It is May 12th 1918 and a baby girl is born in Hot Wells, Harris County, Texas. Her upbringing was about as normal as apple pie at a family dinner on the weekend with her mother working as a nurse before moving on to becoming a restaurant manager. By the time she would pass away in 2001 at the grand age of 81 she sat at the helm of one of the United States largest cosmetic’s company’s Mary Kay Cosmetics. She was of course, Mary Kay Ash.
Like many entrepreneurs Mary didn’t start off life be dropped into a wealthy family business or succeed to a vast family fortune – she was self-made and determined. In fact, at the age of 17 she had already married local boy Ben Rogers and by the end of the Second World War she had three children. In fact, we get an insight into the life of Mary Kay during those war years and the early years of the American depression of the 1920’s because it was a period where there was no other choice but to survive. Many analysts of the period have said that people who grow up during hard times learn to live within their means – a lesson that will bode well as they enter adulthood, run their own businesses or sit at the helm of others.
While her husband was serving in World War Two Mary was selling books door to door and on his return they divorced and she went to work for Stanley Home Products (which is still around today). Some would argue because of the times, Mary was passed over for promotion by a man she had actually trained so she retired in 1963 with the intention of writing a book to help women get into business. As legend would have it the book turned into a business plan and after the death of her second husband, George Hallenbeck, her eldest son Ben Rogers Jr put an investment of $5,000 into the establishment of Mary Kay Cosmestics. Joined by her youngest son Richard, the business opened on what some would call a very unlucky day, Friday September the 13th 1963, in a 500 square foot storefront in Dallas Texas.
The following year Mary added a first, something well ahead of its time if you think about the metrosexual movement of the early 2000’s (mind you, we could throw the hipster movement in there as well) – a line of skin care products for men. The business model was very simple and in some ways similar with Nutrimetics – employ an army of regular, everyday women who can sell to each other and their networks from a point of knowledge – I mean women understand beauty and cosmetics much more so than men right? For example, have you ever been invited to a Tupperware party that wasn’t run by a very savvy Mom?
Also in 1964 the first “Seminar” was held in Dallas which was a gathering of the sales force in a convention style sales and marketing event. In 1969 she created an innovative and brand catchy incentive scheme for the sales force – succeed and perform and you’ll get a pink Cadillac! By 1971 the business had expanded internationally into Australia and by 1973 there are more than 20,000 in the workforce with the majority being women.
In 1976 the business listed on the New York Stock Exchange and by 1983 the business had reached wholesale sales of more than $300 million (USD). The following year Mary appears in the first edition of Fortune Magazines “The 100 Best Companies to Work for in America) and in 1985 a decision is made to take the company private again.
You could say that another forward looking innovation came about in 1989 when the business began to implement recycling programs for plastic, waste and glass – how far ahead of the curve were they on that one? A good decade at least.
By the time the 90’s rolled around the business had expanded into 10 countries, had revenue of more than $500 million (USD) and in 1996 the Mary Kay Ash Charitable Foundation was established. In that same year global sales exceed $1 Billion (USD) and by 2001, at the time of her passing, this remarkable little girl from Harris County Texas had turned her despondency (in being turned down for a promotion) and her hardship (in having just lost her husband at the time) into a multi-billion dollar business.
So what are some of the lessons we can learn from Mary Kay Ash?
It doesn’t matter where you come from or your circumstances you can succeed
When someone says know to you for whatever reason – don’t accept it – change the circumstances you might find yourself in
Innovate constantly: Mary was well ahead of her time when it came to lines like men’s skin care and even corporate sustainability with recycling – the message being don’t just sit back and rest on your laurels – build, innovate and build some more
Create #gamechanger ideas: Mary had a focus initially on writing a book for women on business to inspire them – in fact, turning it into a business plan for the company. In other words open your minds and let creativity flow
Inspire those around you – Mary’s focus was on to change the way women see business ownership and essentially how to deal with the discrimination of the times. By developing a workforce of mainly women she inspired many more into their own form of business ownership thereby realising the intent of the book that became the business plan
Wouldn’t it be interesting if Mary had have headed into politics with her life and business experience? Now maybe that would have been a #gamechanger!
Here are some really inspiring quotes from Mary:
“Aerodynamically, the bumble bee shouldn't be able to fly, but the bumble bee doesn't know it so it goes on flying anyway.”
“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.”
“The greatest pollution problem we face today is negativity.”
“There are four kinds of people in this world: •those who make things happen •those who watch things happen •those who wonder what happened •those who don’t know that anything happened! I knew from a very early age that I wanted to be first on that list.”
“If you think you can, you can. If you think you can't, you're right.”
“Most people live and die with their music still unplayed. They never dare to try.”
“Don't limit yourself. Many people limit themselves to what they think they can do. You can go as far as your mind lets you. What you believe remember you can achieve.”
“There are three types of people in this world: those who make things happen, those who watch things happen, and those who wonder what happened.”
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