Walking into Kris Jenner's office was as unnatural as it was intimate.
I had been in that room in her house perched in the Hidden Hills, California, gated community dozens of times before. Keeping Up With the Kardashians cameras had provided me entry, alongside millions of viewers in 160 countries. I was familiar with Kris's beloved monochromatic palette and her self-aware desk décor (like her daughter Khloe's framed 2007 DUI mugshot and her "I'm Kind of a Big Deal" nameplate). But it was a surreal experience to actually sit across from the world's most famous momager in a luxurious white Hermès chair surrounded by stacks of magazines — Vogue, Cosmopolitan — featuring her five daughters: the superstar Kim, the supermodel Kendall, the natural-eating mom-of-three Kourtney, the revenge-fit denim designer Khloe, and the millennial cosmetics mogul Kylie.
Staring at Kris's meticulously coiffed head and impeccably dusted face, I was interested in learning more about her story before the cameras had entered her home. I wanted to know how she learned business, marketing, and strategy without stepping foot in a B-school classroom and how her instincts, contacts, and passion to make her children's dreams come true led her to build an empire, an empire that most recently enabled Kim to make $14 million in mere hours with KKW Beauty.
Kris's coming-to-bawseness journey came to fruition when she met Caitlyn Jenner, an Olympic gold medalist and twice-divorced parent of four, in 1990, when she was in the middle of a then-contemptuous divorce from the high-profile lawyer Robert Kardashian. It was during her marriage to Jenner that she sunk her hardworking nails into making her spouse relevant and bankable again for the good of their growing family, which included daughters Kendall and Kylie. In the context of their early years together, Kris refers to her ex by her given name during our conversation.
Below is an edited excerpt from Kris's appearance on my podcast Never Before, on which we retrace her earliest business roots through three of her most intimate and formative relationships — with her first husband, her second spouse, and her second daughter, Kim Kardashian West. Oh, and in case you're curious: Yes, I wiped myself with the black toilet paper in the all-black guest bathroom. It was indulgent and everything my Kardashian-loving self has ever desired.
Janet Mock: What training did you have before managing the Kardashian-Jenner empire? Was it all instinctual from years living in Los Angeles?
Kris Jenner: I married Robert Kardashian when I was 22 years old. Everybody that I was surrounded by for two decades was at the top of their game in the entertainment business: the head of every studio, the best attorneys in the world, the people that were running the most incredible industries.
These people were our friends. We saw them every single weekend in the backyard, playing tennis and barbecuing, but also intimately going on vacations with a lot of these families when I had Kourtney, Kimberly, Khloe, and Robert, and they had their kids. Those relationships are the closest and best of my life. They taught me the most. I didn't even realize it at the time.
I was watching my husband be the biggest kick-ass attorney that I'd ever seen. I was so proud of him doing that. I learned a lot along the way. Then, when I met and married Bruce Jenner, I became his manager instantly because he didn't have a lot going on. I saw this incredible potential, and he wasn't doing anything. Nobody was booking him for speeches. Nobody was sending him out on the road. I thought, Wow. You should be this incredible public speaker. I just figured it out to that point.