Kathy Ireland: “Supermogul”

I just finished reading this article on Forbes.com about Kathy Ireland’s business empire. It’s interesting stuff. The bottom line is that she combined her name recognition with a talent for design and created a brand that has nothing to do with modeling and everything to do with middle-American motherhood. She plays to her strengths, preferring to act as chief designer rather than tackling the deeper business aspects–though she seems to understand it well enough. She never got much beyond a high school education, but that doesn’t slow her down. As I said, she plays to her strengths, and recognizes her weaknesses enough to compensate with good people.

She’s the sort of person “The 99%” should hate. Richer than Romney (She’s worth $350 million to Romney’s $250 million), and not all that interested in reinvesting her fortune (she buys jewelry instead), her company only employs 42 people and primarily makes its money through licensing to other companies that sell over $2 billion a year in products with her name on them. She makes a lot of money for all the wrong people. But I’ll bet she gets a pass.

And I’m fine with that, personally. I say good for her. She’s taken a small fortune and made a big one. She was smart enough to realize her good looks wouldn’t be bankable forever and set out trying to figure out what else she could do. It sounds like it took her awhile to discover what worked for her, and even then she took some time to “grow into it.” Ireland relied heavily on other people with previous experience in the business, at least at first, but increasingly took the reins as she learned the ropes. Once she got it, she really got it, though, and successfully sells everything from exercise videos and straight-t0-video movies to furnitue and windows.

Anyway, I encourage you to read this article. It’s an interesting read, and a decided contrast to many of the rags-to-riches-to-wreckage stories you often read about celebrities. Perhaps part of her success is that it doesn’t seem to be “about her.” Did anyone realize that she’s built a brand that’s bigger than Martha Stewart (besides Forbes, that is)? For someone whose empire is founded on name recognition, you’d think that name would be pushed more than it is. But in this case, it would seem the name is recognized just fine by those who trust it, and that’s all that’s necessary.

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