Born beautiful, Tyra Banks hit the genetic lottery and was embraced by the fashion industry. As a teenager, the ‘it’ girl appeared on every important cover in fashion history. Her remarkable career hit a fever pitch in her twenties, as Tyra racked up several ‘firsts’ including: the first African-American woman to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated’s illustrious swimsuit issue twice. She was the first woman to appear on the cover of GQ magazine and as an ‘Angel’, Tyra was the first African-American to appear on the cover of Victoria’s Secret. Due to her wildly successful talk show, The Tyra Banks Show, she garnered two Emmy Awards and by 2008, she was deemed by Time Magazine as, One of The Most Influential People in The World.
The road to success was not easy for the girl who was once known for her overflowing cup size. At times the media was very judgmental towards Banks, yet she turned the unpleasantries into a mission. “Kiss my fat ass…” was the phrase that echoed throughout the universe. And with that one statement, the girl with the ‘Smize’ became a modern day feminist who believes that women should embrace their curves.
She is the creative force behind and star of America’s Next Top Model, which is playing in over 170 countries to date. Now entering it’s tenth year, ANTM Cycle 20 gets a shot of testosterone and will include men. In addition, the Top Model juggernaut has 22 international franchises and growing, with Asia’s Next Top Model as it’s newest brand.
As the ultimate role model, Tyra Banks has become an entertainment, philanthropic and educational leader. Complete with a New York Times Best Selling fiction called Modelland, author can be added to her list of achievements. Banks also has two projects in development including an upcoming ABC television show called Five Head and she is partnering with Disney as the Executive Producer to Life Size 2, the sequel to her hit film in which she played Lindsay Lohan’s fashion doll who came to life. It seems as though Tyra Banks has positioned herself to be The Queen of Multi-Media as she reaches across several mediums to get her message across. She even has her own SMIZE app that transforms your mobile picture into a high cheek-boned, wide-eyed, mega-head cover model that makes everyone smile with their eyes.
The new Harvard Graduate is a walking think tank that has dedicated her life to entertaining the world in a wholesome manner and nurturing the underprivileged. There is big business in transformations, but Tyra is not driven by money, her goal is to transform lives. And just how does she plan on doing it… one little soul at a time. Through her newly revamped foundation called, THE TYRA BANKS TZONE AT THE LOWER EASTSIDE GIRLS CLUB, Banks now has a place that she can help raise the self-esteem of young girls through her leadership program. Tyra not only talks the talk, she walks the walk and has transformed her own life from:
Model to Mogul and Beyond
Text & Interview by Ty-Ron Mayes
Tyra, let’s get right to business. You are what we call a game changer in the industry. You have changed the face of the modeling industry in more ways than one. Not only have you broken down barriers and made both the media and the fashion industry pay attention to a wider range of beauty ideals, you have single-handedly redefined what it means to be a success. You pushed past Super Model by gracing just about every conceivable cover and garnering several lucrative contracts. You catapulted way above the Celebrity Model status when you created the Emmy award-winning Tyra Banks Show and the super successful America’s Next Top Model. You have become a bonafied Media Mogul! What drives Tyra Banks to succeed?
I sometimes don’t know what’s driving me, Ty-Ron… That was an amazing intro… I almost felt like I was at an awards ceremony and you were on stage about to introduce me and I am supposed to walk up in a gown and accept an award… That was very flattering. Thank you.
You have gone way beyond what was expected… Can you give us a little insight on what makes Tyra succeed?
In terms of success and drive, I think some people are born with it, sometimes certain circumstances push you towards success… trying to prove people wrong. I’m not exactly sure where mine comes from? But, I have this thing inside of me that, when someone tells me that I can’t do something, I become obsessed with proving them wrong. It’s a weird thing. I don’t really have people telling me that I can’t do something so much right now. Yet, I still have a need to continue to push, continue to strive and actually continue to change things up. So, I am kind of addicted to change and addicted to new. So, for instance, when I was a model… I was like… ok… I am a high fashion model… ok… enough of that. Now let’s change. Now I am going to be a commercial model. That’s a new challenge. A black woman had never done the ’girl next door’… sex symbol type of thing. Once that was done, I was like… I have always wanted to produce and write for television so, let me produce a TV show. Some of this, to be honest is a little bit of fickleness. So, I always feel like… I have done that, move on. What else can I do? Now there has been some things along the way, with that fickleness… a lot of people like to say Renaissance woman… But, I think that’s a nice way of saying, ‘child… what is she doing next? What is she trying to do right now?’ You know, with me trying to sing, you know there had been things that haven’t necessarily worked… I have just been lucky that the things that have worked, have worked in a very big way.
Tyra, you have made several trips to China with your America’s Next Top Model Brand including Beijing, Shanghai and Macao. How was your experience in China?
I really, really loved China. And still love China. To be honest, the food is so amazing! When I first went to Beijing and Shanghai, I actually became obsessed with soup dumplings? And would stand in lines and get them on the street. It was something that I became obsessed with and when I came back to the States, I did all this research for the best soup dumplings in the Los Angeles area and in the New York area and it was amazing to find those Asian dishes that were authentic and I can enjoy them at home. And I know this is weird… I am a Black woman and I am not mixed with any Asian blood or Chinese blood at all, but for some reason, as a child, the movie, The Last Emperor, had a serious affect on me. And I don’t know why? To this day, I can’t understand why? But there’s something that the movie did to me. It was directed by Bernardo Bertolucci. He was Italian actually, and he told the story of the Emperor’s wife from birth to death and there was something about the scenery, something about the history… I can not say that the movie was historical, fiction or true, but there was something that connected me to it. My partner on America’s Next Top Model is Chinese… Ken Mok is his name and he calls me is sister because he feel that there is something about me that he feels close and family-like too. There is definitely a connection I have had to Chinese culture and Chinese food for a very long time.
If you ever venture back to China, what would you like to experience again?
When I was there, I toured the Forbidden City and that was absolutely amazing to me because I got to be in the places where one of my favorite movie of all times ‘The Last Emperor’ was shot or at least based on. So, being there and knowing about the history and living it and feeling it was amazing! There’s a new hotel that was either adjacent to or in the Forbidden City… I can’t remember what hotel chain… I think it was called Aman Resorts. And I want to be able to say there. To actually be able to sleep there would be pretty amazing. And then I want to spend more time on the Bund in Shanghai. They have all of these restaurants… It’s almost like Paris. The architecture almost reminds me of Europe and then you look across the water and you feel like you are in space, Star Trek / Star Wars land. I want to experience that some more. One thing that is important to me is when I travel to different countries, that I experience the culture, not just as a tourist. So, I took the day and I went into a Hou Tang, a residential area where a bunch of families live and I had a meal in a woman’s house and I played with some kids with some water sprinklers… it was almost like a Brooklyn moment. They had no idea who I was. The kids were around 5 or 6 years old and I played with them for about an hour. It’s always important to me to experience culture without a tour guide pointing things out to me. So, yes, I have an affinity with China and I can’t wait to go back. I have gone to Hong Kong as well but, I can’t wait to go back to Beijing and Shanghai.
America’s Next Top Model is viewed in over 170 countries, and has over 22 international editions. There are versions of Top Model in America, as well as, Canada, Africa and so many more. Are there any plans to expand the brand into Asia?
There was a China’s Next Top Model at one point. I think it had one or two cycles. I am not sure how long it went. I am in the process of making appearance in Pan Asia’s Next Top Model. I think that’s every single country in Asia except for main land China and Japan. As far as China itself, I don’t know. I think they need to bring it back. There are a lot of Chinese women with amazing features and there’s a lot of tall women, which the fashion industry loves. China’s the perfect place for it (Top Model), I just don’t know why it didn’t continue there.
You have become the architect behind introducing women who have the ‘new’ look with different features, different ethnicities and different body shapes. What special look are you looking for outside of America?
I visited Vietnam’s Next Top Model, which I know it is not China… It’s the same continent. It got down to three finalist and we were discussing who we thought should win, with the Vietnamese team and I really wanted a girl to win that was from a village. She had no electricity. Just from a simple village. Her skin was darker. She had very high cheekbones and had very indigenous features. I was told by the VNTM staff, that her type of beauty was not the type of beauty that was heralded in Vietnam. I found her beautiful with my western eyes. From my point of view I thought that she was absolutely stunning. And they said that she was not an aspirational beauty. I said, all the reason why she should win! Because there are so many beautiful girls with darker skin, that do not have porcelain skin, that have her type of features. She’s the aspirational version of that type of girl. She should win so they can help raise the self-esteem of girls that are not born with white skin in Vietnam. So that was my push. Culturally, I am coming from a totally different country and I respect their culture but, at the same time to me, a universal theme is a stereotypical type of beauty. And if you think about us as African-American ‘light-skinned’ girls… I am not confused in anyway as to why I was successful as a commercial model… you know, when I changed my career. A lot of my success had to do with my coloring and I understand that. I get that. I still think it is important to highlight darker-skinned Black models or white girls with freckles all over their face, big curly hair and brown Asians. Just things that are not considered the typical beauty. So, I was happy to do that in Asia.
Now we all know Tyra HAS MILLIONS OF FOLLOWERS ON Twitter and Facebook. Twitter alone, you have 6 and a half million alone. Do you have fans in China and are you able to ‘Tweet’ to them?
Yes, I am active on the Chinese social media via Tencent and Sina and post the same updates on these sites that are posted on my American site. I try to get it as personal as possible to the region. I never really shown the pictures that I took when I was in China. I haven’t shown them publically, so I decided to start showing them on Tencent. I can really speak from a place of really having been there and spending time there. It’s something new for us and hopefully when I go back I can take more pictures. I just think it’s important to speak about the place you have gone to from the heart. Not just because China I big and hot right now … so let me get on there social media. No! I truly want to show that I was in the region and appreciated the people and the culture, which is important.
With you being accepted into the new Chinese Social Site, many Asian girls will benefit from the positive and cheerful words you share. I know they will appreciate you girl empowering messages.
Yes, I think it’s a universal message. Female empowerment, reaching for our dreams and dreams being possible to grasp… I think that’s universal so, whether it’s Google Plus, Instagram or Tencent, I’m still trying to spread universal messages, internationally through popular social media.
Speaking of positive affirmations and female empowerment, can you tell us about this new word you created? What exactly is “FLAWSOME”?
I didn’t create it, but I have been using it. I saw it once and I said, ‘Oh my God, that’s amazing!’ And to me, I think beauty is so much more interesting when it’s not perfection… when it doesn’t look like a ‘Barbie’… when there are so many different elements that create something that is different, quirky and unique. To me that’s FLAWSOME! Which is YOUR FLAWS + YOU’RE AWESOME = FLAWSOME! So, I saw that and I thought this was so cool and I really wanted to relate this to women’s physicalities and celebrate the fact that none of us look like Barbie dolls. It takes me a long time to look like one. It takes three to four hours of hair and make-up and even then, I am still hiding certain things such as cellulite and many other things that I am hiding to look a certain way. So I wanted to celebrate uniqueness and things that are different as well as imperfect. We are awesome, we have our flaws and we are FLAWSOME!
Your look that you created is very powerful and I have noticed that you are aware of the impact it has on others. Because of that, you have embraced women and created platforms to help women feel better about themselves and to embrace their own flaws. Is that part of your “FLAWSOME” motto?
It really is. Even when I created Top Model, I didn’t want to do this show where there was a bunch of girls that were ‘cookie-cutter’ beautiful or pretty stereo-typical girls. It was important that I had girls that were plus size girls or girls whose skin tone were not the stereo-type we find in the beauty industry. Or girls with big foreheads, eyes that are too far apart, gaps in their teeth… things that were quirky and not stereotypical. And I think what has happened over time is that it has raised the self-esteem of girls who were not even trying to be a model. They will send me pictures and ask, “Tyra, is this picture FIERCE? You know, I am trying to pose like your girls.” And they don’t want to necessarily be a model, but it has done something to them as on-lookers. Every week when I am telling a girl that she is beautiful and she is not a typical beauty… I guarantee you there are millions of girls that look like that one girl on my show. And she represents that ‘beauty’. And that’s making her feel beautiful as well as the young ladies who look like her. They all understand that they are beautiful. With Top Model, there’s a lot of ‘candy’ and fun and it is a Cinderella story, but there is so much medicine in there too… messages about being professional or not giving up or having a look that is not typical and embracing your uniqueness. I consider uniqueness to be very beautiful. Hopefully, we are changing what beautiful means and introducing new beauties to the world. I think this is the success of the show and the success of the message.
Your nurturing skills have been something you honed early on in your career. You created a camp for girls back in 1999 called TZONE. Fast forward to 2012, and you’re getting ready to expand your influence on young girls with the launch of The Tyra Banks TZONE Center, a new partnership with The Lower Eastside Girls Club in New York City. Is this the manifestation of a lifelong passion of yours?
I started a scholarship fund for girls at my high school. I graduated from high school at 17 and I was really fortunate to have a modeling career where I was making some money after I graduated. So I created a scholarship fund when I was 19 for Black girls to attend my school, who may not be able to afford to go to this private school. They have to have had great grades and do community service. So, that’s been going on for almost 20 years now. And then from there I decided that I wanted to start a camp for girls called TZONE. “T” is a play off the first initial of my name and “ZONE” is like a safe place in which these girls can be themselves and not worry about bullying, not worry about being perfect and we can open up and share our insecurities. And I had this camp for many years. When I started my talk show and Top Model at the same time, my schedule became crazy and I wasn’t able to do my camps like I used to. I tried to do it a couple of times without me being there and I would just show up and say hi… I hated that. I hated not being able to connect with my girls and not know their names when I got there, I just cannot do this. So, I put the camps on hold and I just started getting money from different organizations that I had to raise girl’s self esteem. And one of the places that I used to give money to was The Lower Eastside Girls Club in New York City. A couple of years into it, I had heard, that they were starting a 30,000 square foot facility for young girls. I always wanted TZONE to grow into a specific place with brick and mortar, where girls can come everyday’s as opposed to just in the summer. So when I heard about this, I heard they were looking for some additional funding and we approached them and said we will give you your additional funding and we want to partner on this and create a leadership center within this huge space. So now I am a part of this wonderful dream come true and place for young girls.
With the union between TZONE and The Lower Eastside Girls Club, what are you able do for young girls now that you couldn’t do before?
Well before TZONE was on the raise. And when you are on the raise, there is like a tunnel vision and I didn’t have any days off. From Monday to Sunday I was doing America’s Next Top Model and my talk show. We shoot two cycles of America’s Next Top Model a year, so we are never in hiatus… ever. And it doesn’t work on a Monday thru Friday schedule when we are shooting. So I started to become burned out and I had to grasp every single day that I could. So there were a lot of things in life, from holidays with family to TZONE that I just couldn’t do anymore. Now I am at a point where we are at a growth stage as opposed to the establish ourselves stage. Now as a business, we are expanding into different horizons. We are doing different things. We have a base of success. I have an office and a C.E.O. of my company. There’s more stability as opposed to climbing, climbing, climbing trying to make it. So, I am able to spend more time with these girls now. Also, I am going to have an office at The Lower Eastside Girls Club, so as I am working on their programming, they can see me at the office and create some type of consistency and understand what hard work is about by seeing me there.
Besides America’s Next Top Model and TZONE are there any plans to expanding your company into other areas of business?
Yes, with Top Model, we are going to be working hard on the international version, as well as, the American version this year, we’ve added fan voting in which fans can vote into this new cycle. So, the fans have been voting for the new cycle. The new cycle of Top Model is college themed because I had just graduated from Harvard. I really wanted to celebrate beauty and brains, smart girls and unique beauty… again not stereotypical beauties. That’s the Top Model plan. I can’t talk too much about some of the big projects we are working on. There’s one that I went to Harvard for specifically… that is a really huge business and it has never been done before. So my new role models right now are Walt Disney because what he had done had never been done before. Richard Branson is really into doing tings that has never been done before. And now Steve Jobs… he continued to invent things, products and experiences that had never been done. And so this new business that I have… I know it has never been done before. But I felt like I needed business school in order to make sure that it is a success. And that will hit the market in about two years. We are really focused on that even though it is a long way away. We are doing some more television and I am producing some more TV. In a couple of weeks, I am pitching to some networks. Of course they have to say yes, but I think they will because a lot of them want it. We are starting to support female entrepreneurs. That’s a whole other business we are starting. And we are getting really heavy into the gaming and mobile apps space for digital too. There’s a lot of work that you won’t be seeing immediately until 2013 – 2014… you’ll see what we have been working on.
Well that means we are going to have to do another cover story to see what’s going on in the world of Tyra.
We sure will! Totally!
You are an extremely visible personality and have thoughtful platforms and charities. You are a published author with a successful novel called Modelland. Is part of your strategy to teach young girls through the media, books and entertainment?
Yeah, it’s always been. It’s so funny that you mentioned the word ‘teach’ because, when I retire, whenever that is… if that’s ten years from now, twenty years from now… actually, I do want to teach. I want to teach in the university. I had that epiphany when I was in school actually… in college recently. I would look at my Professors and to me they were like rock stars. I was so impressed with them and in awe of them and loved the knowledge that they were imparting. Many of them taught in an entertaining style, running up and down the isles almost like theatre. And I know I already have that from being a talk show host and being on camera and knowing how to entertain people. And then as far as the teaching; when it comes to Top Model and teaching; whether it’s ethics, whether it’s posing, whether it’s professionalism and being a businesswoman; I want to take those skills to the next level and maybe teach marketing and strategy. So, yes, that is my strategy. It’s a teaching strategy for our business… definitely. But, teaching with entertainment and fun. So like all of the work that I use, we have names for them… we haven’t used all of them publicly and I don’t know if we will. But I can tell you. It’s called “Beau-tainment”. Beauty meets entertainment… people are telling me that it sounds like you are going to light the house on fire. I know… it’s just a fun word that I use. But it is mixing the beauty industry with entertainment and making it fun, but also educational.
Tyra, we have a big problem amongst young people. Social media sites and mobile phones are exposing teenage bullying and ‘sexting’. Young people only relate through texting now. The youth culture is suffering worldwide. How do you feel about this?
I have my loves and hates about the Internet and mobile devices. When it comes to kids, I would love to see parents put their hand down a little bit stronger when it comes to texting all of the time and texting at the dinner table. I think there needs to be a whole level of etiquette that is taught to adults as well as kids. I am guilty of being rude when it comes to social media and texting myself. In terms of bullying, there are so many new laws in America, I am not sure about worldwide, but in America, the laws for bullying are getting strict. And I am really excited of how strict they are and I think it has cut down on a lot of bullying. As a kid I was a bully and I was bullied. I lived both sides of it. To see what is being done with bullying now is super important. But it’s a crazy time right now with kids. They are so much, more savvy than even their parents are. They are handing down their devices to their parents. They are giving their parents the old iPad in exchange for the new one. It’s a whole different world now and they are in control and in charge of technology. It’s scary but at the same time it’s exciting. There are a lot of choices for them. But, I think for kids to succeed now… a lot of them are going to have to write computer code and do things that a machine is not able to do. A lot of jobs will not be available for them because of technology.
As far as ‘Sexting’ goes, ‘Sexting’ is totally uncool. Many kids only think about the present moment and don’t realize that they are creating a digital footprint, which will follow you forever! You have to be careful about what you put on the Internet. It can even prevent you from getting a job! Other kids… especially girls… give in to peer pressure and take racy photos for boys because they think it will make the boy like them more. This NEVER works. Girls, let him like you with your clothes on.
You have become a champion in the fight for women to embrace their size. Recently, you wrote a letter to the Daily Beast and I recently saw you on Good Morning America discussing sample sizes in fashion. It has been reported in the media, Anna Wintour and the Vogue Editors from around the world recently met and have agreed to approach designers worldwide in order to raise the sample sizes to more realistic proportions. As a leader, what does this mean to you?
I was actually pretty amazed that Vogue reached out to do that because they didn’t have to. They are the standard and the epitome of fashion. Vogue pretty much dictates and everyone else tends to follow with all of the Vogues all over the world. So, I was really impressed with the fact that they did that. I don’t know the meaning of why they did it. But I just love the fact that they did. To me, people were calling my generation of models too thin and we were size 4 and 6 on the runway. Eva Herzigova was probably a 6. I was a 6 towards the later end of my high fashion career. And then there were girls that were size 4 and that was considered skinny… way too skinny. What was Kate Moss? A size 2? And she was 5’6”. A 5’6” size 2 is not as scary as a 6 foot model who is a size zero. And that’s what they are today. Where is the world going? I didn’t know what a size zero was when I was a model. We didn’t even hear that number. I just felt like fashion was moving into a really strange place. I had so many models calling me… not Top Model girls… working models calling me, crying to me and asking me what they should do with their career because they are starving and they don’t want to stop doing fashion week. Just crazy! Models are coming to my house and they are telling me that they are going to sit this fashion week out because they gained five pounds. They were 110 pounds and 6 feet tall. I said to myself, “what is going on?” So I felt that I had to say something.
In terms of the age thing (Vogue is asking for models to be a minimum of 16 years old)… I started when I was 15 in Los Angeles… not internationally but locally in Los Angeles. And I did fashion shows and local stuff. I didn’t have any problem with being 15 and being a model. They set an age limit for fashion shows? I am not sure as to how I feel about that because for me… it’s not so much about being too young… as it is about the over-sexualization of a minor. I think there should be things that are protecting a minor on a runway or a photo to keep them from being too sexy. But we have children that are acting in movies and they’re 10 or 3 years old and there is no mandate on that because they have unions to protect them. So to me it not about being 15 and you can’t do a fashion show. It’s about having a school teacher on the set. Are kids getting certain breaks every 4 hours? That’s what we need.
Although you have evolved into a television creator and media executive, Top Model still allows you to channel your inner model. You are as sharp as ever. We just finished shooting a cover story and it was absolutely phenomenal. I have been telling everyone how you interpreted the clothing and how your performance level was still very sharp. You really took the clothes and made them come to life. Do you miss anything about modeling?
I actually don’t miss modeling and I think the reason why is because of America’s Next Top Model. Because for the last 10 years I have been conceptualizing photoshoots with my team and editing film. And even been doing a little of modeling myself on Top Model with photo shoots I use to do for the show that I am actually going to start doing again as a model or even as a photographer. So being in the world, has not allowed me to really miss it. But, when I was on the set with you… I was just talking about this to my make-up artist Valente´ the other day. There was something about being on the set with you guys… your photographer Udo and you and the lighting and actually with you guys shooting video and just there being such amazing clothes and the music with Tyga was pumping! I actually enjoyed it! I really had a good time! The last three years of my modeling career… I didn’t really enjoy it. I really wanted to be on the set of my of my television show and producing and directing. And I didn’t really want to model anymore. But what was so amazing with the two days that we shot. I thought you were just on point with the clothes and it just really inspired me. And it made me bring back my high fashion poses and facial expressions. And I think I probably did things that I didn’t do as a young model.
Speaking of modeling, several Supermodels have returned to modeling. Are you open to the idea of doing a ‘special bookings’?
I don’t think so. For me… if there is not an article connected to pictures of me, I won’t do it. I don’t want to be a Rapper like Jay-Z or an athlete that retired and then comes out of retirement. So for now, I am going to say no actually. I will move like a model, I will do a photoshoot like a model, but it’s important to have an article about what I am doing as a businesswoman connected to it. I am always about forward movement. Will I walk on a runway again? Who knows? It will probably be for something that I am producing myself, as opposed to something for a designer. As far as the comebacks, I will let my colleagues do that. I am going to forge ahead with my business. But I love that they are doing it! I think it says a lot for the aging of a woman today. Because I think a lot of them look actually more beautiful now than they did when they were models… with their maturity in their faces. I think that is a good thing for women of a particular age to come back.
We first worked together in 1994 and you were a teenage star and Super Model. You told me then, you wanted to be a television producer and you made that happen. How does it feel to live in that which you envisioned for yourself?
It feels really good. Modeling chose me, I didn’t choose modeling. Meaning, I was a 5’10” girl and somebody came up to me in high school and said that I looked like a model. I said, “really?” And a couple of years later I started because that person came up to me. It wasn’t something that I was looking to get into on my own. But film, television and producing is my passion. I chose it. It was something I wanted to do since I was 9 years old. That feels good to actually have a goal at 9 and then to be living that dream… it probably one of the most exciting things for me in terms of my life’s accomplishments. Being able to make the transition from modeling to being a producer and then also for that transition to be honored and respected by the public, I am the most proud of that; more than any magazine cover.
You could have done what people expected of you to do. Create a fashion line, a cosmetic line… You could have done anything. What led you to the path of Harvard Business School?
I chose to go to Harvard because over the years there would be certain things that I felt a little bit too in the dark about. Whether it was accounting, certain strategic things, terminologies that was said to me during business meetings with certain people around the table… I don’t like being that in the dark about things. I also felt like, in order to take my business to the next level I needed school. A lot of people that I look up to, that run certain businesses had graduated from business school. I was really lucky to have had mentors around me that said, the reason that you looked up to that person is because they graduated from Harvard and they used those principle to get to where they are. Or they graduated from Wharton or Columbia University… so I learned from these mentors that the best thing for me to do was to go to school. And it changed my life Ty-Ron. My life has changed. I see the world in a totally different light now because of school.
You have spent the last three years studying at Harvard Business School’s Executive Management Program? This is serious… How did you balance work and going back to school?
I was in school under an alias and tried to dress down as much as possible, so I couldn’t be tracked in school records. So I got a lot of, “Oh my God… You look like Tyra Banks”, for about a year and a half. And then the press got out, so I decided to tell the truth because there were a lot of mistruths being said about my program and what I was doing. How did I fit it in? The school is not three years consecutive. It’s an entrepreneurial program and it’s for people that run their businesses and they know that there’s no way that we could have gone to school every day for three years. So we would go to school for a month and then we would go back to our businesses, incorporate those learning’s into our businesses and then go back school. It was a back and forth program that allowed us to still run our businesses. But it was pretty intensive when we were in school. It was mandatory to stay in dorms. So, I was in dorms, sharing a living room and kitchen. And thank God I didn’t have to share my bathroom. It was pretty intense studying in my pajamas with my roommates. We had 180 people in my class and only 18 were women. So, there were not a lot of women in my program.
You have become thee full embodiment of the title ‘Role Model’. What inspires Ms. Tyra Banks the businesswoman and who inspires Tyra Banks the person?
I love… even more than being in front of a camera, I love being in a business meeting. And I sometimes wish that being in a business meeting would be what the press reported on because you would see me a lot more publically. Most of my career is spent in a meeting… dressed sharply, looking really great; negotiating over a table, strategizing or coming up with new marketing plans or new ideas. So that makes me really, really happy. And again, Walt Disney, I look up to him for creating a company that is still up and running to this day and it means the same thing today as when he created it. Which is that family entertainment, in which the whole family can enjoy. From theme parks to TV to film, I just love him (Disney) and that business. And Richard Branson because he took existing businesses that already existed like airlines, mobile phones, the music industry, but he put his veneer on top of it and made them extra special. I love flying Virgin Airlines. He didn’t invent airplanes, but he took that business and made it better, made it hip, made it interesting. And then I love Steve Jobs. He took things from mid air, nothingness and created a need that we didn’t know we needed. And so that is what my next business is. It’s something that we don’t even know we need or want. But, I’m hoping that the public feels that they need and want it. As far as personally, I really connect to my Mom. I love my Mom. I love her morals, her ethics, her standards and values. Thank God she is my Mom. So I was able to stay away from drug and alcohol and temptation and guys taking me on the wrong path because of the strength she gave me. She’s my everything when it comes to a moral compass.
You have extended yourself to share your philosophies and life lessons as a keynote speaker to several organizations. What’s the core message that you look to leave your audience with?
My core message when I keynote falls under different themes. My audience is rather broad. It’s typically women between the ages of 13-40 years old, in addition to gay boys and men. One of the things I talk about is a ‘tunnel vision sacrifice’. Anyone that we look at that was successful at something, there was a heck of a lot of sacrifice involved in that. I spoke to Harvard Business Students MBA’s right before I graduated. And one thing I ended my speech with was on, not chasing the money. Don’t chase the money… chase the passion. Because that’s what is going to keep you happy and motivated and jumping out of that bed Monday morning. I think a lot of business students chase money and then they burn out. They have early retirements, not because they want to retire and chill… But because they hate their job and they are miserable. I don’t chase money. Not chasing the money, I think, actually helped me and my company because I didn’t just throw my name on a bunch of things. We could have been making hundreds of millions of dollars more, literally, hundreds, with me just throwing my name on and doing this and selling that. And I never did that! It was always about the things that made me happy. And then the money came from that. And money comes and goes. Our company makes a lot sometimes and some years we are not doing so well. But, as long as I am happy and getting up and being passionate about what I do, that makes me happy and I feel successful. And for years, I didn’t do anything else. I was just working on America’s Next Top Model after my talk show ended because I was burned out. I was tired. It wasn’t fun anymore. And finally, I found these three new businesses we are starting that are about happiness and not about money. But if the new ventures are successful, me and my partners are going to make a lot of money. I think that happiness is so important. Passion.
Well you have made me very happy. Happy to do this interview with you and I have one last question. Where did you put your 2 Emmy Awards for the Tyra Banks Talk Show?
My Emmys… My Momma’s got my Emmys… nice and safe. I don’t like looking at awards everyday because I feel like they can make you lazy. So, I give them to my Mom and let her look at it everyday. They are symbols of the hard work she put into me. Her sacrifices allowed me and my team to win those awards. But I don’t look at any awards everyday.
Style Director & Producer: Ty-Ron Mayes
Photographer: Udo Spreitzenbarth
Co-Producer: Oscar Reyes
Make-up: Valente Fraizer
Hair: Shar Rae Tucker for Anthony Leonard Salon @ Oribe Hair Care
Manicurist: Fleury Rose (Artist by Timothy Priano)
Styling Assistants: Polina Roytman & Kat Briones
Photography Assistants: Cooper Joel Penn, Ernie Slaughter & Luciano Pio
Studio: Go Penthouse
Special thanks to Patricia Black at Albright Fashion Library