Tyra Banks: Fun, Fierce, and Financially Savvy

Feb-15-2012 by
Tyra Banks - Photo by Lynn Yu (HBS 2013)
Tyra Banks

Tyra Banks - Photo by Lynn Yu (HBS 2013)

How did you celebrate Valentine’s Day?  A romantic dinner with your true love? At a Tommy Doyle’s stoplight party, hoping to find true love?  For a select group of HBS students and faculty, V-Day was spent with one of America’s ultimate true loves: supermodel and media mogul Tyra Banks.  In a casual 90-minute conversation with Youngme Moon yesterday, Banks candidly and colorfully exposed a side of her that’s frequently hidden behind heaps of smize-ing and fierceness.

The question at the front of everyone’s minds was undoubtedly why Tyra Banks decided to come to HBS in the first place.  “There’s a difference between a career and a business,” Banks opined.  While she loves her career, she wants to turn her brand into a sustainable, legacy business. Accordingly, she looks to Walt Disney and Virgin’s Richard Branson as role models.  “I’m not looking to build my company based on fans,” she said.  Rather, she feels a responsibility to spread her message of empowerment, self-esteem, and beauty in a way that’s consistent with her ethos and, hopefully, favorable to her bottom line.  Sounds like Oprah, right?  “The comparisons are extremely flattering, impossible to live up to and inconsistent with my goals,” Banks insists.

Prior to enrolling in HBS’s Owner/President Management Program, Banks admits that her goals were “too audacious” and that business decisions often came from her gut.  After her first session of the program, she called an emergency whiteboard meeting for all of her Bankable Enterprises staff on the rooftop of Manhattan’s swanky Gramercy Hotel.  This, despite the fact that her Harvard professors had explicitly advised her to keep a two-week grace period post-HBS before making any drastic organizational changes.  Banks, however, was so “invigorated and energized” that she simply couldn’t wait.

Tyra Banks interviewed by Professor Youngme Moom

Tyra Banks interviewed by Professor Youngme Moon - - Photo by Lynn Yu (HBS 2013)

Now, at the completion of her HBS education, Banks understands that success is “not about being the biggest, but being the best.”  What does that mean for the model/TV host/producer/author/entrepreneur? Shifting her focus from scope to scale.  “Strategy is my strength, but I have too much diversification,” Banks admitted to the crowd.  Currently, she’s working with an executive coach to learn how to delegate rather than micromanage.  And despite having lived decades in the public eye, she’s still trying to toughen up.  “I wish I was hard,” Banks reveals.  “I have armor, but a strategic knife can still get in those creases.”

Perhaps that’s why Banks falls victim to the ultimate powerful woman dichotomy: balancing the need to please with the need to be serious and strong.  She admitted to the crowd that the “character” she concocted for herself on America’s Next Top Model is quite different from who she is in real life, but that she “would love to have her in the boardroom” in all her fierce glory.  In fact, the Tyra Banks who sat in Batten Hall speaking to fellow students presented herself more as the girl next door than the Victoria’s Secret bombshell.  Well, make that the really, really attractive girl next door.

As a soon-to-be alum, Banks couldn’t leave without dispensing a few words of wisdom for those wishing to emulate her successful career:

“It’s okay to be vulnerable.  Things don’t always have to be perfect.”

“You have a drive that the average person does not have.  I’ve just started to take care of myself, and you need to do that, too.”

“Don’t chase the money, even if you want to be a banker.  Chase the passion. Chase the dream.”

 

Tyra Banks checks out Sports Illustrated

Tyra Banks checks out Sports Illustrated - Photo by Lynn Yu (HBS 2013)

Tyra Trivia

  • Tyra affectionately refers to her modest Exec Ed housing as her “Barbie room.” Morris and Chase dwellers can surely relate.
  • Marketing professor Rohit Deshpande is currently writing a case about Tyra’s company, Bankable Enterprises.
  • Tyra’s least favorite management task is employee evaluations. “I’m too soft of a manager,” she reflects.
  • In casting her hit reality TV show, America’s Next Top Model, Tyra wants 30% of the contestants to have “non-debatable beauty” and 70% to be more unconventionally beautiful, like Cycle 6 winner Danielle, who has a gap between her front teeth.
  • One of Tyra’s favorite HBS cases is the Tylenol case about James Burke.
  • Tyra subscribes to Fast Company.
  • If you’re in need of inspiration, treat yourself to some pampering.  “My ideas come to me on the massage table,” she admits.  Us too, Tyra.  Us too…
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11 thoughts on “Tyra Banks: Fun, Fierce, and Financially Savvy

  1. Sharontina

    This is such an inspirational story. Aside from being a long time supporter of Tyra, I am truly inspired by her decision to seek the tools she needed to improve her business in the long-term. I am a business student as well in my junior year, and this story encourages me to keep going despite the difficulties of the program. Congrats Tyra and we all look forward to the great things you will bring us!

    ~Sharontina

    Reply
    1. Sajili

      I recently wahectd that show on you tube and I found it very offensive that women of color can feel proud about making their children believe that the hair they were born with was something so bad and horrible that they have to alter it to feel beautiful. My daughters and niece are natural and I am a proud natural woman of five years. How can we as women period tell our kids that they shouldn’t care about how other people feel about them when we ourselves are telling them they are ugly if they have nappy, natural, coily hair. It’s not right.

      Reply
  2. Sharanika

    I have always admired the occasional spritz of true character I caught of her on America’s Next Top model and when I first learned of her going to HBS, I felt so proud. She is really now one of the most influential people out there. I can’t wait to see what she’ll be doing next.

    Reply
  3. Bertrand

    This article has been indeed really inspirational. I’ve been following Tyra’s career right from the start when she landed in Paris as a high fashion model and I’ve been collecting her numerous magazines’ covers and editorial spreads and interviews but what really made me fall in love with this woman and the respect and admiration I’ve got out of those years towards her is her business drive. She is such an inspirational human being: so exciting to see her becoming this supermogul who succeeds at every single thing she does. There’s a strong character there, there’s hard work and a passion for living. I’m always rooting for her next move, congrats for being this modern day Renaissance woman Tyra, keep chasing your dreams girl ;)

    Reply
  4. charlene

    You achieve everything.What makes you successful is your passion,gut and personality…Girl you got it all.
    THANKS for inspiring us, to be better and to BELIEVE in our self. Whenever I want to give up…I always said to myself that Tyra said “don’t give up”. My friends said that I am achiever, but many people always say “You can’t do it”….But whenever I feel that they want me to stop dreaming, and to stop doing. MY PASSION becomes bigger..Haters makes me more stronger.

    Reply
  5. lilkunta

    Sigh. Great for Tyra. But her situation is NOT like the masses. Tyra you were a model since what 17? Then an actress, then an Ooprah correspondent, then your tv show & modelling reaity show. You made $ and have a support system so now of course you are able to do this executive 2 week a year program. The rest of us have to grad hd and pray for scholarships to get to ANY college, harvard isnt available to us.

    I hope you will reopen your TZONE foudnation/summer camp bc Im really disappointed you closed it.

    Reply
      1. Ki

        Work with what you got. Harvard is not the only place to get a great education. Use the resources you have and just because your access is limited doesn’t mean others can’t take full advantage to what’s possible for them.

        Reply