Organizations or groups that are personality-driven and/or essentially defined by the personality of a charismatic leader, have often been called “cults.”
However, not all cults are destructive and many over the centuries have been relatively benign.
It seems some American corporations can be seen as consumer “cults,” often driven and/or defined by their founder’s personality.
The saga of the corporate Multi-media Empire wrought by Martha Stewart appears to be one example.
This commercial kingdom is so identified and defined by its creator, it is called “Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia Inc.”
But Martha’s empire has lost half its value, since the stature of its leader began to crumble.
Would Stewart’s cult following stay loyal to the brand without the presence of her personality?
Martha Stewart is an “extreme case of this corporate cult of personality,” reports the Boston Globe.
But there are other personality-driven enterprises such as Oprah Winfey’s synergistic media holdings, which continue to thrive.
What will be Martha Stewart’s corporate legacy if she is killed in court?
Will her magazine fold, like George did, not long after founder John F. Kennedy Jr. died?
Most cults end or slowly whither away after the leader dies or self-destructs.
But it seems that if there are significant assets and an ample cash flow “cults” can continue after a founder dies.
Witness how Scientology soldiers on undaunted by L. Ron Hubbard’s death in the 80s. Its celebrity faithful like John Travolta and Tom Cruise have not lost faith and keep paying for Hubbard’s “technology.”
The die-hard followers of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh still watch his videos long after their leader’s demise. And they gather to honor him at the still active ashram he started in India.
But after Herbert Armstrong died his Worldwide Church of God struggled to establish a new identity. And it shrank as adherents exited. It seems without Armstrong there was no lasting loyalty.
Which historical “cult” example will Stewart’s “corporate cult of personality” parallel?
Will there be consumer fealty for “Martha Stewart Living,” if Martha is living in prison?
Her fans might move on to a less controversial and/or embattled “domestic diva.”
Martha Stewart may have taught Americans that simplicity is timeless, but it seems probable that her cult following will dwindle if she does any time.