Martha Stewart Gives an Informing Forum

A very candid look at the woman behind Martha, Inc.

The sold-out Inforum audience listened intently — it was a Good Thing that they had been told to put their cell phones on “stun.”

Martha Stewart started off her conversation with the sold-out crowd of members of Inforum, one of the largest professional organizations for women in the nation, and guests at the Renaissance Room of the Detroit Marriott with a recollection that she initially started coming to Detroit when she was negotiating with Kmart. She said that was one of many profitable associations she’s made over the years. She was like that, perfectly frank about being a self-made multimillionaire -“ and, oh by the way, a former felon -“ and at the same time offering words of hope for an economically challenged city and country.

“America is so great-¦ I think we will have a rebound and consumers will start buying cars and homes again and those little shoots of economic recovery will blossom,” she said near the end of her very candid, and carefully prepared remarks that were delivered at Inforum’s annual meeting on May 15, 2009. “Keep learning, keep thinking, keep encouraging -“ and pay a lot of attention to your families. When the economy improves you’ll want to be well-positioned to take advantage of whatever is offered.”

Martha and guest share memories of the days when their dads were in the Cavalry.

Taking questions at the end, which ranged from towel selection (make sure the cotton is the long-staple variety and take a washcloth home first, measure it and wash and dry it five times to make sure it doesn’t shrink, before you buy the towels) to advice to the young women from suburban Detroit’s Regina High School who were guests at the luncheon meeting. “You have a big obligation,” she told them. “Stay off Facebook -“ you can use it, sure -“ but don’t let it become the be-all and end-all of life. I think a lot of time is being wasted not only by young people, but adults as well. Reading is the best way to learn. And get enthusiastic about something. I know you will, you’re great girls.”

“Do you have a best friend?” a question card is read. “I had a best friend,” she replied, “and she testified against me at my trial. You’ll read about it my book,” she managed to complete her thought over the peals of audience laughter. “Now my best friend is my daughter Alexis.”

Each table at the Inforum meeting that featured Martha Stewart also featured cupcakes in Martha-colors, perhaps from her newest book: Martha Stewart Cupcakes.

What advice do you have for entrepreneurs who have failed? “Come up with another great idea, because entrepreneurs have more than one great idea inside them. But, if you start off with a really great idea and you suffer for some reason or other and that idea is still valid and other people tell you that it is, stick with it and rebuild.”

In addition to speaking, Martha was there to sell and autograph her Encyclopedia of Crafts. “It’s on the New York Times Best Seller list -“ can you believe it -“ an encyclopedia” and her book of cookies. Which cookie is her favorite? “The one on the cover.”

She then, along with many in the audience, adjourned to a nearby room neatly arranged with rope-lined aisles to accommodate the long line of fans waiting to speak with Martha and have her autograph their newly-purchased books (from a convenient Barnes and Noble-staffed mini-store located in the same room).

“Martha’s People” made sure that the purchasers used the cover of the book as a bookmark so that she could autograph it at just the right page. Except -“ it was the only faux pas in an otherwise perfectly planned event — it wasn’t the right page for the Encyclopedia because Martha had color-coordinated pens to match the page she wanted to sign -“ so her “People” had to readjust.

Signing books, an occasional wooden spoon or other domestic object -“ Martha took time with each guest and often posed with them for a friend to photograph. That took a lot of time, but people waited more or less patiently.

Martha signs a cookbook for Marriott Hotel Executive Chef Franz-Josef Zimmer.

Among those in line was a chef -“ a real one -“ Chef Franz-Josef Zimmer, executive chef of the Marriott. Why was he willing to stand in line to have Martha sign a cookbook? “Because I like her. I always have.”

Martha also engaged in personal conversations -“ saying how wonderful it was that she and a guest had their fathers’ cavalry boots to remind them of their dads, and remarking that she had to do some more research on the cavalry.

And, based on what she had to say earlier, you knew she would do just that.