By Joseph L. Garcia, Reporter

THIS reporter was trying to figure out what made Martha Stewart so special.

Sure, she built a billion-dollar empire and became the first self-made female American billionaire when her company went public in the late ’90s. Her fingers are in every pie: household linens, home decor, books, TV shows — name it, she has probably done it (even modeling for Chanel, back in her college days). But what Martha offered was more than that: it was an emotional core, a sense of stability. Martha served as an anchor to the ideal of a quiet home, an idea eroded by a world that sometimes moved too quickly.

When life wasn’t perfect (and it never is), Martha, with her upper-crust East Coast drawl that sometimes softened to a loving coo, was there. Martha’s show aired in the afternoons in Manila until 2004, and, after 2005, in the evenings, on the Lifestyle Network. Martha’s shows opened a window to a world of quiet solitude, where everything could be fixed and made lovely with the correct, tasteful choice: whether it was for dinner, or for the birdhouse. Martha showed, through the way she made and did things, that life could be better. She herself said, “Nobody has balance anymore. It’s a crazy upside-down world, and to find that balance is really difficult. You have to make a good life, and whichever way it ends up, it’s a good life.”

Martha Stewart is in town this week (she’s going shopping on Thursday) for the ANC Leadership Series, held at Sofitel on Tuesday. Previous guests of the ANC Leadership series include Virgin Group founder Richard Branson, and former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

Born on August 3, 1941, Martha Stewart received her education from Barnard College of Columbia University, graduating with a double major in history and art history. She began her career as a stockbroker, but later founded a catering company and made her first million in the 1970s. Through the parties she organized, she met people in the publishing industry, which led to her first book, Entertaining, in 1982. She has since written more than 90 books, and, in the ’90s, she began the Martha Stewart Living magazine, which expanded into Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia — the company we know today.

Martha Stewart’s homes, which she showed during her presentation, serve as a microcosm of her own empire. Her homes in the East Coast serve as her laboratories for her ideas, and reflect more than a little bit of the personality that created the empire. She pointed to her craft room, an attic with low ceilings and green desks. “Notice how organized the drawers are,” she said, showing a photograph of scissors arranged on trays within drawers. “I love organization and I love seeing this where they belong, so that you can find them when you leave them. You know what I mean?” she said. “I just don’t like messiness. It’s not about tidying up. It’s about being organized.”

“I like to take care of things, I like to make things pretty,” she said.

As we’ve mentioned, Martha has her finger in every pie — even the cannabis oil industry. She partnered in a TV show with rap star Snoop Dogg (who has made many references to marijuana in his work), and earlier this year, partnered with a Canadian company for a line of products that incorporate Cannabis oil. “Are we allowed to talk about cannabis in this audience?” she said, probably referencing the government’s brutal stance on illegal drugs. “I read all about it. I don’t even want to go there. I want to go home.”

“I have no cannabis on me, by the way,” she said, prompting laughs and cheers from the audience.

Dressed in a simple beige shirt dress accented with baroque pearls, she also said, “As an entrepreneur, you just can’t get too sloppy. You also have to have that appearance, no matter what. You always have to make sure that you look good.”

The sense of appearance of course also bleeds into her business, which encourages a beautiful way of life. “If you start making things that are ugly, people are not going to want them. They don’t want stuff in their home that’s ugly, and you don’t want them to have anything that’s ugly.”

While her company kicked off and went public in the ’90s and started an advocacy for elegant and fun living, Martha Stewart’s world would seemingly crumble in 2004 for a conviction in insider trading. She was incarcerated for months, and she references the episode during her talk. “Not everybody survives a debacle like I had to go through. That’s when people were being sent to jail for infractions that were not really infractions, if you want to put it that way. It was a very, very tough time. First of all, I had most fabulous company, and I had a very serious sense of self-worth. Being sure of yourself, and believing in what you do and who you are, really helps. Plus I had a supportive family around me.”

It’s interesting how Martha weaponized her femininity: she lived in a masculine world of bankers and brokers and lawyers. But Martha parlayed her skills at what many consider to be the most feminine of pursuits: lifestyle and domesticity, and built an empire from there — one that has bested and outperformed many others. “I think women should rule the world,” she said. Of course, there were some trade-offs: while responding “Nope” to a question if she had any regrets, she did say, “I think my marriage suffered terribly as a result. But I think I also had a very creepy husband.” The audience applauded.

“Living is such a vast subject. It’s limitless,” she said of her brand. “It was a big enough idea to make a business out of it.” While her business isn’t as big as Steve Jobs’s Apple, she says that “it’s as far-reaching.” Showing another photograph from her presentation, one of herself holding a basket of linens, she said, “Homekeeping isn’t about housekeeping, it’s not a chore. Homekeeping is an art form.” No less than Steven Spielberg agreed with her, she recalled in a story. “A home can change season to season, it can change year to year… but keeping it vital to your own interpretation of what a home should be is something we can all pay attention to.”