How Bethenny Frankel Applies Business Savvy to Philanthropy

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Bethenny Fox has many roles, ranging from reality TV star to business mogul and podcast host. But in recent months, one of Frankel’s roles has stood out among the rest: providing emergency assistance to Ukraine through her BStrong disaster relief initiative.

What began as a commitment to distributing 100,000 crisis kits to Ukrainian refugees in the wake of Russia’s invasion has turned into raising over $100 million in aid and donations for those in need. BStrong partners with Global Empowerment Mission to deliver cash cards, critical supplies, and emergency aid directly to victims of disasters like wildfires or volcanic eruptions. As seen on It Real Housewives of New York City (RHONYFrankel was a 2017 Puerto Rican volunteer who traveled with the organization to assist communities devastated by Hurricane Maria.

Frankel became famous as one the cast’s original members. RHONY and—despite twice exiting the Bravo reality show (seemingly for good in 2019)—is widely considered one of the For Housewives franchise’s most beloved stars. While RHONY‘s second season in 2009, Frankel launched her Skinnygirl brand with her first product, Skinnygirl Margarita. In 2011, she sold her low-calorie Skinnygirl cocktails to Beam Global, now part of the liquor conglomerate Suntory. She also retained the rights to the Skinnygirl brand for other non-alcoholic products. Frankel is the Skinnygirl CEO and has established a lifestyle empire with products targeted at women, including jeans, popcorn, salad dressing, and even dressing.

Frankel has also been a five time bestselling author. Her latest book, It’s personal business: You Can Be Successful and Still Stay True To Yourself: The Truth about What It TakesOn May 17, a new movie entitled ‘The Secret Life of Bees’ was released.

TIME interviewed Frankel to discuss her experiences with reality television and how she got into the philanthropic world.

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This interview has been edited to be more concise.

How important is philanthropy to you?

It’s something that I can touch and something I can make a massive difference in. My specific skills are used in disaster relief. I’m very organized, I’m immediate, and I’m good in a crisis. So it’s been something that I didn’t really know I could participate in and have such a great impact. We have exceeded the target by an incredible amount. And now that I know what this style of philanthropy entails, I’ve realized why I’m good at it. If you’re a good entrepreneur, you’re effectively just using your business skills. Most people are not operating a fiscally sound philanthropic effort because most people aren’t great business people. So I’m trying to shift the way that people think about philanthropy and the way they invest when they help.

What is different about BStrong from other disaster aid initiatives?

Michael is my Global Empowerment Mission partner. [Capponi]A very skilled operations logistics professional. I’m a very good messenger, I’m very strategic, I’m very organized, and I’m good at being transparent. Understanding strategy and overseeing the entire mission is essential. That’s why [BStrong]This is why it’s so successful. People love the ‘no frills’ of it all. They don’t want the rubber chicken dinner where only a portion of the proceeds go [to the cause]. They want the money for the people. It’s basically what’s happened with business. This strategy is not for retail. It’s a direct-to-consumer strategy. It’s basically saying, we don’t have to have all these events and make all these shiny pamphlets that cost money. It’s money straight to people.

What’s been the biggest logistical challenge of getting BStrong’s Ukraine relief effort off the ground?

It is an awful crisis. But it’s just required tactical organization and strategy. It’s been exhausting, but it hasn’t been challenging, if that makes sense.

These times are difficult for mental health.

I’ve gotten better at it. It’s like anything else. It’s like learning how to snowboard. I’ve been snowboarding for 25 years. You fall the first time. But then after you’ve done it for years, the bruises are less. The first time you do a relief effort, you’re immersed and it’s four o’clock in the morning and you’re listening to every single message and every person who has a trunk of clothes and you’re not controlling yourself because you don’t yet know what you would know after years of experience. While the situation may be different every time, the process remains similar. This becomes an efficient machine.

Real Housewives fans know you weren’t afraid to ‘mention it all’ during your time on RHONY. Was there anything you learned about how to merge professional and personal lives from your experience with reality television?

Because it can be addictive to constantly talk about everything, you need to create boundaries. You need to set aside some time for yourself and not work. Just because I say business is personal doesn’t mean that, you know, I’m talking about the numbers my salad dressing is doing when I’m in bed with my fiancé. Reality TV is very personal. Everyone thinks that everything that’s going on is so relevant to everyone else, but it’s just not what’s going on in the real world—ironically, because it’s reality television.

When you founded Skinnygirl, you were a pioneer in the male-dominated spirit industry. How did you know you were capable of succeeding in this space?

I wasn’t confident. I didn’t know anything about anything. I just leapt. It was my dream to have my own liquor line, or be part of a business that produces it. I also wanted to have some sort of company produce a line with my name in it. It was too much. It’s a great feeling to do something. And so I just started.

You’ve since broken into a number of other industries—from food to fashion to podcasting. How has your approach changed over time when entering new markets?

I always just do what I like and what I’m passionate about. Chances present themselves, and I will take them if they appeal to me. If I don’t, I don’t. It’s not that deep, to be honest. I love this part of my career because I’m not overly hungry. I don’t have the voracious appetite that other celebrities and moguls have. They just want to keep going and getting it and that’s not me. It’s what makes me happy. I will do the right thing and follow through on it. And it’s been nice to get to the point where I feel comfortable in what I want to do and what I don’t. Now, don’t get me wrong, that encompasses a lot of spaces. It encompasses books and podcasts and a new TV show that I’m doing and a lot of different stuff. But it it’s all very organic.

You’ve said that you “don’t see gender” in business. Is that a criticism of your brand’s strong focus on women?

I just want women to be confident and to know that they’re good enough and strong enough without having to be graded on a curve. Women of color and women with a history of discrimination face more challenges than women. But I want everyone to walk out and be like ‘”I’m woman and I’m proud.” I’m going to go get it and I’m not going to think about the fact that I might not get it because I’m a woman because that’s not even on my mind.

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What made you decide to write? It’s personal, but business is important now?

I just heard too many people say, “It’s business, it’s not personal.” What the hell does that even mean? If it’s business, and it’s your business, then it’s personal. People have changed a lot because of the pandemic. Everything’s changed—the way we eat, the way we shop, the way we live, the way we socialize—and non-traditional business is so on the forefront. My podcast features non-traditional entrepreneurs like me. Only BThese are not traditional entrepreneurs. Anyone, at any age in their careers, can use this book as a resource to help them become non-traditional entrepreneurs. You could be a mogul and you’ll learn a lot or you could be a housewife who has a passion for something that you want to turn into a business and you’ll learn a lot. It’s just a relatable book.

You’re known for your “Bethenny-isms.” If you had to summarize your ultimate business philosophy in one sentence, what would it be?

You can find the things you are passionate about and love, then support them by hard work, determination, and drive. This will make it possible to be successful in any endeavor.

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