Photo by Matthew Jordan Smith
Tyra Banks is the Supermodel turned content creator, turned entrepreneur, and now educator of our time. And that’s not really covering all that she does. In her reign as one of the most visible and prolific talents, Tyra never stops challenging herself. Just this past year she has hosted America’s Got Talent, delivered her 24th cycle of the longest-running fashion reality show she created, America’s Next Top Model, wrote a best-selling book with her mom, Perfect is Boring, and completed her second year teaching at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business.
Tyra, two years ago you embarked on a new chapter in your career. You teach Project You: Building and Creating Your Personal Brand at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business (GSB). How did this come about? And have you always wanted to teach?
In May 2016, I was invited to speak at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business about my career in modeling and media & business. When I was finished, it was one of those gotta leave, head down, don’t talk to anyone situations, or else I would miss my flight! As I’m packing up, hurrying to exit the auditorium, I was approached by this energetic woman, with a big smile “Tyra, Tyra, do you have a moment to speak… I’m a lecturer here at Stanford…” This was my first encounter with Allison Kluger, Stanford lecturer and former television producer from New York. She said, “what you just did on stage… that was not a keynote… that was a class. Have you ever thought about teaching?” Intuitively, I knew there had always been elements of teaching on my talk show, The Tyra Show, and in mentoring my contestants on America’s Next Top Model, I’ve always wanted to teach, but thought I would save it for retirement. But this opportunity presented itself and Allison said something that really stuck in my head: “Tyra, you taught me more about personal branding in that hour than I have ever known. You are a born educator.” And the rest is history. Together Allison and I created “Project You.”
Tyra standing in front of a classroom at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business
Photo by Kiefer Hickman
There is always an element of “teaching” in your show, America’s Next Top Model, as you mentor young women to be top models. However, what surprised you the most about being an educator at a top graduate school?
I was nervous… that first-day-of-school-nervous, literally! At first, it was a bit intimidating to think I’d be teaching at THE Stanford University—the school with graduates like Phil Night of NIKE and Charles Schwab! But what surprised me the most was how open and willing they were to go out of their comfort zone to expose who they thought they were and who they wanted to be. Let me tell you, we were not easy on them! Allison and I introduced some unconventional and innovative elements to our class. I actually just finished teaching it for the second Spring session in May 2018 and the course continues to receive wonderful evaluations and reviews. I still receive updates from many of my former students who tell me how the tools we taught in the class have helped them extend their brand, allowed them to pitch themselves successfully, and have enabled them to understand what their superpowers are in terms of what they have to offer and leverage in the business world.
Intuitively, I knew there had always been elements of teaching on my talk show, The Tyra Show, and in mentoring my contestants on America’s Next Top Model, I’ve always wanted to teach, but thought I would save it for retirement.
Tell us, what were your students like? Do you think some took the course just to meet you?
There is so much diversity at Stanford. There was a mix of students who were brilliant, funny, vulnerable and socially aware. There were a few students who initially wanted to take this course just to meet me, or try something that sounded cool and different. But they ended up saying that this course was more valuable than any other course they had taken at the GSB. I was also surprised and encouraged by how open and curious they were about my areas of expertise related to the business world. In their final papers they turned in, it was so evident that they’d retained much more information from my curriculum than I could have ever anticipated. Stanford’s credo is Change Lives, Change Organizations, Change the World. And, after spending time with these students I have full confidence they are going to do just that.
Allison Kluger and Tyra Banks, Co-Instructors of Project You.
Photo by Kiefer Hickman
You teach with Allison Kluger, a lecturer at the GSB. What is it like teaching together and how do you both decide on the content and how to deliver it?
Allison and I had as much fun teaching the course as we did making it. It worked out that we have very complimentary styles in how we work and teach. To prepare and create our course, she flew to LA a few times, I flew to Palo Alto a few times, and SKYPE came in very handy. Between the two of us, we have a lot of experience in the media and business world, yet we each have our own stories that are unique and relevant.
Photo by Matthew Jordan Smith
Can you share one or two beliefs you have about the importance of Personal Branding?
I have always believed that different is being better than better. Meaning, you need to figure out what makes you special, unique–that x-factor that makes you stand out from the pack. In my new book, Perfect is Boring, I talk about this a lot. Brands, products, shows and companies that excel and succeed are usually ones that tap into a new market or spark something fresh. Second, you need to know what you stand for and what you don’t stand for when creating your personal brand. Be bold, be firm, don’t waver. This creates integrity and credibility.
AMERICA’S GOT TALENT — Season: 13 — Pictured: (l-r) Howie Mandel, Mel B, Heidi Klum, Tyra Banks (Photo by: Andrew Eccles/NBC)
What do you think makes your course unique or different from other courses offered at the GSB?
From what I understand, Project You was the first course to stream live from Facebook before and after class with students’ feedback and thoughts. We wanted to make sure our students had ample opportunity to broadcast their personal brands across multiple media platforms, social media, and live television. We also covered all aspects of branding from their origin story, to visual branding, and how they spoke on camera. Gary Vaynerchuk, Social Media Guru, was our guest and helped each student figure out what was the best platform for them to promote their brand at present and in the future. Julie Cottineau, a branding expert, also helped our students to differentiate their brands even more.
Finally, we had activities and assignments throughout the course leading to the final project which was to pitch their personal brand in 90 seconds on live television as we critiqued them. Our goal was to make sure our students really had a sense of who they are, what they stand for, what their differentiating factor is, how their visual branding can support their message and how to feel confident approaching people with their vision. We packed a lot into the course. Project You made a lasting and indelible impact on students and has become one of the most in-demand, oversubscribed and respected classes in the two years it was offered.
Tyra, personally, what has this experience of teaching meant to you?
It’s been a humbling experience. I’ve always tried to use my career and life lessons to help teach aspiring models, those trying to break into the entertainment industry, and self-esteem to young girls – these are my passions. Being asked to teach in a classroom, at a top graduate school, as a formal educator in personal branding to our future business leaders, is one of the most fulfilling things I’ve done in my entire life, and I see teaching fulltime as an eventual career evolution.
As this is THE Fashion Edition, we can’t let you go without asking you some tips on how you look as young and stunning as you did in your 20’s! Do you have any secrets you can share with our readers about wardrobe, fashion or beauty maintenance?
My golden rule is always ALWAYS remove your makeup before going to sleep. It’s when we are asleep that our skin, hair, nails, go through a regeneration. So it’s really important that the skin is clear of any dirt and grime from the day. I’ll be honest though, I try as much as I can to follow my own rule… but sometimes Ty Ty is TYRED and my head hits the pillow without second guessing.
Photo by Matthew Jordan Smith