Martha Stewart Living well

Published: October 20, 1999
Gary Strauss | USA Today

AMERICA’S NEWEST BILLIONAIRE; One could almost hear the queen of gracious living utter ‘it’s a good thing’ after her company went public Tuesday and struck stock market gold

Martha Stewart, the queen of lifestyle advice, was crowned one of the world’s wealthiest women on Tuesday.

At least on paper.

Her huge stake in Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia is worth about $1.2 billion after Tuesday’s initial public stock offering. Priced at $18, the stock quickly soared to $52 before profit-taking cut it to $35 9/16.

Stewart was also the subject of Just Desserts, a scathing, unauthorized biography by Jerry Oppenheimer that became a best- seller in 1997. Oppenheimer portrayed Stewart as a control freak and quick-tempered sourpuss who could engage in vicious battles with neighbors and belittle family members, including ex-husband Andy Stewart, an attorney and publisher. The couple’s 29-year marriage ended in divorce in 1991.

“People either love her or they hate her. There’s no middle ground with Martha,” Oppenheimer says. Still, even he acknowledges Stewart’s business prowess. “Whatever her feelings are about me, I think I’ll become a Martha Stewart investor because I think she’s got one hell of a business. It’s going to be a good investment. I wish her all the luck.”

Many fans, especially women, laud her as a pioneer. “She is an excellent role model, and we need them because it gives women hope and desire to strive,” says Antoinette Allocca, founder and CEO of Essential Data, a national technical writing consulting firm.

Does she have the staying power?

Marketing experts such as Lebar and Liebmann say Stewart’s brand name can still be extended into lines such as foods and cosmetics. But others wonder whether Stewart has staying power or eventually could run into the same financial turbulence as other lone name celebrity brands such as J.Peterman, Donna Karan and Ralph Lauren.

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