Naandika covers startups, tech, corporate and human interest stories. She holds a postgraduate degree from Indian Institute of Journalism and New Media (IIJNM, Bangalore), with specialisation in Business and Investigative journalism. Apart from writing for the magazine, Naandika also handles social media, events and the Blogs section on forbesindia.com. Outside of work, you will find her traveling and exploring new places, volunteering for NGOs, rescuing animals, and mostly spending time around them.
Dipali Goenka, CEO and managing director of Welspun Living and Martha Stewart, founder of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia. Image: Mexy Xavier
American businesswoman and culinary icon Martha Stewart was in India recently to take a tour of Welspun’s manufacturing facility in Gujarat’s Anjar. The Indian home textiles company has been producing Martha Stewart Living-branded products for beds and baths since 2019.
Popularly known as the queen of the domestic arts, 82-year-old Stewart is the founder of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, a media organisation that she built from scratch. Her 70-year-old career history includes being a model, institutional stockbroker, starting her empire through a catering business, publishing 99 successful cookbooks, and more. Stewart caught up with Forbes India for a candid chat, along with Dipali Goenka, CEO and managing director of Welspun Living, to talk about branching out manufacturing away from China, takeaways from the tough times [when she was convicted on felony charges], her take on the hybrid work model, and more. Edited excerpts:
Q. Tell us about your association with Welspun, and why did you choose them as your partner?
Martha: We’ve been working together for five years now. And this is my first visit to Welspun’s factory in Gujarat’s Anjar. It was exciting to see the production of all the sheets and towels that are being created on a daily basis in a modern and nice working environment. Welspun in the United States is the largest supplier of textiles for beds and baths, and it was just a natural fit for us. Additionally, with the world in its present state, a stable economy and a stable state like India are nice places to be working.
Q. Is this your attempt to diversify manufacturing away from China?
Martha: Well, we have to manufacture where it is efficient, where the supply chain is good, and where politics does not play a big part. So, it's important for us to have manufacturing partners like Welspun.
Q. You've been a jack of all trades all your life. How did you kept transitioning in your seven-decade-old career?
Martha: Well, the life of an entrepreneur is complicated. I turned a book-writing career into my first big contract with Kmart Corporation, which at the time was the largest retailer in the US. We built a billion-dollar business in sheets and towels in a short period while we were growing our magazine. And then we started to do other things. We started a television show concurrent with the publication of the magazine that was called Synergy, which was to some people a dirty word in the 90s. They couldn't understand how you could do TV on the same subject that you could do a magazine, which was very popular. The magazine had about 2.3 million subscribers and up to about 20 million readers at the time. So it was exciting. And television did not cannibalise our printed world at all. The internet did, which came after I started all this work. The digital world is not foreign to us at all. Google is just celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. And here, Martha Stewart Living is over 40 years old. We're extremely modern in the way we do things. So working with a company like Welspun… they are modern in their production and manufacturing. I like forward-thinking companies and forward-thinking people.
Q. You hit a rough patch in the early 2000s. How did you make a comeback and rebuild the entire empire again?
Martha: Well, our empire was always there, and it didn't suffer. People believed in the brand; they believed in the wonderful products that we were creating. We did not stop publication; we did not stop manufacturing products. We continued. And for me, it was a sort of a glitch in a good life. A glitch. And I do not look back on it with anything but just being pissed off. If you know what that means!
Q. Dipali, you also had your share of tough experiences, how did you come out of those?
Goenka: We continue to learn and evolve. Our organisation today has the best governance. If I look at our ESG [environmental, social, and governance], it's in the top five percentiles in the world for textile industries. We are at 59 for the DJSI [Dow Jones Sustainability Indices] rating. I think nobody has it. So it's made our organisation more resilient. So definitely, there are a lot of learning experiences. We stumble, but then we learn and make the most of it.
Q. In one of your recent interviews, you said hybrid work wouldn't really last. It is not something that is here to stay. But post-pandemic, don't you think a lot of people have become comfortable working from both the office and home?
Martha: I am the head of a productive and creative company. It is hard to be creative over Zoom. I like Zoom; it got us through the pandemic. But now it is time for the creative teams to gather on a daily basis to be creative and productive. And I'm an outspoken critic of the hybrid work week, yes. I don't know if we're ever going to get back to the good five-day work week. I really liked that system. It worked very well for us. And three days makes it really difficult. And where is that art director when you need him? He's out walking his dog or something. Again, it's very hard in a creative atmosphere. And our most creative people are at their desks. Yes, we have that nice work ethic.
Goenka: And I second what Martha is saying… I think we have to get everybody back to work because it's important. There's a balance that we need to maintain. There's so much that you can do when you meet in person, and you can be creative.
Q. Welspun recently came out with its quarterly results, and it looks better than the previous ones. Going forward, what's the focus going to be on?
Goenka: Quarter two was interesting because we prepared for the holiday season in the US. Hence, the volumes were completely increased. Having said that, our emerging businesses contributed over 30 percent to our topline here, and that's continuing to grow. So that includes our flooring businesses, our B2C businesses like India, and advanced textiles as well. And looking at the market scenario today, I always say that America always surprises us. America is a resilient economy, and it consumes around 34 percent of the world's consumption of home textiles. And we see that still happening. But if I look at the next round of the year, we will be cautiously optimistic. The first quarter was a little slow because discretionary spending went a little slow. But now, with the seasons coming in right around the corner, we have seen growth and a CAGR of over 20 to 25 percent.