Mary Kay Ash is the founder of cosmetics powerhouse Mary Kay Inc. She is one of the one of the greatest and most unique entrepreneurs in business history.
Mary was born around 1918 (although throughout her life, she refused to tell her exact age). She got married at age 17, and soon began a part-time job of selling books door-to-door. She was instantly successful at the job, even though America was in the midst of a severe economic depression at that time.
Mary quickly moved on to selling house-wares for a direct sales company called Stanley Home Products, and soon became one of the company’s most outstanding performers. Nevertheless, the company frequently neglected her because she was a woman—they underpaid her, under-promoted her, and ignored her ideas.
At age 27, Mary’s husband left her, and she began working full time. After many years of giving great performance but receiving poor treatment at Stanley Home Products, in 1952 Mary went to work for an accessories company called World Gift. She proved to be an integral part of the company’s success, and was even named to the Board of Directors—however, her ideas were ignored once again because she was a woman.
In 1963, Mary resigned from her job, and also remarried. For several weeks, she began writing notes for a planned book about her negative experiences in the male-dominated world of corporate America.
Her notes also detailed what companies should avoid doing, and how an ideal company should be run that would be attentive to the needs of career women and their families. As Mary wrote and studied her notes, it dawned on her that she had outlined a great plan to start a company of her own, and she decided to go into business.
Armed with her company plan, all Mary needed was a product! She remembered a fantastic skin product that she had bought for many years from the daughter of a hide tanner. She tracked down the supplier and bought the rights to this unknown product, and then sunk the rest of her $5,000 life savings to launch her company (originally called Mary Kay Cosmetics, and later known as Mary Kay Inc.) and rent a store.
One month before the store was scheduled to open, Mary’s husband died from a heart attack. Mary’s attorney and accountant both urged her to immediately liquidate the business and recover as much money as she could. Mary refused.
The first year of business was difficult; but by year two, she topped over a half a million dollars in sales! Throughout the next three and a half decades, Mary led her company into becoming one of the most recognizable brands in America, and to sales of over $1 billion a year by the late nineties. She also wrote several books, including Mary Kay: You Can Have It All (1995).
Mary died in 2001.
Mary reflected on her experiences in corporate America, and realized that the millions of working-women in America were not being attended to, and had to struggle and endure poor treatment in the male-dominated corporate atmosphere. Therefore, Mary based her company on this glaring need among the female workforce, and built a company that provided an atmosphere where women could flourish.
Most importantly, the company culture behind Mary Kay Inc was made to understand women who sought good jobs: it understood what women faced in traditional corporate America, it understood the unique lifestyles and needs of women that other companies overlooked, and it understood how to attend to those needs.
Although Mary built her company around strong products, it was the unique and useful way she marketed them that really led to her company’s outstanding success. To this day, Mary Kay Inc. does not just offer women facial products—it also offers women the unique service of an individual consultant.
The consultant personally attends to each customer’s needs in the privacy of their own home, and also teaches the customer about skin care. Additionally, the consultant attentively checks up on the customers’ satisfaction with their products and services, and builds strong goodwill and long-term relationships with them through regular care and communication.
Mary first chose to make her product containers pink simply so that they would blend well with white bathroom tile. But the color quickly became associated with her company, and Mary quickly capitalized on this.
She painted her house pink, and began driving a pink Cadillac. She even rewarded her sales consultants with pink Cadillacs after they met certain performance marks. She also rewarded them with other lavish gifts such as extravagant clothes and jewelry, which added to a glamorous company image.
Additionally, Mary built her company image and culture around herself. She is a symbol of what Mark Kay Inc. represents—her tremendous success story, her pink house and cars, her commitment to providing an environment for women to flourish, her dedication to the company, and her motivational and positive attitude.
Mary’s management style was about motivation, and about having a positive attitude. She was always focusing on how and why things can be achieved. She was constantly preaching various maxims (see the quotes section at the end of this chapter), and she was intent on supercharging the company with this attitude.
Mary Kay Inc is a multilevel marketing direct sales company, and has always offered sales consultants tremendous opportunity for advancement—which is in deep contrast to the companies that Mary worked for before starting her own business. Consultants at Mary Kay Inc have a direct stake in their production of sales, as well as in the number of recruits they bring in to join the company.
These policies are all a result of the principles Mary lay down in creating the company decades ago. They have encouraged people to work for Mary Kay Inc., and have also encouraged them to perform their jobs well, to recruit new employees, and to help expand the company.
When Mary first went into business, she took a very assertive step. Her husband had just died, and she poured over her entire life savings to start Mary Kay Inc. Many advisors told her that it would fail; but Mary was convinced that her business plan was sound and that it fit a glaring need—and she stayed true to her dream. She was willing to see it through under her own reliance, and she built one of the greatest business empires in American history.
Then in the mid eighties, some Mary Kay shareholders (the company had gone public in the late seventies) began questioning many of her methods, particularly the way she gave away pink Cadillacs as an incentive to employees.
Mary believed that doing such things formed the foundation for her company’s culture and its motivational tools. Rather than fight it out with shareholders, she opted to take the company private by buying back all of the stock, and thus preserved the methods she felt contributed to her company’s consistently strong performances.
A mediocre idea that generates enthusiasm will go farther than a great idea that inspires no one.
Fake it till you make it.
If you think you can, you can. And if you think you can’t, you’re right.
Those who are blessed with the most talent don’t necessarily outperform everyone else. It’s the people with follow-through who excel.
Aerodynamically the bumblebee shouldn’t be able to fly, but the bumblebee doesn’t know that so it goes on flying anyway.
Note: Mary was so enamored with the bumblebee that she made it her company logo.
We treat our people like royalty. If you honor and serve the people who work for you, they will honor and serve you.
Pretend that every single person you meet has a sign around his or her neck that says, “Make me feel important.” Not only will you succeed in sales, you will succeed in life.
There are two things people want more than sex and money... recognition and praise.
Most people live and die with their music still unplayed. They never dare to try.