Martha Stewart back at work

/ Source: The Associated Press

A beaming Martha Stewart returned to work on Monday, blowing a kiss and waving as she arrived to speak to cheering employees.

After five months in prison and a weekend spent more comfortably at her 153-acre suburban estate, Stewart spoke to staff at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia Inc. in Manhattan, as members of the media looked on.

“All of you are my heroes,” Stewart told the crowd.

With barely a pause since she was released from a federal women’s prison in Alderson, W.Va., on Friday, Stewart addressed a staff diminished by layoffs in her absence. Although her company’s stock has recovered from its low following her conviction, its price has fallen roughly 19 percent since her release early Friday — wiping away more than $300 million in the company’s market capitalization.

“It’s really wonderful to be back. I’ve missed you, as you can imagine. I’ve thought about you every single day,” Stewart said. The several hundred employees gave Stewart a standing ovation and applauded several other times as she spoke.

Stewart, 63, said she had had “the tremendous privilege” of meeting a cross-section of people in prison and “learned a great deal about our country.”

Dressed in a fashionable black suit, Stewart held up the gray and white poncho she wore when she left prison on Friday. She said it did not come from a fancy store — but was crocheted by a fellow inmate.

“The night before I left she handed me this ... and said, ‘Wear it in good health,”’ Stewart said. “I hope she is reading the news and looking at television because I’m so proud of her.”

She also poked fun at her reputation as a perfectionist and promised to share credit with her employees in the future.

“I don’t always do all of my own ironing, even though I wish that I could. I love ironing,” she said. “What I want everybody to know is that I have been supported all of these years by all of you. ... I am extremely proud of each and every one of you.”

Investors, counting on a positive bounce from Stewart’s return, have bid up her company’s stock to triple the level it was when she was convicted on March 5, 2004, of lying about a stock sale.

Still, the company is struggling. Last week, it reported a fourth-quarter loss of $7.3 million, compared with a profit of $2.4 million for the same period a year earlier — reflecting continued declining magazine advertising revenues and the hiatus of its syndicated daily cooking show starring Stewart.

Stewart will have to make some adjustments in her new working life.

She will be answering to a new chief executive and president, Susan Lyne, who replaced longtime confidante Sharon Patrick last November. Lyne greeted Stewart with a hug before the speech.

Electronic ankle bracelet
She also will eventually be required to show up to work with an electronic ankle bracelet under the terms of her five-month home detention. She was not wearing one at her appearance on Monday.

The arrangement allows her 48 hours a week to work outside the home, and she will be commuting the 40 miles to her office from her home in Katonah, in Westchester County.

Outside of her corporate gig, she also is scheduled to work on two television programs, which could challenge her confinement. She might be allowed to do some taping on her grounds — if she also gets a town permit.

But when she’s not on the job, Stewart will be confined to her home, unable to roam the grounds of her country estate.

Stewart was convicted of obstructing justice and lying to the government about her 2001 sale of nearly 4,000 shares of the biotechnology company ImClone Systems Inc., run by her longtime friend Sam Waksal.

Prosecutors claimed Stewart received a tip that Waksal was unloading his shares ahead of a negative government report about an ImClone cancer drug. The stock tumbled in the following days, and Stewart saved $51,000 on the sale.

Stewart’s lawyers argued the sale was based on a prearranged agreement with her stockbroker to sell once the stock dropped to $60 per share.

The case came in the midst of a federal crackdown on corporate corruption, and Stewart is one of the most prominent figures to serve time in the wave of scandals.

Rebuffed twice in her attempts to obtain new trials, Stewart opted to enter prison early rather remain free pending her appeal.

“I must reclaim my good life,” she said in September, lamenting that she would miss her beloved pets but looking forward to being free in time for her cherished spring gardening.