Yes, she lied to a prosecutor and refused the sensible plea bargain, and yes, she has a reputation as a nightmare manager. Still, give Martha Stewart some props: Agreeing to serve time without delay was a sacrifice. Sure, Stewart herself had the most to gain by stabilizing her company's fortunes. But her decision also served the best interests of employees, suppliers, business partners, and customers. Going to jail may have been a strategic retreat. It was also, in a very real sense, a selfless act.

The payoff? Stewart's company landed a top-notch CEO, ABC's Susan Lyne, just as the Kmart-Sears merger provided both a windfall for Stewart personally and the prospect of wider distribution for her home collection. Analysts, like those at Standard and Poor's, may think that her stock, which has tripled since the 63-year-old entrepreneur went to jail, is overvalued, but who would have thought we'd be debating that back on the day she was convicted?

And consider the irony: Critics once carped that the business was tied too closely to Stewart. The prison episode surely suggests that Stewart is on her way to achieving what any entrepreneur worth her salt hopes for, which is to build something enduring. And we can't wait for the Apprentice spinoff.

Jeffrey L. Seglin