The great jazz vocalist Billie Holiday used to quip, “I’m always making a comeback, but nobody ever tells me where I’ve been.” Today celebrities have a tougher time coming back. That’s especially true when they’re rebounding from scuffles with the law. People may forget, but the Internet has one heck of a memory. Blemishes are forever. Or are they? Two mega-celebrities have shaken up the rules.
Michael Milken, the king of junk bonds, and Martha Stewart, the queen of julienned beans, have crafted earthshaking turnarounds. You may never expect to be sent up the river. Still, there’s plenty to learn from how these two tackled adversity. Both have proven to be masters of selling their new identities to a skeptical and often cynical public.
Rudy Giuliani—then U.S. Attorney in New York—prosecuted Milken on a slew of securities-related violations. Milken pleaded guilty and was sentenced to prison for 10 years but was released after 22 months. He was ordered to pay $600 million in settlements and fines.
After prison, the real lightning hit. Within weeks of being released, Milken was diagnosed with prostate cancer. He underwent treatments and radically changed his lifestyle. He beat the disease, but Milken didn’t stop there.
Mike Milken reorganized the war on cancer. He founded the Prostate Cancer Foundation. It’s the world’s biggest source of prostate cancer research funding. His management savvy at the helm of this foundation has accelerated the pace of prostate cancer research. Experts say he’s a force in cutting cancer fatalities. Fortune magazine even put him on its cover, dubbing him “The Man Who Changed Medicine.”
Martha Stewart’s tapestry has a different weave. In Martha’s kitchen, her sticky stock deal couldn’t have been smaller potatoes. It was the arrogance people saw in her that fried the public. After a testy trial, some were happy to see Martha hauled off to the slammer.
Martha Stewart could have stewed away her time in stir. Instead she foraged for dandelions and other salad fixings in the prison yards. Martha took up crocheting. She read books and practiced yoga. While she was briefly out of circulation, Sears and Kmart sealed a merger that would put Martha’s merchandise in front of millions more eyeballs. Not bad for an alumna of a lockup cleaning crew
Comebacks don’t just happen. They require thoughtful planning and a keen eye for learning and changing how you’re regarded.
When you stumble, nothing beats being humble.
Excerpted from: The Mackay MBA of Selling in the Real World
Seven-time, New York Times best-selling author of "Swim With The Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive," with two books among the top 15 inspirational business books of all time, according to the New York Times. He is one of America’s most popular and entertaining business speakers, and currently serves as Chairman at the MackayMitchell Envelope Company, one of the nation’s major envelope manufacturers, producing 25 million envelopes a day.
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