As A CEO, Trisha Yearwood Is Hitting All The Right Notes

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TRISHA YEARWOOD CALLS US AT NOON ON THE DOT AND IMMEDIATELY WORRIES  that she’s late. And we’ll admit it, we’re surprised. It’s an anomaly for a musician to be on time… especially when said musician is one of the top country music artists of all time. In our opinion, she’s earned herself a little leeway.

Since launching her career in 1991, Yearwood (who turns 53 this month), has sold more than 15 million albums worldwide and won three Grammy Awards, three Country Music Association Awards, two Academy of Country Music Awards, an American Music Award and a Pollstar Industry Award for touring. None of her success came from being a diva or, as it happens, from being late. But being smart? That’s a different story.

She tells us about a producer she worked with who, because she was a musician, expected her to be late and therefore always showed up 15 minutes after the set time of their meetings. To make a point, she started matching his lateness, arriving just as he would. When he realized what she was doing, he changed his tardy ways fast. “He said, ‘Yeah, we are going back to being on time—that’s what we’re going to do,’” she recalls.

This cleverness has helped the country chanteuse excel in both her musical career and her corporate one. In addition to singing, Yearwood is an extremely hands-on CEO of her own self-titled lifestyle empire, and an accomplished chef and author who’s released three successful cookbooks—all of which earned her a place on The New York Times’ best-sellers list. She has also tried her hand at television, with a recurring role on JAG between 1998 and 2002 and, since 2012, hosting the Trisha’s Southern Kitchen culinary series on the Food Network, which won an Emmy.

“I’d love to say that I had this five-year plan because I am a planner [she’s a Virgo, as it happens], but it was really a happy accident,” she says. Roughly ten years ago, she flew to New York from her Nashville home at the behest of her manager, who wanted her to take a meeting with a publishing house. The initial proposal was for an autobiography, which she balked at. “I was like, ‘I don’t really want to write that yet… maybe somebody and maybe not ever because I hate buying those books where [the author] isn’t telling the story that you really wanted to know; it’s just a watered-down version of the truth.”

Yearwood with husband Garth Brooks
Yearwood with husband Garth Brooks

So, instead, publishing house Clarkson Potter (an imprint of Penguin Random House) wanted to know what she would be interested in writing about. Her answer: food. Yearwood quickly offered up the services of her mother and sister to create Georgia Cooking in an Oklahoma Kitchen: Recipes from My Family to Yours, a tribute to her family’s traditions—and the rest is history. “I thought we’d have a chance to put down all those recipes that I have in a shoebox or in my mom’s brain, and it will be awesome to have, but I never thought it would go beyond that. I never dreamed it would do well, that there would be more books, that there would be a TV show,” she admits.

She also never imagined that her prowess in the kitchen would lead to a collaboration with Williams Sonoma, a collection of Southern-inspired goods that launched this summer (which, incidentally, she sampled for the first time with husband Garth Brooks while on her first true vacation in 12 years in Hawaii last December). “Ultimately, I really like what I’m doing. Everything I’ve done has led to something else. Furniture and cookware and Williams Sonoma… they’re all choices that I make based on ‘Does this feel like me? Is it something I can be involved in? Am I going to have fun? Am I going to enjoy the people I work with?’ At this point in my life, I am not going to do it if it’s not going to be fun.”

We never make the mistake of assuming that ‘fun’ and ‘easy’ are the same thing, and neither does she—in fact, the latter description certainly doesn’t apply to her current role of CEO. “I really had to learn to be a boss,” she confides. “It was on-the-job training. I was raised in the South, where my parents really encouraged me to be anything that I wanted, but at the same time there’s a little bit of ‘Make sure you keep everybody happy and don’t rock the boat.’ To become a CEO and to run your own company, whether it’s leading your band or crew on the road or having employees that are working on your behalf in other areas, you’ve got to learn how to be the boss—and it’s hard. You can’t be a CEO and keep everyone happy at the same time. It’s a Southern girl’s dilemma.”

Needless to say, after 25 years of calling the shots, she’s learned a thing or two, including one very important lesson: “You don’t help anybody out if you don’t say what’s on your mind,” she maintains. “If you’re not happy with what’s happening, there is a way of expressing yourself that’s respectful. I used to keep everything bottled up because I didn’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings, so by the time I told you what was happening, I was so mad that I didn’t say it right. I didn’t blow up on anybody, but I was really good at passive aggressive behavior.”

Now, she knows how to handle situations like, well, a boss. “Before it gets out of hand, now I say, ‘Can we talk about this?’ And that’s just being a grownup. I don’t think that anybody enjoys working in an environment… of fear or intimidation, and I would be horrible at that anyway,” she laughs. “Also, I don’t think you can operate in an environment where everybody runs over you and does what they want—there’s got to be a balance.”

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Yearwood performs onstage in Las Vegas in 2016

That said, she’s finally found that fine line within her own company. “I feel pretty good about [it],” she says. “I still don’t like confrontation and [I] want everybody to be happy, but I also realized that, as an adult, that’s not always the way it’s going to be. Everybody in my camp knows that I run the ship, but also that I’m open to ideas. If I’m being a jerk, I want you to tell me that I’m being a jerk. I know that’s not as easy as it sounds, but most of the people that I work with have known me a long time and say, ‘You need to chill out.’” She pauses a beat. “Mostly, it’s my husband that will tell me that!”

And when your husband is Garth Brooks—the best-selling solo artist in U.S. history – you should probably listen. “I live in a household where, as successful as I am, I live with the most successful guy on the planet. He’s a well of information,” she says, “But he won’t give me advice unless I ask for it because we don’t want to get into a ‘Here’s what you should do king of thing. He’s a great source to go to to say, ‘This is what I’m dealing with. Do you have any perspective?”

And Brooks always strives to deliver. “His best advice is to take a deep breath and [say] ‘You don’t have to give an answer right this second. Let’s just not talk for a second and think about it.” She laughs, “But I want to know the answer right this second!”

Her impatience, in her opinion, is a flaw-but not a debilitating one. “I definitely have a lot of weaknesses,” Yearwood starts to say, but then momentarily stops. “My husband just walked in and I don’t want to talk in front of him because he’ll probably give you a list of my weaknesses.” She pauses again. “Although he does think I’m pretty perfect.”

What’s certain is that Garth Brooks, whom she’s been married to since 2005, but has been close friends with since launching her career (they even won a Grammy A ward together for their 1998 duet “In Another’s eyes”) is her perfect match in a plethora of ways. “One of [my weaknesses] is that I worry too much about things that I probably shouldn’t. Sometimes I worry because deep down, underneath it all, I am a people-pleaser. My husband is a great counterpart to me because he really is an eternal optimist. He is a dreamer. He’s the guy that says, ‘Don’t worry about it, it’s going to work out fine’ – and most of the time, he’s right.”

He’s also the man who, because of his own success, understands when work periodically has to come first. “Sometimes, when I am filming the cooking show, they’re long days. I’m coming home every nigh to my husband, but it is not quality time. So he just knows our relationship-which is [usually] number one-is not going to be number one that week.”

It can be tough wearing so many hats. But Yearwood has come to realize that, despite being a women who can do it all, perhaps she shouldn’t— at least not all at once. “I think the reality of that whole thing… means that things have to shift. I don’t believe I can do ten things equally well. I think that if I am trying to do ten things, then maybe five of those things get my full attention and five of them are going to suffer a little bit for a minute, and then they’ll get their chance. I don’t think you can go on all cylinders in every aspect of your life all of the time. You’ll be happier if you realize that you can’t do everything all the time. You have to give yourself a break.” Juggling her cookbooks, show, marriage and ongoing three-and-a-halfyear tour with Brooks means that her recording career has fallen somewhat by the wayside. Though she and her hubby released the holiday album Christmas Together in 2016, she hasn’t put out a solo disc since 2014’s Prizefighter, a compilation of greatest hits and new songs. But now it’s time. “New music has had to take a backseat for a while, but 2018 feels wide open for me as far as recording. I was listening to a song just last night and I am just ready,” she says. “I feel it tapping on my shoulder like, ‘Hey, don’t forget about me!’”

Music is her first love, after all. She goes so far as to say that, between all of her other passions, “If you made me pick—and I hope I never have to, but if you made me make a choice—well, I would choose music,” she states. “I have wanted to do this since I was five years old; I’ve always known that I wanted to be a singer.” She pauses, rephrases. “Rather, I knew I was a singer—I just did not know if I was going to be able to do it professionally. I would definitely be down at your local Holiday Inn five times a week if I was not doing it this way. I’ve always felt it was more of a calling than a choice.”

Yearwood also knew it was important to follow her dreams, and that she’d regret it if she hadn’t. “I think that a lot of us settle. A lot of us settle in our personal lives and also in our jobs, and I understand that. When [you] are young, especially, and you go on a path and all of a sudden you’ve got to make ends meet so you take a job that’s not your dream job and you end up in that job… your whole life. I get it. I know a lot of my friends are in that boat.”

Making music in any capacity is just one of the things that makes her feel complete. Authenticity is another. “I learned early on—and it goes back to making that first album and choosing the songs you are going to sing—that if you don’t pick those songs, if you have somebody pick those songs for you based on what they think a hit is or what they think you should sing, then you are singing a song every night, hopefully for the rest of your life, that you don’t like.” On the flip side, she notes, “If you record a song that everybody says is a huge hit and it’s not, then you basically sold your soul for no reason. Early on, I learned that your name is all you have—it’s everything.”

At the end of the day, she accepts that responsibility because she’s doing everything she always wanted to do, and things she never believed were possible. For that fact alone—for her determination in making her dreams come true, as well as achieving both the impossible and improbable—she is a true power woman in every sense of the word.

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Yearwood performs onstage in Las Vegas in 2016

But don’t expect Yearwood to refer to herself as such. “When you say the word ‘power,’ I don’t think of the most famous, the richest, the most successful people in the world as far as what America might say is the richest or the most powerful,” she says. “I think of really doing what you love to do. And I think power comes in following your heart and your gut because, at the end of the day, it’s about going to bed at night feeling good about what you’ve done and who you are. That has to do with what your personal life is—your relationship with your husband, your children, your parents, your significant other—whomever you love. If those relationships are good, then you can sleep well at night. I think you can serve a lot more people if you are taking care of yourself and if you are happy with what you are doing. And if you are not, then you are not going to be happy and it’s going to reflect in everything you do—including your business.”

That said, there is a recipe to having a wonderful life—one very special ingredient—and this musician and chef knows exactly what spice to add. “I think that true happiness comes with doing what you love and in being with the people that you love. At the end of the day, having lost both of my parents has changed my perspective on life so much,” she says. “They were madly in love, married for 45 years, they lived their lives and now they are gone. It was a realization for me. I thought, ‘We’re all going to go, so how do I want to live my life?’”

To Yearwood, the answer was simple: “I want to be joyful. I want to be having fun. I try to go to bed at night realizing ‘You don’t get that many of these.’ When you are young, you think you’ve got a million days left. You realize ‘OK, what are you going to do with your days, and what are you going to do with your nights?’ And if you go to bed happy with how you spent your day, well then, that’s a good thing.”

It seems that Trisha Yearwood the musician, the CEO, the chef and the wife knows a thing or two about happy endings—and about finding the true recipe for success.

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