Under that helmet of pale blonde hair lurked one of the shrewdest businesswomen in America, Mary Kay Ash. My own career prior to retirement succeeded in part due to tips from her. Each year, we remember her on her birthday on May 12.
Before the Fame
The cosmetics entrepreneur was born Mary Kathlyn Wagner in Hot Wells, Texas, on May 12, 1918, according to biography.com. Her business savvy came from personal experience, not an MBA. In 1939, she signed on as a sales associate and hosted parties for Stanley Home Products.
Her success brought an offer to work for World Gifts. She quit after 10 years as a protest when a man she had trained was promoted to a level above her at a salary much higher than hers.
The Cosmetics Caper
Mary Kay became an entrepreneur out of necessity. At 45, she sat down and mapped out her ideal company. Her initial investment in 1963 was $5,000, which she used to buy skin product formulas from a tanner’s family. She and her son, Richard Rogers, opened a small store in Dallas to sell skin care products.
By the end of the first year, her company, Mary Kay Cosmetics, Inc., had made a profit and reported sales figures of nearly $1 million. Many experts have pointed to the incentives she offered her representatives as instrumental in the company’s success with home-based sales events. Others mention her insistence that everyone associated with the company honor the Golden Rule. Her motto was God first, family second, career third.
The Company Grows
Just five years after its inception, Mary Kay Cosmetics went public. However, when stock prices dived in 1985, the family bought it back. Annual sales are in the billions, and almost everyone who has heard of the company associates it with pink packaging and pink Cadillacs offered as incentives.
In 1987, Mary Kay Ash stepped down as CEO of the company bearing her name. Nine years later, she founded the Mary Kay Charitable Foundation, which supports ending domestic violence and cancer research. Lifetime Television named her the most outstanding woman in business in the 20th century in 2000.
When Mary Kay died on November 22, 2001 in Dallas, the company she founded had sales representatives working in more than 30 markets.
Mary Kay was married three times. With her husband J. Ben Rogers, she had three children: Richard, Ben, and Marylyn. The couple divorced after World War II. In 1963, she married a chemist who died of a heart attack only a month after the wedding. She married Mel Ash in 1966, and the two remained together until his death 14 years later.
Although thousands of accolades have been written about Mary Kay Ash’s business acumen, I always felt she succeeded because of drive and just plain common sense. Some of her recommendations, such as listing the six most important things you need to do each day, hardly required advanced software or graphs to plot sales points. Yet they worked. I included many of her suggestions in my own work and personal life.
However, what I admired most about Mary Kay was how she coped as a single mother. Reading of her exploits with three youngsters to support brought a new determination to my many years as a single parent.