. Never pouting. Always smiling. Martha looked to the distant future overlooking what she saw a temporary inconveniences.

Things began to turn around for Martha while in prison. She learned Susan Lyne, head of then-slumping Disney/ABC Entertainment, had been fired by the ABC brass. Their chief complaint about her was that she had pinned the recovery of the network on two yet-to-be aired shows for which they had little hope: “Lost” and “Desperate Housewives”.

During a visit to Martha in her West Virginia prison, the two would immediately become friends. Martha admired Lyne’s 25 year work history and decided she was the right person to lead the company into the future. Lyne took over as MSLO president and soon would gain incredible recognition: Advertising Age would name her “Executive of the Year” and The Wall Street Journal would call her the “top woman to watch in corporate America.”

Five Essentials of Leadership

Top business leaders like Martha Stewart are known for five essential qualities:

1. Pursue your purpose with passion. Anyone that knows Martha knows MSLO is the very purpose of her life. No two breathes are taken without thoughts of her business.

2. Practice solid values. Not every aspect of a great leader is based on a solid value, however all great leaders have one or more solid values upon which they focus. For Martha, her company is all about quality products for an improved lifestyle at great value. No one can deny these attributes drive her actions.

3. Lead with your heart as well as your head. The rumors about Martha are right. For the most part, she sees people as a commodity. Never the less she demonstrates a heart for helping those people working for her or with her to be successful. Yet it is more of a team success than an individual success.

4. Established connected relationships. Her relationship with Kmart symbolizes her view of partnership. When Kmart filed for bankruptcy, Martha could easily have gone to another retailer with her products. She remained loyal and that loyalty is created with helping Kmart emerge from Chapter 11.

5. Demonstrate self-discipline. Martha’s self-discipline is demonstrated by her unwavering focus on her products and consumer demand. Little time is taken by Stewart for activities not somehow relating to her MSLO business.

The success of MSLO provides a lesson for all business professionals. Whether leading a Fortune 500 company or single employee LLC or plotting out individual or departmental growth, the five essentials of leadership provides a roadmap for the lifestyle and attitude leading to success.

*”Five Essentials of Leadership” taken from Leadership in a Contemporary World, ©MaxImpact, http://www.getmaximpact.com. (Used with permission).

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Rick Weaver is an accomplished business executive with a wealth of experience in retail, market analysis, supply chain enhancement, project management, team building, and process improvement.

Rick career began in retailing as a stockclerk, eventually becoming the Director of Vendor Development at Kmart Corporation during it’s heyday. In this position he worked with hundreds of Kmart’s suppliers to improve mutual processes, procedures, and profits.

As a consultant, Rick has worked with companies in various industries to develop leadership and business strategies.

As an entrepreneur, Rick has founded or co-founded six successful organizations, including non-profit and for profit.

Now in his role as president of MaxImpact, Rick uses his vast experience helping individuals connect to their dreams and teams connect to a common vision.

Rick’s presentation style of blending humor, real life examples, and easy to implement ideas has made him a popular speaker at seminars, workshops, and conferences in in 43 states, Canada, and Puerto Rico.

(c) Max Impact Corporation

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