By AML Publisher
Portrait photos courtesy of Kevin E. McPherson
I’m with you because I choose to be with you. I don’t want to live someone else’s idea of how to live. Don’t ask me to do that. I don’t want to find out one day that I’m at the end of someone else’s life.
— Denys Fynch Hatton as portrayed by Robert Redford, Out of Africa, 1985
Kathy Levine stood me up…or so I thought. I had booked an interview with the famously former QVC host this past fall, and one rainy November night headed down 202 to West Chester to her beautiful home in a private development. I was prepared for a formal sit down with the renowned Philadelphia personality, sales aficionado and national home shopping celebrity. Five minutes after I arrived and three doorbell rings later I still stood on a dark doorstep with no cars in the driveway, and things weren’t looking so great. Just as I believed I either had the wrong address or date or some combination of both…a porch light turned on and out of nowhere Kathy Levine swung open the front door.
Levine is profusely apologetic and immediately endearing as she explains she just arrived home from watching her two young grandchildren in north Jersey and was running a bit behind schedule. She is in a dark green bathrobe with her hair dripping wet, not a lick of makeup on (or needed), boasting a flawless porcelain complexion, and flaunting hot pink slippers. She insists she had to “jump into the shower so I didn’t smell like baby puke!” Five minutes after my nontraditional introduction, I am on the couch chatting it up with Kathy, enjoying a glass of vino and having a good ol’ girlfriend-style talk. Our conversation becomes much less a formal interview for my e-magazine and more a sharing of great life lessons that will resonate with pretty much every woman I know.
Kathy Levine had it made in the shade, or so it seemed to the tens of millions of her loyal fans who watched her weekly as the face of home shopping heavyweight QVC. In her groove as one of the original talent who launched the successful company in 1986, Levine excelled in front of the camera for thirteen successful years, bringing in (conservatively) hundreds of millions of dollars in sales. From mops to makeup, fragrance and food, and everything in between, when Kathy Levine was hosting a show, the phones were on fire–the sales smoking. Her irrepressible personality, combined with an awesome confidence and sincerity, made for the perfect package. It was the ultimate Midas touch in the world of sales. Because everything Kathy Levine mentioned, talked about, presented, recommended, or suggested to the millions of live viewers who consistently tuned in for her four-hour sellathons sold and sold very, very well.
By 1999, the names QVC and Kathy Levine were becoming synonymous. A synchronization that would make the likes of Donald Trump envious had planted its roots. Levine and QVC had fallen in love–an inseparable and hugely successful juggernaut of a marriage of on-air sales superstardom and corporate retail America. For the Allentown native and former Spanish teacher, it was a dream come true. For Kathy Levine sales diva extraordinaire, QVC was her entire life. “I think when you spend thirteen years building a career, it is ALL career. I had all the wrong boyfriends during my tenure – not many, but all poorly chosen. I saw my family on a fairly regular basis, but I don’t have children. I was just so devoted to my job, and believe me it was a really, truly magical life to be devoted to,” Levine explained.
QVC paired Levine with the best vendors, scheduled her in the prime time selling spots and sent her all over the world, treating her like a “queen” and working hard to keep her the top name, talent and face of the network. There was even a billboard campaign proposed (that was eventually vetoed) that featured Kathy Levine and the QVC logo. Tens of thousands of viewers adored Levine–most of whom had never even met her.
Kathy’s star rose even higher when QVC took advantage of her comedic talent and timing and paired her with Joan Rivers to launch Rivers’ costume jewelry line. Almost overnight the dynamic duo of Levine and Rivers secured hundreds of millions in sales for the network for years to come. Rivers still appears regularly on QVC and her classic line of pins, earrings and accessories remains one of the best selling in the history of the home-shopping industry.
But for Levine, after thirteen years, tens of thousands of hours in front of studio cameras and a demanding work schedule that had her planted at the West Chester, PA studios round the clock, Kathy Levine had a mid-life ‘question’ as she likes to call it. “I was approaching fifty, and I had a lot to show for my career but the scales were highly unbalanced. Every day is a big day at a home shopping network, every day is Christmas, so there is very little room to come up for air and relax. I wanted to be able to take off on a great weekend on a whim and not have any guilt, not be following through on a responsibility. I looked at my life and knew I had no one special to grow old with; I had no one to hold my head when I was sick. I had great financial and professional success with zero balance. It was all work and all QVC all the time. So, I decided I wanted to get focused about being involved with someone in a very serious way. So that’s when I dedicated myself to finding that person” she reflected.
Single, attractive, successful, and financially secure, in 1998 Levine decided to take on a second fulltime ‘job’ and committed herself to start working the dating scene. She took flying and sailing lessons—and joined local clubs. Long before the likes of online dating companies, Levine, then 46, relied heavily on local magazine and newspaper ads. Kathy Levine was determined to locate Mr. Right.
But it took time and self-awareness. “I met a 28 year-old guy; I thought his mother was going to choke! We (my girlfriends and I) called him the pup—and he was a young, great guy! And, believe me we had a fantastic time, dated for about six months. I played tennis every week; we went to rock concerts and did all sorts of fun, young things. But then I had to re-evaluate my situation because that was not exactly what I had set out to do. We ended up becoming great friends and still stay in touch. But, I was looking for a life partner,” she explained.
So, instead of continuing to field the responses to the ads she had placed, Kathy answered an ad in her local newspaper. The title read ‘Businessman Pilot’ and it said the pursuant was ‘looking for someone to fly through life’ with. It immediately caught Kathy’s attention. Married for 30 years, Steve Taub was in the midst of an amicable divorce and was on his own—new to the dating scene after three decades of raising a family and working his way up to become a CEO. So Levine called Taub at 2:30am just to hear his voice and leave a message stating, “I’m your pilot, you can call me tomorrow.” The phone rang seven hours later with Steve inquiring if Kathy was actually a pilot, giving her the third degree. Taub had received 92 responses to his personal ad in less than a week and was working through his top ‘leads.’ Kathy Levine was lucky number seven.
Before she knew it, Levine had a date at Radnor Valley Country Club with the ‘pilot’ and from there the sparks flew. “It was a great date, Steve was so interesting, handsome, a tremendous listener, his eyes were focused on me and he was not self-serving. And, at that point I was not only looking for a life-partner, I was in serious contemplation about leaving QVC. Not a decision or idea I was taking lightly, remember this was my life. And, Steve was fantastic because I needed somebody to make it okay for me to move on. He said, ‘Look, here’s the deal—you never want to look back on your life and say woulda, coulda, shoulda. You have succeeded, you are at the top of your game and this is it. You got to the top and that is great, you need to decide if you want to move on and say thanks’”, Levine recalled.
The wheels of fate were set into motion after the first date with Taub. Shortly after, Levine reconnected with Barry Diller—the media extraordinaire known best for his reign at ABC and Paramount, a world famous billionaire, and former president of Fox who had purchased a $25 million dollar minority stake in QVC before resigning in 1995. There was no love loss between Diller and QVC, whom had parted ways under not so amicable circumstances. Levine asked Diller if there was anything that she might fit into that he was working on. In fact, there was – Diller was seeking a host for a new talk show based out of New York City. The pay was considerably more than her QVC salary and it could not have been a better carrot to dangle in front of Levine. She would be fully compensated for a three-year contract whether or not the show ever made it on air.
April 30, 2000 was Levine’s last day on QVC—Kathy was sent off with lavish parties and celebrated for her successful years with the West Chester company. She walked away from her dream job at QVC not because of a more lucrative life on the horizon with the talk show, but simply because she wanted the time to devote to her personal life. Taub and Levine were married December 10th, 2000 at the Park Hyatt at the Bellevue in Philadelphia. Levine says she hung in there to get to the right man and life partner. “I was in for the long haul. As a salesperson, you and I know, you have to knock on a lot of doors and you get a lot of those doors slammed in your face. That’s life, but that cannot stop you. A lot of strange and interesting things can happen if you keep knocking on those doors; one day one person will open the door that is the right door. And, I believed that, I lived by that philosophy and I was determined to be there ready when that door opened,” Levine reflected.
As for Kathy Levine corporate sales success story, there was a lot of talk from her colleagues, friends and family when she announced her decision to retire from QVC, but Levine stood by what was, ultimately, her choice. “I call it chatter, noise. Trust me there was some anger directed towards me, viewers sent me hate mail believe it or not. People were blunt and there was a lot of ‘Who does she think she is? She is not that pretty. She is not that talented. She doesn’t really know how to sell.’ I tuned it ALL out, you have to because this is my life and no one else’s decision in the end,” Levine said.
Barry Diller’s concept of a talk show featuring Levine could not have come at a better time. He took the opportunity to woo away the sales juggernaut that made the network one of the most successful companies in the world just at the time she was contemplating a life change. To Levine, it sounded too good to be true—the prospect of being catapulted to national talk show stardom with Diller by her side as her number one cheerleader. And it was. She cut a pilot for the talk show but that was the first and only production Levine would be involved in. “Believe me, it was a cool, exciting idea and I immediately had these visions of being the next Oprah. Things start swirling in your head and it’s Barry Diller–so certainly he knows what he is doing from a business perspective. I was looking at $12 million penthouses in New York City before I even signed the paperwork,” Levine recalled.
The talk show was a flop and never got off the ground; Levine felt the premise was too comical and contrived to work with her sincere approach. Still, that fateful chat with Diller had given the home shopping diva new wings to take off on another life journey. “Before I had given QVC my notice I confided in Barry and I sincerely asked him, ‘How do you go, how do you leave an employer who has been so golden to you, who made me and has made every day amazing. How do you do it?’ And he said, ‘Kathy, I have the answer – are you ready?’ And it was this very profound moment on the telephone with the Barry Diller and he asked me again, ‘Are you ready?’ And I waited for the answer and then Barry says ‘You say bye-bye…you say goodbye. They will be mad for a moment and life will go on.’ And he was right, they made three billion at QVC when I was there the final year and two years later they were grossing six [billion]. So for QVC, life went on and so did mine,” Levine said.
Levine is certainly living la vida loca now. Taub and she take an exotic vacation at least once a year, and their 13 international bike excursions have landed them literally all over the globe. A sea of hundreds of pictures of their grand travels highlights the wall of their home leading up to the second floor. “We have been to Ecuador, Quebec, Portugal, Costa Rica, Thailand, Provance, Umbria, Chile, Argentina, Mexico, San Juan Islands; Istanbul was fantastic…there are more. It’s hard to keep track. It’s our mutual hobby that we picked up together—I don’t golf and Steve doesn’t shop so it worked out well to bike around the globe.”
Known as ‘GK’ to Taub’s grandchildren, who she baby sits on a regular basis, Levine is soaking in her private time and life experiences of the past eight years. She also leverages her natural talent as a woman every other woman can relate to with a new focus as a motivational lecturer and a sales trainer. She works and travels periodically around the world with infomercial producers and international companies as a talent consultant. And, after an eight year sabbatical, Levine returned to QVC this year to represent a jewelry line called La Vintage. Levine acknowledges her luck at having a former employer welcome her back with open arms. “You never burn a bridge in business, never ever! And, I left QVC on good terms and they did not have to take me back and they did. It’s been a real joy.”
As I am wrapping up a great evening with Kathy, in bounds Taub fresh off a workout at the gym. He’s fit as a fiddle, handsome and personable. He is now an adjunct professor at Drexel University teaching entrepreneurship and also consults with small businesses.
I can’t leave the interview without asking a question or two of him, so as he saunters into the kitchen, I interrupt my chitchat with Kathy to inquire: “Steve, what is the one thing about Kathy Levine maybe nobody knows, that I can let everyone in on?” Taub smiles and says sincerely, “What people don’t realize is that Kathy is just the nicest person I know. She has a heart of gold.” Levine beams like a blushing bride.
Kathy Levine’s decision to walk away from a high profile, high paying job was precipitated by the fact that she wanted to have a lasting, serious relationship and life partner. A choice she speaks candidly about and offers no excuses for. ““What I want people to know and perhaps be inspired by is that this was never a money decision for me, Kathy Levine, QVC sales personality. It was a life decision. A decision I made for a new better life, to get back a life and to pave a new path of my own. Every woman faces choice points in her life. She either wants to get in or out of a relationship, she either wants to get back into the job market or she wants to leave a job, or retire. She wants to do something risky and she is afraid. And when I wanted to leave QVC I looked in the mirror and asked myself, ‘Who do I hurt if I leave QVC?’ And the answer was no one! So here I am today, happily married, traveling the world and with the love of my life. What a great ride it has been—I now have a life much richer than I could have ever imagined.”
Kathy Levine can be contacted for Main Line and Philadelphia corporate speaking engagements and charity events via her website: www.qvc.com for upcoming shows.