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WOMEN+POWER 2023: Kris Jenner & The Kardashians

At age 51, she landed her family a reality TV show that would change everything. Fifteen years later, the “momager” still gets a cut of her kids’ 15 businesses and, more recently, is striking out on her own.

Kris Jenner is directing her own photo shoot.

“That’s cute!” Jenner, 66, beams at one of her shots on a nearby monitor, while pointing out the area she wants retouched (her neck). The momager of the Kardashian empire–a word to which Jenner holds the trademark–expertly poses, shifting angles for the photographer. Her face is meticulously done in the family’s signature makeup of inky eyelashes, nude lips and impeccable contour, a look called “Instagram face” for its ubiquity and popularity.

It’s an early September day, still summer, and this midtown Manhattan studio provides a cave-like respite from the heat. Good thing. Jenner came with her “glam squad”—her two on-call hair and makeup people—along with her PR person and two security guards, one whose job seems to be holding her designer bag. She’s in a black suit and bodysuit (from Good American and Skims, companies run by her daughters, natch), topped off with black leather gloves (which she never takes off), Chanel platform loafers and massive sparkling hoop earrings. She radiates the same power and glamor exuded by her celebrity daughters: Kim Kardashian, Khloé Kardashian, Kourtney Kardashian, Kylie Jenner and Kendall Jenner.

The directing, the styling, the constant photo-readiness: it’s all part of the careful choreography surrounding Jenner and her daughters. It’s a rare up-close look inside Jenner’s highly calibrated world, a level of coordination that’s evidence of not only the matriarch’s authority, but also the machinery that has helped her turn the Kardashians’ fame into a multi-billion-dollar empire.

“I’m the one who can help them [her kids] identify what it is that they want to do, help them create a business, build an infrastructure and help them focus,” Jenner says.

“Kris Jenner is an unstoppable force,” says Ryan Seacrest, who green-lit the family’s reality TV show. He adds that she “led her family to succeed in creating an empire bigger than anything we could have ever imagined when we came up with the show’s concept 15 years ago.”

Back then Jenner, at age 51, forever changed the reality TV landscape with the October 14, 2007, premiere of Keeping Up With The Kardashians on the E! network. It delivered an insider’s view of the family’s trials and tribulations, along with some outrageous moments, including when Kourtney and Kim came to blows in the season 18 premiere, leaving Kim bleeding. The show ran for 20 seasons, airing 285 episodes in total and ended in 2021.

Then it rebooted on Hulu with a zippy new name, The Kardashians. Hulu claimed the show’s April debut was the most-watched series premiere in the U.S., but didn’t disclose viewer numbers. According to streaming analytics compiler Entertainment Strategy Guy, however, the Hulu premiere didn’t break into the top 10 of any major trackers for hours watched, including Nielsen. But Jenner has turned the family into a household name and her kids into entrepreneurs all after she turned 50, proving that success has no age limit.

Although she usually provides behind-the-scenes support, putting her daughters out front (in their TV show’s first season, Jenner attained instant meme status by telling Kim, “You’re doing great, sweetie!” as her daughter posed nude in a Playboy shoot), she’s emerging as the face of her own brands. Her Safely cleaning products company, for example, was born of her insatiable drive to keep her home spotless. Setting it apart from the Methods and Windexes of the world, Jenner says, are the products’ plant-based formulation, which she says are a first in the category.

“Kris is such an incredible partner because she’s truly a fully immersed participant in every component,” Safely co-founder Emma Grede tells Forbes. The two women created Safely with model and cookbook author Chrissy Teigen in March 2021, though Teigen left several months later, following revelations on social media that she’d bullied TV personality Courtney Stodden, who was a teenager at the time. (Teigen publicly apologized.) Jenner owns an estimated 7% of the company, which raised an undisclosed amount of funding from investors led by venture capital firm Imaginary Ventures (also a backer of Kim Kardashian’s wildly successful Skims). In February, Safely rolled out its products in 1,700 Walmart stores; it’s also available through Bed Bath & Beyond and Amazon. Neither Grede nor Jenner would comment on its revenues.

Her six children (there’s son Rob, plus five daughters) harnessed their reality TV show fame and tremendous social media influence—they have a billion followers combined—to help start 15 businesses. “They’re human brands,” says Markus Wohlfeil, a marketing professor at De Montfort University in Leicester, England, who studies celebrity fandom and consumer behavior. “You [the fans] basically see them as an ideal friend, ideal mate, ideal partner. So all of your projection of your own desires [onto the Kardashians] is basically how they appear to you,” he tells Forbes, describing the connection they form with fans through their TV show and constant use of social media. “It just gives the illusion they’re very close,” he says, adding that the Kardashian brand then expands through their products. Jenner, Wohlfeil says, is like a modern-day Steve Jobs or Walt Disney. “She’s one of those people who sees individual parts and can actually put them together.”

According to multiple industry sources, Jenner, who sits on the board of each of her kids’ businesses, gets 10% of gross revenue from every product, TV show or modeling gig in which her family participates, in exchange for helping build out staffing and supply chains. “Each one of our businesses has an individual infrastructure and a team built around the company,” she says. It’s an arrangement she made with them at the start. “I said to my kids, ‘Look, I’m going to put my heart and soul into this—I’m going to work hard. And I’ll take 10%, because that’ll make it worth my while,’” Jenner says, adding that it was a better deal for them than what a typical manager would charge. One entertainment attorney whose roster includes A-list clients says the 10% cut is actually pretty standard. So how much does she pull in? Jenner would not disclose any financial information about the businesses’ revenues or her personal earnings.

She has received equity in some cases. Forbes estimates her stakes in the businesses include 1% of Kim’s shape wear and loungewear firm Skims, which was valued by investors at $3.2 billion in January; 5% of Kylie Cosmetics, 51% of which was sold to Coty in January 2020 in a deal that valued the business at nearly $1.2 billion; and 10% of denim and fashion firm Good American (co-founded by daughter Khloé), in addition to the 7% in Safely. She had an estimated 10% stake in Kim Kardashian’s KKW Beauty and got an estimated $20 million when they sold a 20% stake in the business, also to Coty, in January 2021. That brand no longer exists and Kim and Coty have replaced it with SKKN by Kim, a skin-care line that debuted in late June; Coty owns 20% of the business. It’s not clear, though, how much either mother or daughter own in this venture. She does invest some of her personal fortune in some of the family’s ventures, too, but is cagey in sharing just how much. “I’ll give you one,” she says, revealing she put some of her own money into 818, daughter Kendall’s tequila.

Altogether, adding in multiple homes plus earnings from the TV show and dividends from her daughters’ companies, Forbes estimates Jenner’s net worth at $200 million. Not as much as Kim’s $1.4 billion or Kylie’s $600 million estimated fortunes, but pretty impressive given where she came from a decade and a half ago.

“I have to have everything in my life completely organized and perfect—otherwise, I am a complete mess,” she wrote in her 2011 autobiography, Kris Jenner . . . and All Things Kardashian. That control stemmed from her 1991 divorce from high-flying lawyer Robert Kardashian (d. 2003), known for serving on the defense team for O.J. Simpson during his 1995 trial for the alleged murder of wife Nicole. (O.J. Simpson was found not guilty.) Complicating matters were her friendships with both Simpsons prior to Nicole’s murder. And there was the fact that she was not an equal partner in her marriage. “I had no money—not one dollar—to my name. He controlled everything,” Jenner wrote. “It never occurred to me before that moment in this dark time that I had no power. Later in life, I would decide it was a situation I would never be in again.”

Getting to the airwaves was a surprisingly fast process. In 2007 the whole Kardashian-Jenner clan moved into a new, sprawling home in Hidden Hills, California. A friend who worked as a casting director came to visit and surveyed the chaos. Jenner buzzed her daughters over the intercom when the phone rang for them while she made dinner as Kendall and Kylie, then preteens, who bounced off the walls with energy. Amused, the casting director told Jenner she should pitch her family as a reality TV show to Seacrest. “Get me a meeting,” Jenner replied. She pitched to Seacrest the very next day; in 48 hours, the show was sold.

A 2014 Glu Mobile smartphone game helped solidify the relationship between the Kardashians and their fans. Kim Kardashian: Hollywood let users role-play as models and actors and build their reputations to land on the A-list. It was extremely successful. Kim pocketed $45 million through the game from 2015 to 2016, while developer Glu Mobile credited the game with boosting its 2020 financial results due to a “resurgence” of interest. “Kris understood a decade ago that the future of her children’s brands needed to be trans-media,” says Niccolo de Masi, the former Glu Mobile chief executive who pitched the game idea to the Kardashians. “What I love about Kris and Kim is that they are both very disciplined, turn up on time and do what they say they’re going to do,” he adds. “It sounds simple, but there is a short list of Hollywood people who do that.”

Private equity is the next frontier for the family. In September, Kim launched SKYY Partners with former Carlyle Group bigwig Jay Sammons, the dealmaker behind acquisitions like red hot streetwear brand Supreme. As a partner in the firm, Jenner will be involved in fundraising efforts and selecting what to invest in. Hundreds of businesses have pitched the company already, Jenner claims.

In September Jenner also released her second product drop with Kylie Cosmetics, called the Kris Collection. The limited-edition lineup consists of Jenner’s “must-haves,” including pressed powder, lip crayons and cooling under-eye patches. Reviews so far are sparse, with few verified TikTok and Instagram influencers posting about the products.

Having built a hugely popular entertainment business in her sixth decade, Jenner thinks there’s room at the table for more entrepreneurs like her. “I think people are finding their own power and their own way of doing things. And I think that that in and of itself is very powerful,” Jenner says about finding success after 50. “And you know what? It gives a lot of other people hope that there is no rush.”

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