Case Detail

Case Summary

Corporate Governance at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia: Not "A Good Thing"

Case Number: 5-413-761, Year Published: 2014

HBS Number: KEL776

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Key Concepts

Board of Directors, Compensation, Corporate Governance, Decision Making, Ethics, General Management, Leadership, Sarbanes-Oxley Act, Succession Planning, Turnaround


The case opens with Martha Stewart’s 2005 release from prison following her conviction for obstructing an insider-trading investigation of her 2001 sale of personal stock. The scandal dealt a crippling blow to the powerful Martha Stewart brand and drove results at her namesake company, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia (MSO), deep into the red. But as owner of more than 90 percent of MSO’s voting shares, Stewart continued to control the company throughout the scandal.

The company faced significant external challenges, including changing consumer preferences and mounting competition in all of its markets. Ad rates were under pressure as advertisers began fragmenting spending across multiple platforms, including the Internet and social media, where MSO was weak. New competitors were luring readers from MSO’s flagship publication, Martha Stewart Living. And in its second biggest business, merchandising, retailing juggernauts such as Walmart and Target were crushing MSO’s most important sales channel, Kmart. Internal challenges loomed even larger, with numerous failures of governance while the company attempted a turnaround.

This case can be used to teach either corporate governance or turnarounds.

Learning Objectives

Students will learn:

  • How control of shareholder voting rights by a founding executive can undermine corporate governance
  • The importance of independent directors and board committees
  • How company bylaws affect corporate governance
  • How to recognize and respond to early signs of stagnation
  • How to avoid management actions that can make a crisis worse
  • How weaknesses in executive leadership can push a company into crisis and foster a culture that actively prevents strategic revitalization

Number of Pages: 23

Extended Case Information

Teaching Areas: Management

Teaching Note Available: Yes

Geographic: United States

Industry: Lifestyle, Retail, Media, Publishing

Organization Name: Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia

Decision Maker Position: Founder

Decision Maker Gender: Female

Year of Case: 2012