With National Business Women’s Day coming up on September 22nd, I thought it would be fitting to pay tribute to a true icon, a woman a lot of us either don’t know much about or maybe don’t take too seriously. Who is it? I’ll give you a hint – ‘successful business woman’ and ‘pink Cadillac.’ If you’ve ever lived in Dallas, Texas, you know I’m talking about Mary Kay Ash, founder of Mary Kay Cosmetics.
I don’t know about you, but the first thing that usually comes to my mind when I hear ‘Mary Kay’ is pink fluff! But, I can assure there is a lot more to Mary Kay, the woman, than pink or fluff. She was a pioneer in business and one of the great advocates for women’s empowerment. Her story and legacy are both truly remarkable.
Ms. Ash began her career in 1939 as a salesperson for Stanley Home Products. She hosted parties in people’s homes to entice them to buy the latest household products. She was so successful that World Gifts recruited her away in 1952. She quit in protest after ten years because most of the men whom she had trained got promoted over her, and at significantly higher pay. I’m sure many of you can relate to her frustration!
In 1963, Mary Kay Ash was 45, a single mother of three and had just left her successful sales career after 25 years. In those days, there weren’t a lot of opportunities for women, especially women over 40. So, she decided to write a book. Her goal was to help other women survive the male-dominated business world. In preparation for her book, Ms. Ash made two lists. The first list had all of the things that the companies she had worked for had done well. On the second list, she included all of the things that should have been done better.
After creating the second list, Mary Kay realized that she had laid out the foundations for her dream company. Ms. Ash has said, “I envisioned a company in which any woman could become just as successful as she wanted to be. The doors would be wide open to opportunity for women who were willing to pay the price and had the courage to dream.” She used her life savings of $5,000 and started Mary Kay Cosmetics on Friday, Sept. 13, 1963. (Obviously, not superstitious!) The company turned a profit in its first year and had almost $1 million in sales in its second year, remarkable for a women in the early 1960’s.
Mary Kay built her cosmetics empire on two key principles – building strong relationships and a whole lot of recognition. She is often quoted as saying, “Everyone has an invisible sign hanging from their neck saying, ‘Make me feel important.’ Never forget this message when working with people.” And, “We treat our people like royalty. If you honor and serve the people who work for you, they will honor and serve you.”
Mary Kay Ash based her leadership on the “golden rule” and praised people to success. These principles have sustained Mary Kay Cosmetics for fifty years and have empowered millions of fanatically loyal and successful women – many of whom have had the privilege of driving the iconic Mary Kay pink Cadillac.
On a personal note, Dallas has been my home for almost thirty years and I live about 10 miles from Mary Kay’s corporate headquarters. And I have to say, it’s quite a sight when the thousands of Mary Kay consultants come to town for their annual sales meeting and awards gala – pink is everywhere you turn! I’ve also had the great privilege of meeting Ms. Ash. It was many years ago at a day-old bread store in Dallas. When I pulled in the parking lot there was a stunning Rolls Royce parked out front, not bright pink, more of a blush color. When I went inside, there was Mary Kay, bigger than life with her beautifully coiffed white hair. She was warm, gracious and interacting with everyone in the store as if they were life-long friends. I don’t necessarily fit the ‘Mary Kay’ mold, but I admire her as a successful business woman and applaud her commitment to creating opportunities for all women.
My favorite quote by Mary Kay Ash is, “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!” Mary Kay was definitely the first kind of person, which one are you?
On a side note, I can’t in all good conscious write a blog with ‘Pink Cadillac’ in the title without giving a shout out to another incredibly successful business woman – the queen of soul herself, Aretha Franklin. Her hit song, Freeway of Love, is one of my favorites. Even though it didn’t make Ajna’s list of Powerful Women Songs, it’s a classic. Sorry Bruce Springsteen, Aretha did it better!
“When God made man, he was just practicing.” ― Mary Kay Ash
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