If there were one word to describe life in the United States after World War II it may be ‘boom’. There was an economic boom, a population boom and a boom in the television industry. As life returned to normal, most families could afford to own a TV and most of those sets tuned in to the Texaco Star Theater featuring Milton Berle. Viewers enjoyed his humor and the wide variety of entertainment. Some watched and dreamed of achieving fame as he had.
One such viewer was a young Jewish girl living in Brooklyn with her dentist father, her stay-at-home mother and her brother David. She had dreamed of being famous – of becoming a star – but let that dream slip when she determined that she didn’t have the talent necessary. Instead she turned to education. She graduated high school in 31/2 years and was accepted into American University in Washington D.C. Upon graduating in 1963, she enrolled in that school’s Washington School of Law – the only woman in a class of 126.
A year later she married and moved to New York City with her husband. In 1965, she earned her law degree and began to work as a corporate attorney at a cosmetics firm. She left after two years both because she wasn’t fulfilled and to raise her two children. Five years later, a friend mentioned a job opening in the New York court system and she went for it and became a prosecutor in the family court system. There, she routinely prosecuted child abuse, domestic violence and juvenile offenders. The workload was not just enormous, it was difficult and emotionally draining.
She was known to be a very hard working, fair but no-nonsense litigator. Her home life wasn’t as successful – she and her husband divorced after 12 years of marriage. Soon after, she met Jerry, the man who would become her second husband a year later. At home, hers was a family of seven – the couple, her two children and his three. At work, she continued to deal with families both dysfunctional and divided.
Mayor Ed Koch appointed her a family court judge. In that position she meted out her form of justice – swift, direct, effective and always no-nonsense. Four years later she was appointed supervising judge for the family court’s Manhattan Division. Continued success and new positions didn’t change her. She continued to be assertive, demanding, abrasive, firm fair and sarcastic – but most of all she was effective. So much so that in 1993, the Los Angeles Times did a feature on her which led, in turn, to her being a featured segment on CBS’ 60 Minutes. With this newfound publicity, her persona and popularity continued to grow.
1996 was a landmark year for her. In February she published her first book, Don’t Pee on My Leg and Tell Me It’s Raining. That year – after twenty-five years and over 20,000 cases – she retired from family courts. She was approached with the concept of her presiding over real courtroom cases with real consequences – as a judge in a television courtroom. At the age of 54, she launched into a new career.
That show is now beginning its 20th season – its success being driven by the same assertive, sarcastic, fair and effective judge who first practiced in New York courts. Her show became the most watched syndicated show on television with audience numbers reaching 7 million viewers per week. After several nominations, she finally received an Emmy in 2013 for her work on the show. The little girl who quashed her thoughts of becoming a major television star is now earning $47 million per year. Milton Berle would have been both proud and jealous.
This success doesn’t define a brand – rather, it’s the result of Judith Sheindlin, Judge Judy, being a fearless brand.
Fearless Brands remain true to themselves yet continue to evolve
Judy Sheindlin has spent a lifetime growing, learning and evolving, yet she is nothing if not authentic and genuine. Her passion – her why – hasn’t changed over her nearly five decades of work in the legal arena. She is driven to dispense justice – fairly, swiftly and effectively. Her mission is to change lives – standing up for the underdog and the abused while meting out verdicts which hold the guilty accountable and urging them to change their ways.
Judge Judy has been tested, confronted and questioned by attorney’s, defendants – even plaintiffs. Many assume her to be a cold-hearted woman. In her 1993 60 Minutes segment, an attorney who had just been quite forcefully admonished is seen clearly calling the judge a ‘bitch’. Yet, Sheindlin has a warm, caring and loving side.
She and her husband Jerry, presided over each of their children’s marriages (four of five are married). In 1990 she and Jerry divorced largely due to the impact Judy’s father’s death had on her. Within a year they had remarried. Sheindlin is a stereotypical doting grandmother.
Dare to cross her however, and you’re certain to see how assertive a woman just five feet two inches tall can be. You’re likely to hear any number of her trademark phrases which include “If you live to be a hundred, you will never be as smart as me. On your BEST day, you’re not as smart as *I* am on my WORST day.” and “…I eat morons like you for breakfast. You’re gonna be crying before this is over.” But then what would you expect from the woman who’s second book is titled Beauty Fades, Dumb is Forever.
There are two key lessons from Judge Judy which anyone building their own brand must know
Keep Evolving Your Brand – A brand is not static – it is fluid. A brand changes with time – it must change to remain relevant and vital. Judy Sheindlin continued to evolve as a person – as a brand. Her why hasn’t changed…but her what has. She has improved her skills and learned new ones while assuming new challenges and roles in her life. Throughout those evolutions, she has remained both authentic and relevant.
It’s Never Too Late – Because brands are fluid, it’s never too late to embark on a new journey. Sheindlin began her current career twenty years ago at the age of 54. If you believe that ‘my ship has sailed’ or that ‘I’m just too old’, then you really need to rethink your brand. Reevaluate your why. Reignite your passion. Refresh your skills – or learn new ones.
Judge Judy is a powerful firecracker in a small package. That’s who she is. You just need to be you – the best you possible. You can always, evolve your brand, strengthen your brand, become a fearless brand. Why should you? Simple – for the results – to achieve your dream results – just as an adult Judy Sheindlin realized the dreams of her youth.