If you’d encountered Bethenny Frankel 15 years ago, you might not have bet on her becoming a business leader. “I was in my late 30s and still could not afford a taxi in Manhattan,” she recalls in her new book, Business Is Personal: The Truth About What It Takes to Be Successful While Staying True to Yourself. “I would bounce checks and see ‘insufficient funds’ notices at the ATM.”
Frankel may not have had much in the way of business acumen, but she knew what she liked—“food, drink, clothing”—and she was persistent. A year after appearing on The Real Housewives of New York City in 2008, she launched Skinnygirl, a line of low-calorie margaritas. Industry experts dismissed the idea, but it has since blossomed into a thriving lifestyle brand. (She sold the cocktail branch in 2011 for a reported $120 million.)
There was a time when Frankel feared the experts may have been right. “When I did my first bottle signing, I looked around this huge liquor store and saw so many products,” she recalls. “I thought, My god, I’d never have gotten into this if I knew it was so busy. So, in this case, ignorance was bliss: I didn’t know what I didn’t know, and the idea took off. I didn’t look at barriers to entry or anything like that. I just went in.” That might seem like a crazy leap, but as Frankel tells it, the process actually makes perfect sense: Come up with a good idea, stick with it, and get it done.
Frankel describes her approach to business as “old-school,” and her book stresses basic values such as hard work, honesty, and avoiding the impulse to overthink. “The best ideas,” she writes, “are often the simplest ones.” Her insistence on taking quick, straightforward action has also helped her make a positive impact globally: In 2016, she launched the crisis relief initiative BStrong, which most recently helped to generate millions of dollars in commitments of aid for refugees from Ukraine. “If there’s a disaster or a conflict, we’ll jump on a plane and create an infrastructure that feels as if it’s been there for 20 years,” she says. “We’ll set up a distribution platform that’s like walking into Home Depot. There’s no, ‘Let’s circle back and run it up the flagpole.’ There isn’t time for all that, because people are going to die. It’s about being strategic and organized, intense and immediate. It’s a business approach.”
It all boils down to the basic belief that a person can achieve anything with the right levels of enthusiasm, foresight, and force of will. As Frankel sums it up, “I have good instincts, I’m clear on what I want, and I’m very decisive.”