However, she married early. Still, that did not keep her from earning a degree. After college, Martha became a stockbroker; she could no longer be a model because of her pregnancy. She soon took the world of stocks by storm. Martha’s beauty and intellect drew the attention of men around her. Even her boss saw her potential to succeed.
Martha was forced to leave Wall Street after the stock market started declining. By the time she left, Martha and her husband had bought a six-acre land in Connecticut. With a home badly in need of repair, Martha used her keen eye for elegance and turned it into one fabulous abode.
She preoccupied herself with tending animals to help augment their earnings. When she finally completed her house makeover, she went back to being an employee. For a time, she managed a gourmet food store in Westport. Work was Martha’s therapy and her favorite pastime. After realizing that she was quite good at organizing parties, she offered catering services. No one has ever done so well in catering than Martha. She reinvented the catering business and did it to a T.
She always strove for perfection, and that made her job excellent. It did not take long before her skill at entertaining people and turning plain-looking items into pretty things were noticed. She was offered to author a book, which she gladly accepted. From a book author, she became a TV host. Then she started her magazine, the Martha Stewart Living. Work made Martha more alive and fulfilled. By the time she was able to build her empire, people who knew her were not surprised.
Her time of testing came when she was questioned about selling her stocks. After denying allegations, she was convicted on nine counts of charges including securities fraud and obstruction of justice. She spent five months in federal prison and went through another five months of monitoring. That was enough to discredit her and make her life miserable. But Martha Stewart’s journey to success was not easy and she could not let go of what she had achieved just like that.
Taking another chance at running a business, she went back to work and rebuilt not only her reputation but also her empire. Not everyone can do what she has done. She did not let failure come between her and the future that she deserves because it took a lifetime of hard work just to get to where she was before the stock scandal.
Martha Stewart got to where she is now because she made extraordinary things out of the ordinary. Her early life did not cut out success for her but she refused to be typecast and she dreamt, did her best, succeeded, failed, got back on her feet, did her best, and succeeded again. What makes Martha special and worth being called extraordinary is how she does her best in every journey she embarks on. Her unyielding spirit, her inexhaustible drive, her unquelled passion, make up Martha.
Perhaps, we should also look at the kind of life she had before her success to fully understand how she became a perfectionist. Was she led to believe that unless she was perfect, she was not good enough? Is she afraid to go back to the state of poverty she experienced? Is it the fear of losing everything that toughened her up?
Martha’s Life in New Jersey
Martha came from a family of hard workers. Her father, Eddie Kostyra, was a teacher turned pharmaceutical salesman who always found something to do around the house. Her mother Martha, on the other hand, was a traditional homemaker. Martha Helen Kostyra was the couple’s second child. She was born on 3 August 1941. According to her mother, Martha was quite a big baby, weighing nine pounds and one ounce. She’s got a golden mane and an adorable smile.
Martha’s birth was soon followed by the birth of four more siblings. Since her father’s earnings as a high school teacher was not enough to support his growing family, the Kostyras moved from Jersey City to the suburbs of New Jersey. Martha was about four years old when they transferred to Elm Place. Around that time, the Second World War was nearing its end. Finally resuming their normal lives, Eddie saw an opportunity in the pharmaceutical industry. He left his teaching job and instead became a sales representative. He was quite good at it and made a decent income, which was just enough to support a wife and six kids.
A Daddy’s Girl
Eddie hated being idle. When he was not tinkering with his tools, he would be at the garden planting something. Martha loved her dad’s enthusiasm. Since there were no distractions yet during her time as a child, she and her siblings found it entertaining to look on while their dad repaired a broken faucet or did some pipework. Martha in particular wanted to assist Eddie and she would linger while her father worked in the garden.
Seeing her daughter’s interest in gardening, Eddie taught Martha a lot of things about vegetables and fruits. She was very eager to learn and was much more interested to listen to her father’s plumbing lecture than her siblings.
Learning House Chores from Mom
Her mother Martha taught the young Martha how to do house chores. Like any traditional homemaker, Martha was very particular about her house rules. There was a schedule for everything. Being the eldest daughter, the young Martha had to learn how to iron, wash clothes, clean the house, and prepare meals at a very young age. Her mentor was her mother and she was one strict teacher.
She pushed Martha to get it right the first time every time she taught her something new. Always seeking her parents’ approval, Martha did not resent the discipline. She welcomed it and listened eagerly. That attitude endeared her to both Eddie and Martha who saw her perseverance as her strongest trait. They nurtured it by pushing Martha to do her best in everything she did.
When she started school, her parents were not surprised to see her report card littered with straight As. Her teachers liked Martha’s competitive attitude and they always urged her on. Martha and Eddie could not be more proud of their daughter. She was always working for the win. Failing was not an option.
Martha Babysits Yankees’ Kids
In order to earn her own money, Martha babysat at 10 years old. She took care of New York Yankees’ Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, and Gil McDougald’s children. Whenever one of the children she took care of would celebrate their birthdays, she helped facilitate the event.
At 12 years old, Martha began noticing how their life was different from their more affluent neighbors. It dawned on her that not everyone was working as hard as they did. That sparked Martha’s desire to get out of Elm Street. Although Eddie provided their needs, the Kostyra’s big family kept them from living a prosperous life. They only had enough for their everyday needs. That made Martha different from her well-to-do classmates. She was ahead of her time, so from a very young age she knew what she wanted—and that was to succeed.
Beauty and Brains
During high school, her strong and competitive personality became more apparent. She joined all clubs and organizations there was at Nutley High School. Martha, being an exceptional student, was a bombshell. Beautiful and brainy, Martha was one of the top students in her class. She was also one of the first females to have taken advanced Mathematics at school.
But Martha had a rather limited social life. She was always preoccupied with her responsibilities at home and her studies. Although she was more than capable of going to a nice and prestigious university, she was realistic enough to know that she had to work on getting a degree by either securing a job or getting a scholarship. Depending on Martha and Eddie was not possible since her parents still have four children to support and send to school.
Becoming a Model
She turned to babysitting in order to save money for her education. Fifty cents an hour was not much, so she sold hotdogs at football games to increase her income. That was her earliest entrepreneurial experience.
In 1958, Eddie heard about the girl who lived across their street. According to their neighbors, she made money by modeling clothes. He spoke to his daughter about it, suggesting that she too could be a model. Seeing it as an opportunity to help her get to college, Martha readily agreed to prepare a portfolio with Eddie’s help. Soon, Martha was hired to do some product endorsements in New York.
Thrilled at the prospect of earning 15 dollars a week, Martha begun her modeling career at the age of 17. After a year of modeling, she appeared on Lifebuoy’s rarely shown television commercial. Her busy schedule made it even more impossible for her to have a semblance of social life.
She did not go out on dates and rarely went out with friends. She was busy with her modeling career and was intent on saving money for college and helping her mom with their expenses at home.
Martha initially had her eyes on Stanford University in New York. However, after carefully weighing her options, she made up her mind and opted to go to Barnard College. Barnard was not a bad choice at all since it was considered one of the top women colleges in the United States. A partial scholarship at Barnard and her modeling career made college possible for the young New Jersey girl.
Martha was 18 when she enrolled in Barnard. Chemistry was her first major. It did not prove to be interesting enough for her, so she shifted to a course in the Arts. She took Architectural History then. Surrounded by rich and worldly schoolmates, Martha did not show any hint of insecurity. Instead, she focused on her studies and career.
Once a week, she did modeling and so she was far busier than her classmates who had nothing to worry about but their studies. In 1961, Martha read about Glamour’s search for the 10 Best-Dressed College Girls. Her competitive self kicked in and she put together an impressive portfolio to send to Glamour. The winners were decided after a month and Martha took home the bacon.
Marrying Andrew Stewart and Becoming a Housewife
It was around that time when Martha met Andrew Stewart, a 23 year-old law student at Yale University. Andrew or Andy was the kind of man any woman would be proud to introduce to her parents. Martha felt that way. She was so in-love with Andy that she decided to marry him before the year 1961 ended.
Following her marriage, Martha dropped out of college. To say that her classmates were shocked would be an understatement. They had always looked up to her and believed that she would go far. Besides, she was not the outgoing type to begin with. But the most shocking news of all was her decision to leave college altogether in order to live with her husband in New York.
Martha became a housewife during the entire period that Andy was in law school. Finally, in 1963, Andy completed his studies and was able to secure a job at a New York City law firm. Martha promptly went back to school and completed her degree in Architectural and European History.
Trying Julia Child Recipes
While in college, Martha developed a keen interest in cooking. She tried every Julia Child recipe she could lay her hands on. Martha did not cook ordinary dishes but gourmet ones. After her graduation from Barnard, Martha went back to modeling in order to help with the expenses at home. Her pregnancy was unexpected.
Her modeling career was put on hold when she became a mother to Alexis Gilbert Stewart in September 1965. Lexie became her priority for the next three years. When Lexie was old enough to be left to a nanny’s care, Martha was advised by Andy’s father to join Wall Street.
Joining Wall Street
At 27 years old, Martha again studied to become a broker. She reviewed and took the exams. Her boss Andrew Monness saw in her the potential to reach the peak of success because of her attitude towards work. Wall Street that time was considered a men’s turf. Martha was one of the only three female stock brokers.
At first, they saw Martha as an attractive lady. But she proved to be more than that. Martha became one of the top brokers in Wall Street, New York. In fact, she was earning quite a lot of money. That career, however, was relatively short-lived because the stock market soon began to weaken.
The couple decided that it was time to leave the city. They used the money they were able to save to buy a six-acre property in Connecticut which included an 1805 farmhouse on Turkey Hill Road. Now back as a homemaker, Martha was faced with the daunting task of renovating her home.
She did more than renovate it. Martha turned the antique house into a fabulous home. Aside from running her house, Martha also helped her husband tend chickens at their backyard. Her farmhouse, motherhood, and broker job kept her busy for three years. When she was 32 years old, Martha left her Wall Street career to focus on homemaking.
Soon, their farmhouse became a legitimate farm and Martha again found herself without having enough to do. Andy at the time was making a name in the publishing industry, having been elected president of Harry N. Abrams, Inc.
Using Her Recipes to Start a Catering Business
Martha’s gourmet cooking qualified her to run a gourmet store at Westport called Market Basket. When the business began growing, disagreements among the management ensued, prompting Martha to leave and run her own business.
She advertised herself as a caterer and was soon hired to facilitate a wedding. Along with Norma Collier, one of her model colleagues and another friend, they started “Uncatered Affair.” The first assignment they had was a success and “Uncatered Affair” soon earned positive feedback from customers. As promising as it was, Martha’s eye for perfection was too much for Norma and her other friend to handle. The partnership was soon severed and Martha was left to run it by herself.
It was a minor setback for Martha who kept going. When her husband hired her services to host the launching of their latest book, “Faeries,” Martha enthralled everyone with her spectacular food presentations and impeccable hosting artistry. So impressed was Alan Mirkin, a publisher, that he offered her an impromptu book deal. Although Martha was thrilled, she made her rules clear to Alan, saying that the book should clearly be hers and that she would do it the way she wants.
Unfortunately, Eddie’s subsequent heart attack took his life and stalled Martha’s book plans. Her father’s death became Martha’s inspiration when she wrote her first book, “Entertaining” in 1982. A collaboration with Elizabeth Hawes, “Entertaining” performed well in the market. Four years later, Martha had written numerous books, earning her the titles ‘Lifestyle Expert’, ‘Cookbook Author’, and ‘Successful Caterer.’
Soon she thought that it was about time to start a career on TV hosting. CBS was lucky to be the first to offer her a hosting job. She became the host of “Holiday Entertaining” and debuted on national television with a turkey recipe and tips on how to make it pretty.
Her Marriage Falls Apart while “Weddings” Sales Pick Up
Her elegant taste soon became every American woman’s peg in homemaking. Her catering business also flourished into a cottage industry. More books followed and her time for Andy and Lexie became more and more restricted. Four hours of sleep did not leave her sufficient time for her family. Her Kmart endorsements made her even more popular and turned her into a celebrity. She was just beginning her showbiz career at 46 years old.
Ironically, as her book “Weddings” was selling quite well at 200,000 copies nationwide, Andy asked for a divorce. He felt disregarded. The only way Martha would be able to focus on her career was to get rid of distractions. At 49 years old, Martha was successful and divorced. Life went on for Martha and she had more time for social life. One of the people who became her closest friends was Samuel Waksal or “Sam” who once dated her daughter Lexie. Martha invested in Sam’s biotechnological company by buying some of its stocks.
Appearing on a TV Show
Shaken by her failed marriage, Martha used work as therapy. In 1990, Martha felt she was ready to start a magazine. So she sold the idea of her magazine to different publishers, but nobody wanted it. Warner was the lone company who thought of giving her a chance, hence Time Publishing Ventures signed her a deal to start “Martha Stewart Living.” Twelve years in circulation was enough proof that her magazine was doing really well. As a matter of fact, it reached two million copies per issue in 1992.
The following year, Martha thought of starting her own syndicated show. Because of its popularity, the “Martha Stewart Show” was expanded to a full hour and shown daily including weekends.
The Birth of the Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia and Her Incarceration
Four years later, in 1997, an empire was built. With Sharon Patrick, Martha founded the Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia. She bought Martha Stewart Living magazine and included it in her products. Soon, Martha Stewart merchandize was everywhere. After only two years, Martha offered her company to the public, making her a billionaire. Her name had become a global brand, and a well-respected one at that.
She was onboard her private jet on 27 December 2001 when news about Sam’s latest product Erbitux reached her. They were tipped by someone from Food and Drugs that Erbitux, a cancer medicine, would be rejected. This caused Sam to sell his company’s stocks to avoid losses.
Martha called her company to do the same and she avoided around 40,000 dollars of loss because of the sales she made. But it caused her triple the amount she saved when the FBI alleged her of lying to them about the sales of stocks by denying that the reason she sold was because of the impending Erbitux rejection. She did not plead guilty.
The media picked the story up and sensationalized it. She was convicted on nine counts of charges and was sent to serve five months of incarceration at Federal Prison Camp, Alderson in West Virginia. Away from her business and family, Martha had no one to hold on to but herself.
How she got through her time in federal prison was something that impressed even those who hated her. After five months of serving time and another five months of close monitoring, Martha was back at the helm of the Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia.
She paid an expensive price for the crime she was accused of committing but it gave her time to think things over and assess her life. It was amazing how she was able to go through all that without crying.
The manner by which Martha runs her business may not be easy for the people around her, but she is even harder on herself. In her many interviews, Martha always tells the world that she is not perfect. What makes her different from many of us is her love for what she does, her “uncompromising” attitude towards results. She wants to do everything as right as possible the first time.
We may not approve of her means but they work. And for Martha, everything that works deserves consideration. Martha was aware of her imperfection, however, that does not keep her from doing everything she could to project a life that is ideal for her and her plethora of followers.
Organisations and Campaigns Supported
- Aid Still Required
- American Humane Association
- Dogs Deserve Better
- Five & Alive
- Friends of the High Line
- Heifer International
- Make-A-Wish Foundation
- Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia
- Martha Stewart Living magazine
- Parkinson Society Maritime Region
- Made in America
- Population Services International
- Robin Hood
- St. Jude Children's Research Hospital
- FLOR, Inc.
- E & J Gallo Winery
- Farm Sanctuary
- 1961: Won Glamour's 10 Best-Dressed College Girls contest
- 1982: Published her first book, “Entertaining”
- 1996: Named one of "America's 25 Most Influential People" by TIME magazine
- 1996: Recipient of the Matrix Award
- 1996: Named "Publishing Executive of the Year" by Adweek in March
- 1997: Founded the Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia
- 1998: Martha Stewart Living Television received the James Beard Foundation Award for the Best National Cooking Segment
- 1998: Named one of the "50 Most Powerful Women" by Fortune magazine
- 1998: The American Marketing Association awarded her the Edison Achievement Award
- 1998: Inducted into the National Sales & Marketing Hall of Fame
- 1998: Received the HFN 1998 CEO Summit Award
- 1999: Became the first self-made woman in the US
- 1999: Martha Stewart Everyday products was awarded top Lifestyle/Designer
- 1999: Named one of "New York's 100 Most Influential Women in Business" by Crain's New York Business
- 1999: Named one of the "50 Most Powerful Women" by Fortune magazine
- 2000: Named one of the "50 Most Powerful Women" by Fortune magazine
- 2000: Included in Vanity Fair's New Establishment list of the top 50 leaders of the Information Age
- 2000: Included in the "Forbes 400" list
- 2001: Included in the "Forbes 400" list
- 2001: Named one of the "50 Most Powerful Women" by Fortune magazine
- 2001: Awarded the Iphigene Ochs Sulzberger Award from Barnard College
- 2002: Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, Inc. received the Art Director's Club's Vision Award
- 2002: Received Award of Merit from The American Institute of Floral Designers
- 2003: Martha Stewart Living Television received the James Beard Foundation Award for the Best National Cooking Segment
- 2003: Inducted into the Nutley, New Jersey Hall of Fame
- 2005: Included in the 100 most influential men and women of the year list of TIME magazine
- 2005: Included in the "Forbes 400" list
- 2005: Martha Stewart Living Television received the James Beard Foundation Award for the Best National Cooking Segment
- 2005: Named one of the "50 Most Powerful Women" by Fortune magazine
- 2005: Included in Vanity Fair's New Establishment list of the top 50 leaders of the Information Age
- 2006: Adweek named her team Executive Team of the Year
- 2006: Her show topped the Brand Blazers List
- 2007: Her show was included in the "Hot List" of Adweek
- 2007: The 2007 Food Network South Beach Wine & Food Festival awarded her a Lifetime Achievement Award
- 2007: Recipient of the Franklin Award from the Printing Industries Alliance
- 2008: Recipient of the Aenna Burda Award for Creative Leadership
- 2009: Received the ASPCA Presidential Service Award
- 2009: Inducted into the ASME Magazine Editors' Hall of Fame
- 2010: Honored at Chefs & Champagne
- 2010 and 2011: Awarded by the American Women in Radio and Television the Gracie Award for Individual Achievement
- 2010: Media Vanguard Awards awarded her a Lifetime Achievement Award
- 2011: Awarded the American Humane Association's National Humanitarian Medal
- 2011: Inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame
- Earned 18 Daytime Emmy Awards for the Martha Stewart Living television show
- Her television show received 60 Emmy nominations in ten seasons