(May 12, 1918–November 22, 2001)
Born Mary Kathlyn Wagner in Harris County, Texas, she graduated from Reagan High school in 1934, within a year she married Ben Rogers. Mary Kay’s career started in direct selling, purportedly she began selling books door to door, and in 1938 she joined the direct selling firm, Stanley Home Products, in Houston, Texas.
Working with Stanley until 1952, at the time of her divorce and with three children, she decided to take a position with World Gift Company in Dallas as a national training director. After her superiors passed her over several times for promotions, she finally decided to leave the company in 1963. Her main dissatisfaction was that her male counterparts received promotions to which she was qualified for, but because she was a woman her superiors declined to give her the same opportunity.
This prompted her to write a book about her experience and hopefully teach women how to succeed in business. Her book, soon became a business plan for what would become the largest direct selling cosmetic company in the world.
Shortly after her resignation from World Gift, and with the assistance of her eldest son, Richard, she used her $5000 savings to invest in a line of beauty cream to which she had purchased the distribution and manufacturing rights. Friday the 13th may seem an unlucky day, however it was on this February day in 1963, that Mary Kay opened the doors to her new business Beauty by Mary Kay. The small office space located in Exchange Park in Dallas was equipped with used furniture, homemade drapes and a single metal shelf from Sears.
Mary Kay had strong beliefs and encouraged her sales force to make “God first, family second and career third.” This sales force grew, and at the first ‘Annual Seminar’ held in 1964, more than 200 members had joined Mary Kay’s organization.
In 1966, it was announced that Mary Kay would reward their top associates with ‘Cinderella gifts’, sticking with her motto of praising people to success and rewarding the hard work of her Independent Beauty Consultants. By 1969 these rewards escalated to the now famous Pink Cadillac, which she awarded to her top 5 sales directors. A tradition that has awarded over 100,000 sales force members the opportunity to drive their very own Mary Kay career car.
In 1978 Mary Kay was awarded the Horatio Alger Distinguished American Citizen Award which is given to distinguished Americans who have succeeded in spite of adversity. In 1979, she was the feature of CBS’s 60 Minutes program, which catapulted the business dramatically. This success gave her time to write her autobiography, ‘Mary Kay’, released in 1981 and selling more than one million copies with weeks.
She followed her first book with two more books, one in 1984, ‘Mary Kay on People Management’, which incidentally is required reading in the business management course at Harvard Business University. Another in 1995, ‘You Can Have It All’, which became a best seller within days of its August release.
Over the next two decades The Mary Kay Cosmetic company became a force of recognition in the worldwide cosmetics industry and a business opportunity for millions of women seeking independence. Mary Kay has received numerous prestigious awards throughout her career and several posthumously. On November 22, 2001 Mary Kay Ash succumbed in her Dallas home after a long illness brought on by a previous 1996 stroke.
As of 2008, the company founded by a woman with a dream to compete in a man’s world, broke all the records and now exceeds $2.2 Billion in wholesale sales, with more than 1.8 million Independent Beauty Consultants.