Media Mogul Nely Galan on Being Self-Made, Empowering Latinas and Donald Trump

The roster of media mavens, moguls and boldface names spotted today at Michael's.

lunch at michaelsWhere to begin? It’s a good thing my ‘Lunch’ date Nely Galan was absolutely fascinating because there was some serious people watching bait in the dining room at Michael’s today. Even though Diane Sawyer and Barbara Walters were deep in conversation at Table 3 (I wonder if Megyn Kelly’s strangely familiar primetime special came up?) and Mickey Ateyeh, who knows just about everyone in New York, was presiding over a table full of swells (including Vanity Fair’s Bob Colacello) on Table 1, I was glued to my seat, riveted by Nely’s tales from the front lines in Hollywood. This woman has stories and some hard-earned wisdom gleaned from her days as the first Latina president of Telemundo and as the creator of one of television’s first, as well as most talked-about, reality shows, The Swan. The New York Times Magazine christened, Nely, a Cuban immigrant, the “Tropical Tycoon” for good reason. She has produced over 700 episodes of television in English and Spanish and was also the first Latina ever to appear on The Celebrity Apprentice (More on that later). It’s all in her new book SELF MADE: Becoming Empowered, Self-Reliant and Rich in Every Way (Spiegel & Grau/Random House).

Diane Clehane and Melinda Henneberger
Diane Clehane and Nely Galan
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When Krupp Kommunications’ Dina White suggested I meet Nely while she was in town making the rounds (Fox & Friends, CNN, MSNBC) to talk about her book, I jumped at the chance. I first interviewed the Latina media mogul over 10 years ago when reality television was in its infancy and The Swan was raising eyebrows and making headlines everywhere. Just talking to her on the phone for a story for TV Guide, I could tell she was a woman who knew how to get things done. Today, I saw firsthand how right I was. Nely arrived a full 20 minutes before the appointed hour and started talking to me before we even sat down. I had 20 pages of notes before our main course arrived. (She nibbled on a shrimp cocktail and wedge salad.) Nely is one of those rare people with the unique talent of being able to tell a great story while hanging on every word that’s said to her. She exudes a warmth that draws you in — frequently touching my arm during our chat and she didn’t miss a beat when a friend stopped by our table to engage in a bit of networking and grab a quick selfie with her. This is standard operating procedure on Wednesdays at Michael’s, but you knew that already didn’t you?

I was one of the first reporters to write about The Swan back in the day when everyone was talking about it. Given the train wreck reality television we’ve become accustomed to today, (Did someone say Botched?) the show’s concept seems almost quaint by comparison. The Swan plucked women who were unhappy with their lives and looks out of their humdrum existence and sequestered them for several months in a spa-like environment, during which time they underwent multiple plastic surgery procedures, cosmetic dentistry, a rigorous exercise program and psychotherapy (Nely was the show’s life coach) — all in the hopes of being crowned ‘The Swan’ at the beauty pageant judged by a panel for the show’s finale. The twist that always got me was these women were not able to look in a mirror the entire time they were undergoing their transformation. They saw their newly made-over selves for the first time during the big reveal at the end of each show. I never missed an episode.

“It was the single best experience of my life,” said Nely. But it didn’t exactly start out that way. The idea for The Swan was born out of two disparate events that came together in Nely’s mind like a lightening bolt. During a trip to Canyon Ranch after breaking up with the father of her son, Nely was reveling in the self-care for body and soul she received at the spa. “I thought, ‘I wish I could stay here for a few months.'” Then, a friend gave her The Complete Works of Hans Christian Andersen for her baby. “I was reading The Ugly Ducking when [the idea] hit me. This is a television show!”