Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Stewart leaves board, back in kitchen

New role: churning out creative ideas

By Anne D'Innocenzio
The Associated Press

NEW YORK - Martha Stewart handed over her keys to the executive suite of the media empire she built Monday, a little more than a week after she was convicted on four federal charges.

But she's not cutting ties to the multimillion-dollar business that grew from a suburban Connecticut catering business.

Stewart stepped down from her board seat and gave up her chief creative officer title. But she'll retain a creative role at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia Inc., indicating that company officials think that they'll be better off with her than without her.

The self-made queen of domestic arts will take the title of founding editorial director.

In that role, Stewart, 62, will continue to provide creative inspiration for new product design and development; write two pending books, Homekeeping and Baking; and provide input on the continuing evolution of the company and its brand and strategic issues, the company said. She will report to chief executive officer Sharon Patrick.

"Everyone at MSO recognizes the seriousness of Martha's situation and is deeply saddened," Patrick said in a statement. "However, all of us also believe that the company and our constituencies benefit most if we are able to continue to take advantage of Martha's creative inspiration and capitalize on her prodigious skills and experience in the domestic arts."

The logistics could be tricky, at least in the short term, as Stewart likely faces 10 to 16 months in prison. Stewart has said she will appeal the March 5 conviction.

Company officials did not return requests for interviews.

In a statement, Stewart said Monday's action was "in the best interest" of the company.

"I am heartsick about my personal legal situation - and deeply sorry for the pain and difficulties it has caused our employees," she said. "I look forward to continuing to collaborate on a wide range of creative ideas with the amazing, talented and hardworking people at this very special company."

Stewart, who is the company's largest shareholder, had been expected to relinquish her board seat, but reportedly had been pressing to keep some creative role.

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