Cheryl Saban, wife of media baron Haim Saban, has experienced real turbulence in life. The summer before she was set to start college, the 18-year-old was violently raped. She then got married at 20, had her first child at 21 and was twice divorced by the age of 34. Saban raised two daughters as a single mother, and eventually found herself living paycheck to paycheck. She met her husband, Haim, after answering a blind ad to be his assistant. The couple got married 22 years ago, long before he made it big as television producer of the ?ighty Morphin Power Rangers.?The couple has a son and daughter, and Haim adopted Saban? daughters from her first marriage. Today, Saban devotes the majority of her time to philanthropic causes, including the Saban Free Clinic and Childrens Hospital Los Angeles, and writing books. Her most recent book, ?hat Is Your Self-Worth? A Woman? Guide to Validation,?hit shelves in April. Saban recently sat down with the Business Journal in her Malibu home to discuss her life experiences, how the recession is impacting her community, and what it? like to be married to a powerful entertainment executive.
Question: What your perspective on the economy from your vantage point?
Answer: I have a girlfriend whose life was shattered by this economy. Her husband is a producer, his business stopped and he lost his job. She was a stay-at-home mom getting her doctorate. They were living on their savings and were running out, so she reached out to me for help. I actually was so mortified and I felt so badly for her that I sent her money. She sent it back to me and said, ? don? need that yet.?p>
Q: Philanthropic giving has declined. Do you and Haim feel like you have to fill the void?
A: When the economy first hit the wall, there was an event for the free clinic. We were sure it was going to be very subdued, and people weren? going to be able to reach deep into their pockets. But at this event, which was predominately supported by the entertainment industry, everybody showed up and stepped up to the plate. Granted, these are people who have savings and they aren? giving up the money they have to pay rent with, but it is still a message. I think people understand that this is something we can? let slide.
Q: Are you seeing your circle of friends curb their conspicuous consumption as a result of the economy?
A: People are doing that for sure. When I hear ?onspicuous consumption,?I think that means the most expensive car, tons of jewelry ?things that could be bought at another time. We need to be thoughtful about spending, and yet I? not going to be the judge of that.
Q: Tell me about your background.
A: I grew up in San Diego. We lived three blocks from the grammar school and a half a block from my church. My dad walked to the bus stop and took the bus to work every day. He came home at 5:30 p.m. on the nose and we ate dinner. My mom was a stay-at-home and she didn? even drive until I was 8.
Q: What did your dad do?
A: My dad worked at the telephone company for his entire career, and when he retired he never made more than $30,000 per year. But yet he raised a family of three kids and built our house. We didn? have very much money, but we didn? lack for anything either.
Q: Did your upbringing inspire you to write ?hat Is Your Self-Worth? A Woman? Guide to Validation?p>A: Self-worth has been a vexing part of my life, probably for the first 30 years. It started when I was raped when I was 18. That violent incident colored my experiences for a long time. Even though I went on with my life, it affected and impacted how I related to men, even if it was subconscious. It caused me to fear criticism, I doubted my judgment, and I felt like damaged goods. Even though I was a victim, I felt like it was my fault.
Q: But you continued to live your life?
A: I married at 20, I had my first child at 21, and I was twice divorced by the time I was 34. For a while I was also a single working mom. I couldn? afford health insurance, and I basically lived from paycheck to paycheck, taking care of the two daughters who I had from my first marriage. That was pretty humiliating. My health got so compromised that I took myself to an L.A. free clinic, and that was probably one of my lowest moments. But I think of that now as the catalyst I needed to catapult me out of that worthless feeling.
Q: How was that?
A: After I left the clinic, I realized that I was worthwhile and that I was the one who had to see that. There was no one who was going to take my worth away from me, but there was nobody who was going to built it either. That? what my book is about. I want all women who felt worthless at any point to feel worth it. The only way you can do it is to take responsibility for your own sense of well-being and self-worth.
Q: How does being married to such a powerful businessman impact your sense of self-worth?
A: By the time I met Haim, I was a completely empowered woman. I went to work for him as his assistant, which was fine with me. I was very confident in my ability to be the assistant to a high-powered executive. Haim is like this aggressive, tough guy. But for me, he is a cuddly little lamb. Many people like to think that I was jut handed a life by a very wealthy husband. That is not the case.
Q: Does it bother you when people say that?
A: It doesn? impact me. Although, I think that it can be complicated for women to be with very powerful men. You have to be strong in order to hold your own in that very aggressive soup that is out there. It? funny. When I married Haim, I needed to have a lawyer to have a prenup. I clearly didn? have a lawyer, and I said I will sign anything, I don? need anything. But they insisted. So, I had Gloria Allred? office represent me. It was pretty funny because I wasn? interested in hearing most of the stuff, and when the deal was done, she wasn? happy because I didn? want to fight for whatever she thought I should fight for. At the end of the day, Haim and I burned the prenup. I? a 50-50 partner with Haim.
Q: How did you end up working for Haim?
A: I responded to a blind ad in the Hollywood Reporter. This was way before ?ower Rangers,?this was when he had his office in Studio City on Ventura Boulevard and there were 40 people working for him. It was early on in his meteoric rise.
Q: What was your first impression of him?
A: He was very dark and exotic looking with an amazing smile, (but) I wasn? looking for a guy. I know a man is not a plan and I was confident in my ability to take care of myself financially. So when we met, we met on an equal playing field psychologically. Even though there isn? an equal playing field in terms of finances, that? not the only way you measure somebody.
Q: When did your working relationship turn romantic?
A: We started dating right away, the first week. My plan was to work for him for a few days and I then I was going to work for another producer because when you work as an assistant, you want to make sure the chemistry is right. But, I didn? even go and do the other tryout because we both got along so well.
Q: Tell me about your first date.
A: When he came to pick me up to go out to dinner ?I lived in a tiny apartment with my two daughters ?he came to the door with three roses. He gave one to each girl and they were smitten. It showed me what kind of a man he was right from the get-go, strong in business, strong in love and totally committed to family.
Q: Were there any rocky moments in the relationship?
A: There was a brief breakup. When I met Haim, I was about 36 and I had already had a hysterectomy. But, they left a piece of an ovary, so I was getting enough hormones to function. When I first met Haim, I had to tell him. It? a weird thing to say to somebody, ?y the way, I can? have kids with you.?p>
Q: He broke up with you because you couldn? have children?
A: Haim actually broke up with me for two reasons: an ex-girlfriend came back, that was probably the most important motivation, but the other one was that he was thinking to himself that he? never had children and that? a very important thing to him. The idea that I couldn? have children, even though I fielded this idea of surrogacy, which to him sounded like witchcraft, he broke up with me.
Q: But you got back together.
A: After Thanksgiving, he called me back into his office to talk and he said, ?aybe we should go out to dinner.?It started as a slow friendship, and then it started to build pretty quickly. And at that point, it was clear to both of us. Although it was always clear to me, because I never fell out of love with him.
Q: Tell me more about Haim. Does he come from a privileged background?
A: His family was forced to flee Egypt and they landed in Israel with nothing, they couldn? even speak the language. That inspired a never-again mind-set for him that fueled a lot of his energy. He was motivated to take care of his family and to make money.
Q: So, the lifestyle you and Haim live now is different from both of your childhoods?
A: There are only a few people on the planet that get to this kind of level financially. Haim and I both pinch ourselves. The life we lead is so different from anything we knew that it caused us to think about how it was going to affect our children. We?e had many talks with them, and it has affected them.
Q: How so?
A: When our kids were little, ?ower Rangers?was so popular and our son would get teased at school. I remember him crying one time because they always said, ?ou are so rich.?I said, ?ou need to tell them that your daddy worked hard for that money, and it? not your money. You have to work for your allowance.?p>
Q: How did they come to terms with being wealthy?
A: It has gone through different stages as they?e grown. There was a point in high school where they were embarrassed to live in a big house. They always said, ? wish we lived in an apartment close to the school.?They didn? want their friends to come over because they were embarrassed. Then they got more used to it and their friends would come over to our house.
Q: So how are your children with Haim now?
A: My youngest is Tanya, she is 18. She is interning at Guess right now and she is going to start at a local junior college in June. She was supposed to go to the Chicago Institute of the Arts, and she was there for a few weeks and it was not the right fit for her. Our son, Ness, goes to college in Connecticut. He is 20. He? here this semester to work on a film for Fox; he? a production assistant. He will go back to Connecticut in September to finish up.
Q: Do you worry that a wealthy lifestyle is going to affect your four grandchildren in the same way?
A: As they got older, they started to understand. When our grandson, who is now 5, was younger we had this house in Malibu and our main house in Beverly Park. He says, ?hy do you have so many houses, nana??He?l ask the obvious questions.
Q: So, you have a home in Malibu and one in Beverly Park?
A: We do a lot of political events, in fact Tony Blair is in our other house (in Beverly Park) right now ?we?e hosted him several times. The event is being held in our guest house that we actually built with entertaining in mind, we have a big outside terrace. I? actually renovating that house. I? the one in charge of all that kind of stuff. I love to build. I built our house in Aspen, (Colo.), as well. My husband cannot stand the minutia that is required, but I thrive on it.
Q: What are your other hobbies?
A: I love to knit. I read a lot, and for the holidays I love to cook. I? a big skier and I love to kayak. Hiking and nature is a big deal for me. I love nature, which is hilarious because Haim doesn?. He tolerates it for me, but he doesn? do well in altitude. He got very sick in high altitude one time, so the house I built in Aspen has oxygen in it. When he goes there, he can sit and breathe oxygen.
Q: And you also play the piano?
A: We couldn? afford a piano when I was a little girl, and I wanted to play the piano so badly I could taste it. I can play a lot of songs that I know. But one of the challenges I? going to put to myself after I? done with the book tour, and before I launch into another book, is to take piano lessons. I would love to be able to read music.
Q: What? your daily routine like?
A: In the morning, if my husband wakes up first he brings me a cappuccino. Then I go to my office and sit in my corner chair with my cappuccino and I read the papers, and then I write. I do most of my writing in the morning, but if I? working on a project, it? hard to yank me from my computer.
Q: So Haim serves you?
A: It? so cool. I think that it? a treat, you know? He? like this aggressive, tough guy, and he is. But he? aggressive in his own way. Thankfully, in our whole relationship, we?e only had five altercations ?not bad. And we plan to keep doing this for another 100 years, or however long we can, and keep that passion alive.
For reprint and licensing requests for this article, CLICK HERE.