Mary Kay Ash banged her head on the corporate glass ceiling one too many times. Working for several direct sales companies from the 1930s until the early 1960s, she achieved considerable success. She climbed the corporate ladder to become the sole woman on the board of directors of the World Gift Company—quite an accomplishment for a woman in the 1950s.
But life wasn’t
rosy at the top. Even though Mary Kay had the title and the track
record, she was not taken seriously by her male peers. In board
meetings, her opinions and suggestions were ignored, dismissed, or even
ridiculed. Male board members minced no words in their judgment,
pronouncing her guilty of “thinking like a woman.”
Since the sales force was almost entirely female, Mary Kay thought that
thinking like a woman was an asset. But her fellow board members
disagreed. Finally, in frustration, she retired in 1963, intending to
write a book to assist women in the male-dominated business.
Sitting at her kitchen table, she made two lists: one list was all the
good things she had seen in the companies where she’d worked, and the
other list was all the things she thought could be improved. As she
re-read her lists, she realized that what she had in front of her was a
marketing plan for her ideal company. In just four weeks, her “book” had
become a business plan, and her retirement was over.
Both her accountant and her attorney did their best to discourage her,
warning that she would be throwing her money away on this venture. But
Mary Kay had heard enough male nay-saying in her corporate years—she
ignored her advisors.
Her husband, unlike her accountant and attorney, was very supportive.
With his help, Mary Kay developed cosmetic products, designed packaging,
wrote promotional materials and recruited and trained her female sales
Then the unthinkable happened; her husband of twenty-one years died of a
heart attack. Another woman might have dropped her plans, or at least
delayed them, but Mary Kay was a strong Texas woman. She stayed on track
with the help of her twenty-year-old son, Richard Rogers, and rolled
out her new business in September of 1963.
Beginning with a storefront in Dallas and an investment of $5,000,
Mary Kay Cosmetics earned close to $200,000 in its first
year—quadrupling that amount in its second year. When Mary Kay took her
company public in 1968, sales had climbed to more than $10 million.
Mary Kay’s unusual corporate motto, “God first, family second,
career third,” was unconventional, to say the least. But she understood
the need for women to have balance in their lives, and she was committed
to providing unlimited opportunity for women’s financial AND personal
Mary Kay authored three books, all of which became best-sellers. Her
business model is taught at the Harvard Business School. She received
many honors, including the Horatio Alger Award. Fortune
magazine has named Mary Kay Cosmetics as one of the Ten Best Companies
for Women, as well as one of The 100 Best Companies to Work for in
At the time of her death in 2001, Mary Kay Cosmetics had 800,000
independent beauty consultants in 37 countries, with total annual sales
of over two billion dollars. Never underestimate the power of a woman
with a mission!