Tyra Banks: America's next top mogul

Tyra Banks has already fashioned a highly successful TV career. Now this former supermodel is forging a new role for herself as a model student. So where does she learn to run her multi-million-dollar empire? From the big league to the Ivy League. She tells Tracy Smith all about it:


Tyra Banks knows how to work it. As if it wasn't enough to be a former Victoria's Secret lingerie model, or the head of her own successful media company, or a well known TV star, the one-time supermodel also has, it would seem, a super brain.

Since last year, Tyra Banks has been a student at the mother of all business schools - that really famous one up in Boston.

"How do people react when they hear you're going to Harvard?" asked Tracy Smith.

"I get mixed reactions. There are little facial expressions. ... The chin goes back, like, 'Really?' " Banks said.

"And, how do you react to the, 'Huh?' " Smith asked.

"I'm, like, 'Yeah, I'm going.' How do I react to that? I kind of take a pause and kind of analyze what this is. And a lot of it is just shock."

She's enrolled in an elite business management program designed for the busiest and most successful entrepreneurs.

Is there something to it being Harvard?

"Most definitely there's something to do with it being Harvard. Harvard Business School - the number one business school in the entire world. In order for my company to grow and be the best, and to reach these women, and to serve them, I needed the best. So I went to the best," Banks said.

That notion of being the best started early. Born in South-Central Los Angeles, and raised by a single mom, Tyra Banks was a good enough student to be admitted to both USC and UCLA, but instead she chose the fashion runways of Paris.

"And the day that I put college on hold because I got discovered to go to Paris and try this whole modeling thing, it was one of the most difficult decisions of my entire life," she said.

"I gave myself a year to be a supermodel. And I said if it doesn't happen, I'm going back to school.

"And it happened." Smith said.

"I guess so. Yeah."

In fact, it practically exploded. Tyra Banks became the face every designer she seemed to want. A fixture at Victoria's Secret. The first African-American woman on the coveted cover of the Sports Illustrated swimsuThe Harvard Connectionit issue. But she realized she couldn't model forever, and in 2005 she decided to strut off the runway for good.

"I don't think me walking away from modeling was scary for me. In hindsight, I think it was very risky, when you talk about risk. Because it paid the bills," Banks said. "So I don't know if that was the smartest thing in the world to do. It paid off. You know, of course, in hindsight, everything is like 'I was so smart.' But just in hindsight. It was kind of throwing all my eggs in one basket."

That "basket" was television. Banks had started her own reality show - America's Next Top Model - in 2003, and her own Emmy-award-winning talk show a few years later. A big part of her appeal was her unabashed honesty about the beauty industry that made her famous.

"It's like I have to let you know that this is not real. I have to let you know that my boobs are saggy. I have to let you know, I feel like it's a responsibility. And so I don't know how to not do that."

Her formula seems to work. In 2009, Forbes listed Tyra Banks as the highest paid woman in prime time, with an annual income of $30 million.

But that was just a milestone. Next week, Banks will launch her latest creation: TypeF, a beauty and fashion advice Web site that could be another hot property in a growing media empire.

Now more than ever, her style is "hands-on."

I think I could've leaned on all of my advisers. I have accountants, and lawyers, and this and investment bankers. But I don't want to be that girl when I'm meeting with them, where I'm like, 'Uh-huh, great.' I now can say what's the net present value on that. What's the discounted cash flows of that, and that's because of Harvard."

Banks and her fellow students in the Harvard Owner/President Management Program spend three weeks on campus a year for three years, and pay around $31,000 a year in tuition.

"It's pretty exclusive. It's quite expensive. But, I feel like it is worth it. I feel like it is so, so worth it," she said.

"$2,000 a day, Tyra?" Smith asked.

"$1,750," Banks said.

She also gets things that money can't buy, like the title of Harvard Business School alum.

"Have you been underestimated?" Smith asked her.

"All the time. Like I feel like I kind of live with the wind at my face. I still feel that. Yeah, i do. You know, even little blog things that i see. You know, got out that I was in school at Harvard. And it's like, well, oh my god, why is a model going to Harvard? But that's actually a good thing, because when people have low expectations, you're just constantly going, "Ta-da!' And they're like, 'Wow.' It doesn't take a lot to wow them when they have low expectations," she said.

Expectations that are bound to rise for a woman who might be America's next top ... mogul.

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