Steve Harvey: The Man Behind The Brand – An Exclusive Interview

by Edward Cates

Savoy Summer 2013 Cover Story

by Edward Cates 

Before Steve Harvey goes out on stage he prays the same prayer asking for the same thing. “Let my gift that you have given me, shine through brightly and help me to remember my pace.” Steve Harvey mastered pace in comedy a long time ago and has taken the practice of perfect timing and applied it to expand the demand and influence of his personal brand into a multimedia empire.

During a Valentines Day media blitz I was invited to New York to interview Harvey for Savoy over lunch during a heavily scheduled media day of appearances. As an aficionado on matters of the heart, Harvey was in demand for romantic advice. By the time I landed in New York, he broadcast his radio show remotely, appeared as a guest on a regional TV morning show, “Today” and “The View” before we met for lunch at Gordon Ramsay’s restaurant in the London Hotel. Later that evening he would appear on “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon”. As we settled into our interview and conversation it was an opportunity to observe his pace, see him in his stride and get to know the elements of the man that are the Steve Harvey brand.

First Lady Michelle Obama on the set with Steve Harvey.

First Lady Michelle Obama on the set with Steve Harvey. Photo Credit: Chuck Hodes, NBC

“How do you do all of this? That’s the biggest question,” said Harvey as he reflected upon his daily life.  “The secret is very simple.  All you have to do is care about every single minute of the day. And once you do that, you will be stunned at what you can accomplish. I know exactly where I’m supposed to be during the course of a day.  I map out the spaces where I can shut it down, relax, meditate, take a moment to myself, lay on my back on a mat in my dressing room and breathe.  Once I’m done with that designated period I’m back to the grind because what people do too much of… People do too much chilling. See the harder I work, the harder I can play. It affords me the ability to give my family a lifestyle beyond my dreams, their dreams and that’s the key to it.“

Examine closely the growth of Steve Harvey’s brand and business ventures and you find purposeful connectivity in everything he does. The “Steve Harvey” daytime television show is becoming one of the most successful new first-run syndication launches in the past decade. In the February 2013 sweep, “Steve Harvey” was the #1 new first-run show with Women 18-49 nationally. “Family Feud” is achieving its highest ratings in syndication in 22 years since Steve Harvey became the host in Fall of 2010 competing with Wheel of Fortune, Jeopardy and Judge Judy. The Steve Harvey Morning Show airs Monday-Friday, 6-10am EST on 63 radio station in the US and has approximately 7 million weekly listeners. Harvey’s first book, “Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man” was released in 2009 and held the #1 spot on the New York Times Best Seller list for 23 straight weeks and was listed for 64 weeks total. His second book, “Straight Talk, No Chaser” was released in 2010 and debuted at #1 on the New York Times Best Seller List.  The success of his first book spawned the film adaptation “Think Like A Man” that released domestically and internationally in 2012, grossing over $90 million at the box office. It was the #1 movie in America two weeks in a row and unseated the blockbuster movie “The Hunger Games” after a month at #1.  The Steve Harvey apparel lines include the Steve Harvey Collection for Men, The Young Kings Collection (for boys) and The Steve Harvey Women’s Collection and are available at K&G Fashion Superstore, Burlington Coat Factory, JC Penney and In May of this year, Harvey was nominated for two Daytime Emmy Awards; as best talk show host and outstanding game show host and received a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Steve Harvey and Family at his Hollywood Walk of Fame Star Ceremony. Photo Credit: Chris Haston, NBC

Steve Harvey and Family at his Hollywood Walk of Fame Star Ceremony. Photo Credit: Chris Haston, NBC

A serial entrepreneur, he couples his awareness of his influence with business ventures that support his brand and make sense. Harvey thanks his father for his entrepreneurial spirit and belief that he could define his own destiny. “My father only had a third grade education but he was a master at motivating.  He said, “Son, there are two types of people born in the hospital every day.  There’s a person born in the hospital that’s going to get a job.”  He said, “There’s also a person in the same hospital being born that is going to give them a job.”  He said, “You get to pick what kind of person you’re going to be.”

Retired from stand-up comedy, Harvey’s perspective on his most beloved business venture is based upon knowing his audience and being himself.  “Stand-up was my most treasured possession. It was a gut wrenching decision to leave standup because it got me here. But as far as business goes my radio show is my favorite because it promotes the brand that I am.  The radio show tells you about the book and makes you want it. The radio show tells you about Family Feud, my daytime talk show and makes you want to view it. The radio show is the catalyst that drives this. It’s my favorite because it allows me to go either way. I can be stupid funny, I can be flat-out just ignorant or I can be incredibly informative and I can’t do that anywhere else. “

Harvey’s success is no accident. His career exemplifies what happens when God given talent is coupled with a good team and a disciplined work ethic. “You have to surround yourself with top quality people because even though I’m doing all this, I can’t do all this by myself,” added Harvey with his manager, business partner and friend Rushion McDonald (also television and radio producer) within earshot at the next table working on his laptop. “If every entertainer had a Rushion, they’d all be doing much better because he’s a workhorse.  I have found a guy who is not only my friend but he is my business partner and his agenda first and foremost is me because he understands very well that we’re tied into this.  How I go, he goes.  How I eat determines how he eats.  He makes sure I’m eating very well so he can eat well. You’ve got to have great people around you in business.”

As Harvey recalls the moment of upswing in his career he credits meeting his wife Marjorie in 2005 as inspiration for his rise to new heights. “Marrying Marjorie was the single most game changing event in my life. The only woman I’ve ever known that was sweeter to me than her was my Mother. Marjorie is the kindest person and one of the happiest people I’ve ever met. God knew I needed her to be the person he wanted me to be. Marjorie’s attitude, her belief in me and calming spirit would say “Steve you’ve got to do better than that. You can’t get to where you’re trying to go like that.” I discovered that a woman is really the key to every great man’s success.”

Beyond the professional success and fame of Harvey is the substance of his character. Harvey is a dedicated husband, caring father, respectful son, brother, loyal friend and philanthropist. He has a sincere desire to impact lives that is seeded in lessons from his mother. “My mother was a Sunday school teacher and she taught us, God Blesses you to become a blessing. So I always kept that in mind as I climbed this ladder, made money, got famous. Everyone ain’t that fortunate. I have to show as many people I can how to get here.”

Steve Harvey speaks with participants at the Steve Harvey Mentoring Program for Young Men

Steve Harvey speaks with participants at the Steve Harvey Mentoring Program for Young Men

Harvey understands his brand is bigger than the African American community yet stays connected and committed to giving back. The Steve & Marjorie Harvey Foundation is a non-profit organization that focuses on meeting the needs of the whole child through development of programs and support of community-based organizations that foster excellence in the areas of health, education, and social well being within urban and ethnically diverse communities. Foundation programs include the Girls Who Rule the World Mentoring Weekend, the Steve Harvey Mentoring Program for Young Men, scholarships and partnerships with non-profit organizations committed to developing ethnically diverse youth. For 6 years, the Disney Dreamers Academy with Steve Harvey and Essence Magazine has impacted the lives of 600 high school age young men and women giving them tools and resources to achieve their dream.

This year marks the 11th year of the Ford Neighborhood Awards (formerly the Hoodie Awards). The Neighborhood Awards celebrates and recognizes local businesses, neighborhood leaders, educators, churches and high schools. Created by Harvey and McDonald, the show started out of a conversation about recognizing people in the community.

Steve Harvey Hosts the Neighborhood Awards Sponsored by Ford

Steve Harvey Hosts the Neighborhood Awards Sponsored by Ford

“Me and Rushion were in LA and I said, “Man, I’ve got a pretty cool gig.  When I come to work people clap for me. I feel sorry for people who never get a round of applause for doing what they do.”  And then he said jokingly, “Well, go down there and clap for them.”  I said, “Man, wouldn’t that be slick if celebrities honored people in the community? We started talking and one thing led to another and he said “An awards show!” and that was it. The Hoodies were born in LA.  It’s been sold out every year. My favorite part is watching the winners walk up to that stage dressed in evening wear for the first time in their life—in front of 12,000 people. And when that music is playing, watching them come up there and get their clothes together, get to those steps, get their chin up and watch that man take his girl up there—that’s my favorite thing about it.”

As we concluded, in the midst of a hectic media day, our interview transitioned into a discussion. He was 100% open, present and engaged. In time it felt less like a journalist and a celebrity interview and more like two brothers talking at the barbershop. Steve Harvey’s brand is based in truth, honesty and transparency. His projects and business ventures are a magnification of who he is.  When asked what he wants his legacy to be or how he wants his life remembered, his answer illuminated his character even further.

“I hope people say that Steve Harvey cared about people and service and he took time out often to see if we were okay. They’re going to say I was funny.  I got tapes.  I got syndicated shows.  They’re going to be talking about me way after I’m gone.  I learned that the tombstone has three things on it—the date of your birth, it has a dash and the date of your demise.  The most important thing on that tombstone isn’t the day you were born or the date you die. It is that dash.  It’s what you do in the middle—that little dash—that’s who you are.  If they say “He’s gone now, man.  The world would be better if he was still here.”  That’s what I want them to say.  They say that, brother—God will probably let me in heaven on that.”


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