Tyra Banks: America’s Next Top Businesswoman

by on February 24th, 2012

Last week I had the pleasure of attending a small, intimate chat with one of Harvard Business School’s most recent alums:  Tyra Banks (she graduated from HBS’s Owner / President Management Program this past Friday!).

For those of you who don’t know who Tyra is, you obviously missed every Victoria’s Secret fashion show between 1997 and 2005 / have never been sucked into a day-long ANTM* marathon.  Basically, Tyra is a supermodel turned talk show host turned author turned media mogul.

She’s been working toward her degree for the past three years, and I have to say I’m really pumped that she and I overlapped on campus this year.  Her classroom was right beside mine and, I’m not gonna lie, it definitely makes the day more exciting to stalk a supermodel between classes (if you don’t believe me, see below):

Anyway, Tyra agreed to speak with some students last week, and I was lucky enough to get a spot in the audience!  I went into it not really sure what to expect.  However, after five minutes of hearing her talk, it was abundantly obvious that she is an incredibly intelligent, well-spoken person and that she’s put enormous effort into the work she’s been doing at HBS.  And yes, she is ridiculously hot in person, despite the fact that she was super casual in jeans and a Harvard sweatshirt (which actually made her even hotter, somehow).

She was very candid about her experience at HBS, and talked a lot about the specific ways she has applied what she’s been learning to her own business, Bankable Productions.  It was clear that she has tons of ideas about how to continue building her brand, and that she’s pumped to take her company to the next level.  Much of the conversation was focused on her goals for Bankable Productions – it turns out that she would actually prefer to be behind the camera, and her goal is to build a sustainable company that isn’t just built on fans…she wants to make it bigger than that.  The overarching mission – and she was clearly very passionate about this – is to redefine beauty and to help women feel empowered and self-confident.  “Wait!” you may be saying right now.  “She’s a supermodel!  Isn’t she the very person who makes women feel badly about themselves in the first place?!”   Au contraire!  When Tyra started modeling at age 19, she was an anomaly in the business, first because she was a black woman, and second because she was “thicker” than most models.   As her career progressed she knocked down walls everywhere she went…she was the first black woman to walk many of the runways in Paris, first black woman to be on the cover of Vogue, first black woman to receive a contract with Victoria’s Secret.  A really hot pioneer, if you will.

Anyway, she thinks of her show, America’s Next Top Model, as a way to change how we perceive beauty.  For example:  she said that 30% of the girls that she casts to compete are “non-debatable beauty,” whereas the other 70% are “debatable” (read:  gap teeth, really far apart eyes, very dark skin, short hair, etc.).  She thinks that her viewers will identify with the women on the show, and will see how beautiful they really are and, as a result, feel better about how they look.  In addition to ANTM, she’s got a ton of other projects going on, one of which is TZONE, a non-profit she started to help young girls with self esteem issues.

It was a really cool experience to hear her speak, and I left enormously impressed by her energy and ambition.  I know she has some interesting projects in the works, and I have a feeling we’ll be seeing a lot more from Ms. Banks in the coming years!  She didn’t specifically mention a Harvard Business School version of America’s Next Top Model, but you never know…

*America’s Next Top Model

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