Just recently, there was a public outcry from NPR listeners. Was it about racial inequality? Gay marriage? The Confederate flag? No. It was about Kim Kardashian. Apparently, she appeared on a game show and some listeners were furious. "Had I heard your Saturday show before I made my gift, I wouldn't have donated," one listener wrote to the NPR ombudsman. "The Kardashians represent much of what is wrong with America today--and I listen to NPR to get AWAY from Kardashian-like garbage."
He's wrong about Kim Kardashian. And if you agree with him then you're wrong too. The Kardashians, particularly Kim, represent what's right with America. Kim Kardashian is a bona fide, true, and real entrepreneur. Her many businesses have created jobs, opportunities, wealth, and entertainment for millions of people. Her professional activities have raised awareness for issues ranging from female entrepreneurism to substance abuse to gender identity. She is a smart businesswoman that we can all learn from. And let me offer a few reasons why.
1. Kardashian was running businesses since an early age and well before Keeping Up With the Kardashians. Before becoming famous, she worked at her father's music-marketing firm, then at a clothing store for four years. She ran her own successful eBay business, buying and selling designer clothing, and another successful closet-organizing business, catering to both celebrities and non-celebrities. Of course, she came from a wealthy family (her father was a well-known L.A. lawyer who famously represented O.J. Simpson in his murder trial). But her father, who helped finance her earliest entrepreneurial activities, insisted on being paid back with interest. "Our dad used to say, 'Nothing in life is for free, you girls aren't going to get just whatever you want,'" according to Kim and her sisters in their autobiography. Their parents made it "very clear" that they would be totally cut off after they finished school. "So we all learned early on if you want money, you have to earn it." And earn it she did.
2. Like every successful entrepreneur, she's not afraid to take risks--and lumps. Kim Kardashian earned $28 million last year and was considered one of Time's most influential people in 2014. Her mobile app generates hundreds of millions of dollars. She has a chain of stores and earns millions from endorsements. And here's the thing: All of this essentially came from a sex tape! Once some level of minor celebrity status was achieved, Kardashian, like any smart entrepreneur, took risk after risk. She invented and then reinvented her image. She revealed her most private details on a reality TV show and continues to endure the withering abuse from many (like that angry NPR listener) who detest her kind of entrepreneurism. She is as brave as every business owner who makes a living legally selling guns, sex, fatty foods, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, and law services. Who are we to judge what someone does for a living? The world's greatest entrepreneurs, inventors, and artists have also been the target of similar criticisms and abuse from society, only to overcome that and succeed with their missions. That's what Kim Kardashian is doing.
3. She is a marketing and branding expert. She gets flooded with deals and offers every week but only chooses those that will make the best use of her name. She appears at fashion shows, is photographed at celebrity parties, and then sits down to talk business and technology with the likes of Kara Swisher at serious tech conferences. She has turned both her marriages and her pregnancies into national media events. She and her sisters wear the latest fashions, the nicest jewelry, and vacation at the most fantastic spots because it tells her audience, her customers, and her fans that they can be just like her. Just keep watching her show and buying her products. Everything Kim Kardashian does is about keeping her and her family relevant and her brand fresh and innovative. What entrepreneur doesn't aim to do the same?
4. She runs a successful family business. In a world where many of my family-run business clients are struggling to get along with each other, Kim has found a way of getting her entire, extended family to benefit from the success that she created. This empire has enabled her mother, sisters, and stepfamily members to also earn millions doing everything from appearing at events to launching their own modeling careers. Through her, we've learned that we're not the only ones who argue with our siblings, struggle with financial challenges, and endure all those typical family business problems. We've seen her share her wealth and encourage others in her family to succeed. But don't forget...like any good senior manager, Kim is always there, keeping a wary eye out to make sure that whatever her family members are doing is contributing in some way to the Kardashian brand and fortune.
5. Finally, she's made her success more than just about money. Great entrepreneurs like Kardashian are of course focused on making money. But then it goes beyond that. On one episode of KUPWTK (and yes, I watch the show--it's awesome and impossible to turn off the TV once it starts), a crying, heavyset woman came backstage at an event to thank Kim's beautiful but also heavyset sister Khloe for being an inspiration to women like her. We all know that Kim is proud of her larger-than-life derriere. So through those famous photo shoots and magazine covers she is telling women to be proud of theirs too. Through their business activities, Kim and her sisters have given women more reasons to be confident about themselves. And their show has given others in their family, particularly their stepdad, the opportunity to raise awareness about issues like gender equality. This all began and continues with Kim.
So to that NPR listener, and anyone else who faults Kim Kardashian as "what's wrong with America," I say you're the one who's wrong. This is a smart woman and a savvy entrepreneur. To me, a business owner, she's everything that's right about America.