Mary Kay Ash: Paving The Way For Female Entrepreneurs

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Getting passed over for a promotion you feel you deserved is never an easy thing to deal with. Some use it for motivation for work harder. Others get dejected and see their job performance suffer as a result. And if you’re Mary Kay Ash, you start your own company and turn it into one of the most successful cosmetics distributors on the planet.

Mary Kay Ash was born in Hot Wells Texas in 1918. At the age of 21 she started working for Stanley Home Products where she would host parties designed to encourage people to buy the company’s products. In 1952, she would make the leap to the World Gifts salesforce in the wake of her failed marriage. Here she employed the techniques and sakes strategies she picked up at Stanley Home Products.

The results were overwhelmingly successful and as a result, she was asked to train new hires, most of which were men. Of course, in 1950’s corporate America, the glass ceiling was thicker than an Antarctica ice shelf. So despite her proven track record, she was often passed over for promotion in favour of the men she just recently trained.

Forging Her Own Path

In 1963, with a capital investment of no more than $5,000, she launched Beauty By Mary, a skin cream distribution company. The decision came from a personal philosophy she would often share with others who would come to her for advice.

“For every failure, there’s an alternative course of action. You just have to find it. When you come to a roadblock, take a detour.”

She met a significant roadblock in her personal life when one month before she was to launch the company, he second husband, George died of heart attack. The two had only been married for a month. Determined to carry on, Mary Kay launched the company with the help of her sons.

The Mary Kay Way

With her sales experience form her previous two positions, Mary Kay had a finely-tuned sales strategy. She saw what worked and made sure to employ those techniques in her new venture.

Specifically, she saw the value in motivating both sales associates and customers with rewards. “People are definitely a company’s greatest asset. It doesn’t make any difference whether the product is cars or cosmetics. A company is only as good as the people it keeps,” she once said. “There are two things people want more than sex and money… recognition and praise.”

The combination of these two ideas is what drove the newly named Mary Kay cosmetics. Not only would she use the home party sales method but she would offer the sales force, to whom she referred as consultants, commission on new Mary Kay consultants they recruited.

Mary Kay Ash didn’t invent multi-level-marketing but she may have been one of the first entrepreneurs to execute the model with great success. The company earned a million dollars by the end of its second year in business. And as the company grew, so did the consultants’ rewards. For top performers, some of her favorite gifts include vacations, jewellery and pink Cadillac’s.

Creating Opportunities for Women

Just five years after launch, Mary Kay Cosmetics became a publicly traded company in 1968. By 1992, it made Fortune magazine’s list of five hundred largest companies and was listed as one of The 100 Best Companies to Work for in America.

But perhaps Mary Kay Cosmetics most significant accomplishment was the way it created entrepreneurial opportunities for women in a time and place where it was expected women would stay at home.

Empowering women was at the core of what Mary Kay Ash wanted to do with her business venture. “So many women just don’t know how great they really are,” she once said. “They come to us all vogue on the outside and vague on the inside.”

By serving as a Mary Kay Cosmetics consultant, women were given the opportunity to not only get out of the house for work, but to carve out their own entrepreneurial path. They were the CEO and manager of their own small business.

Today there are almost 500,000 Mary Kay Cosmetic consultants in 25 countries. Nearly all of them are women. Mary Kay Cosmetics was formally recognized as one of the best 10 companies for women to work.

The Mary Kay Legacy

Mary Kay Ash died in 2001 at the age of 83. She had stepped down as CEO of her company in 1987. Two years earlier she bought back the company to make it family owned once again. In her later years, she was honoured with several awards acknowledging her business success and philanthropic efforts.

Her entrepreneurial spirit lives on through the countless women who discover their entrepreneurial spirit through Mary Kay Cosmetics.