It’s Tyra Banks’s show, we’re all just living in it.
Banks has conquered supermodeling, talk show hosting, television producing, and just about every other media platform you can think of. Now, at 45, she is preparing to launch her biggest enterprise yet: Modelland, a “modeling amusement park” that is scheduled to open late this year. It’s a massive undertaking, and to brush up on her business acumen, Banks has returned to Harvard Business School.
Banks previously attended HBS’s Owner/President Management program in 2011 and 2012. The three-week certificate program delves into essential business fundamentals, emerging best practices, and areas of special interest to entrepreneurial business leaders. This month she is on campus for OPM Renew, a nine-session intensive course with OPM faculty, guest speakers, and successful OPM alumni that reinforces what past OPM students have learned and “explores how the world’s top entrepreneurial business leaders are starting new ventures, driving operational excellence, and capitalizing on disruptive innovation,” according to an online summary.
“I came to the business school many years ago with the Modelland dream in mind and now launch is so close,” Banks wrote in a recent Instagram post. “I have returned to school to refresh the knowledge I gained and to make sure I am more than equipped to bring you an attraction like you’ve never experienced before. A place that allows you to be the fantasy version of yourself.”
FROM CAMBRIDGE TO NORCAL
Harvard isn’t the only B-school to have welcomed the inimitable Ms. Banks to its hallowed halls. In 2017, she went to the head of the classroom for one of HBS’s biggest rivals, Stanford Graduate School of Business, where she co-taught a spring elective with Amy Kluger titled “Project You: Building and Extending Your Personal Brand.” Banks made the supermodel-to-professor switch after speaking on the Stanford campus in 2015 as part of a Stanford Women in Business leadership series, sharing stories about her path toward entrepreneurship, including her decision to cold-call Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh to ask his advice on how to do her own startup.
Kluger, formerly a producer for “The View” and once a host for a cable-TV shopping network, was in the audience. She sat in the front row and immediately after the event went backstage to make her pitch to Banks. Within a week, a conference call between the two occurred, a few more calls followed, and the course on personal branding emerged.
‘EINSTEIN & ALGEBRAIC EQUATIONS & CRAZINESS’
Banks recalled in a 2016 interview what it was like to be at Harvard for the first time. Asked to name her most difficult HBS class, she quickly noted it was finance. “For the first 30 minutes of the class, I’m raising my hand, I’m all into it, ‘cause it’s kind of like theory and just like, the social part of the case,” she told VH1. “The last hour it’s all like Einstein and algebraic equations and craziness. And I’m just like, what the (heck) is going on? Please don’t call on me because it won’t be pretty.”
Now, with Harvard’s help, Banks is close to the culmination of 10 years’ work to open Modelland.
“I’ve always been insanely inspired by attractions like Disneyland and Universal Studios and have wanted to bring that spirit of adventure and storytelling to the world of modeling,” Banks told Variety. “But not the exclusive modeling industry. I’m talking about modeling for the masses.”
In a recent profile in People, Banks clarified that Modelland will include clothing for guests to wear created by Hollywood costume designers and stylists and won’t include daily runway shows. “That’s low-hanging fruit,” she said. “This is bursting the door open and redefining what a model is. It’s all about inclusiveness.”
And in her Instagram post from Cambridge, Banks added: “The genius professors here at (Harvard Business School) are sharing their world-class knowledge so that I can then take that and give YOU what you deserve. Thank you to all of the faculty for your tireless teachings and for believing in your students so much. I hope to make you proud.”