Other Free Encyclopedias » Online Encyclopedia » Encyclopedia - Featured Articles » Contributed Topics from A-E

Ash, Mary Kay - Overview, Personal Life, Career Details, Social and Economic Impact, Chronology: Mary Kay Ash

sales women cosmetics million

Mary Kay Cosmetics


With innovative sales techniques and programs aimed at boosting the self-esteem of her employees, Mary Kay Ash has built the largest direct-sales cosmetic empire in the United States. Mary Kay Cosmetics is a Fortune 500 company with more than $1.5 billion in retail sales annually.

Personal Life

Mary Kay Ash was born May 12, 1918, in Hot Wells, Texas. She was the youngest child of Edward Alexander and Lula Vember Wagner. As a child, Mary Kay was forced to be self-reliant. Her father was ill with tuberculosis, and her mother worked 14-hour days managing a restaurant. Ash did the housework, cooked meals, and cared for her father. She gives much of the credit for her later success to her mother, who constantly encouraged her.

Ash was an honor student with a keen competitive streak. One of her favorite hobbies was extemporaneous speaking, which she enjoyed doing competitively. She placed second in a statewide speech contest while still in junior high and was an honor member of her high school’s debate team. She completed high school in just three years, but her family could not afford to send her to college. Instead, she married J. Ben Rogers when she was 17 years old, and they had three children. The marriage failed after her husband, who had been drafted by the military, returned from fighting in World War II and announced he wanted a divorce. At 27, Ash enrolled in undergraduate courses at the University of Houston, intending to become a doctor. The emotional turmoil surrounding her divorce, combined with her other duties of homemaking and child-care, prompted her to quit college and concentrate on a career in sales.

Ash remarried in 1960, but her second husband died suddenly of a heart attack three years later, just as she was preparing to launch her new business. Shortly afterward she met her third husband, Melville Jerome Ash, whom she married in 1966. Although Ash took this husband’s surname, she was already widely known as Mary Kay by 1966. Ash has documented her experiences in two books: an autobiography entitled Mary Kay: The Success Story of America’s Most Dynamic Business Woman and a leadership guide entitled Mary Kay on People Management.

Career Details

In 1939 Mary Kay began work as a salesperson for Stanley Home Products, which sold household products at “parties” hosted by a housewife and attended by women friends and neighbors. Her sales were remarkable, and in 1952 she was lured away to become national sales director for World Gifts, another direct sales company. In little more than a decade she extended World Gifts distribution into 43 states and earned a seat on the company’s board of directors.

In 1963 Mary Kay sustained a devastating blow. After less than a year at work, a male assistant, whom she had trained in everything she knew about selling and training others, was promoted above her at twice her salary. In response to this incident, she quit. At the age of 48, a veteran of both direct sales and the corporate boardroom, Ash felt challenged to offer energetic women business opportunities they might not find elsewhere. She soon came up with a blueprint for a workable direct-sales company. What she needed was a product, something that could be used up and reordered again and again.

With her life savings of $5,000, Ash bought the recipes for special skin softening formulas from the daughter of an Arkansas hide tanner. She furnished a modest storefront in Dallas and set up a small manufacturing plant. Ash’s first employees were her second husband, a chemist, and nine of her friends. Tragically, her husband died of a heart attack just a month before the business was to open, but she still launched Beauty by Mary Kay on September 13, 1963.

Through sheer hard work and enthusiasm, Ash, her son Richard Rogers, and their staff of consultants made $198,000 in wholesale revenue the first year. The following year the total reached $800,000. By then, Beauty by Mary Kay had been rechristened Mary Kay Cosmetics and had attracted a sales force of 3,000 women. Mary Kay Cosmetics offered its stock for sale to the public in 1968 and the company’s greatest period of growth after its formative years came in the 1970s and early 1980s, when stock prices rose by an astonishing 670 percent. In 1981 sales reached $235 million, an increase of 41 percent over the previous year.

Sales dropped from $323 million to $249 million between 1983 and 1985. The stock bottomed out at nine dollars a share. In part, the crisis was a result of the improving economy. Women traditionally quit their jobs or found steadier employment rather than continuing to work in direct sales, according to Texas Monthly. The company’s growth was stagnant.

“What few analysts or business reporters understood, however, was that Mary Kay Ash was prepared to give up her entire net worth to stay on top,” wrote Skip Hollandsworth in Texas Monthly. “In a major $450 million leveraged buyout in 1985, Mary Kay and her family purchased all the company’s publicly issued stock and took Mary Kay Cosmetics private. A new group of younger executives, brought in to handle the day-to-day operations, quickly updated the company’s image. The rather bland line of cosmetics was revamped and pretty young models were pictured in the product catalogs. The executives also boosted the commissions paid out to consultants to persuade younger women to leave their high-rise offices and join Mary Kay.”

Ash was succeeded by her son Richard in 1987, but remains active in the business. In 1995, a decade after the leveraged buy-out, Mary Kay was selling an estimated $866 million in products, at wholesale, to 20 million women annually. Over 6,500 of the 30,000-member sales force drive complimentary pink Cadillacs and other automobiles worth more than $90 million. The company also claims responsibility for creating more than 75 millionaires, calculated by the number of women who have earned more than a million dollars in commissions over the course of their careers. The Ash family’s personal fortune, according to Texas Monthly, is estimated at more than $325 million. From its base in Dallas, Mary Kay Cosmetics has grown into an international empire, with consultants throughout Canada, Europe, and even the former Soviet Union.

Social and Economic Impact

The company’s success rests nearly as much on Mary Kay’s dynamic personality and personal sales ability as it does on the quality of the merchandise. From the outset, Ash’s company was different. Her salespeople were called “consultants.” They demonstrated products on clients at home “classes” aimed not only at selling cosmetics but also at fostering better self-images among women customers. Ash managed company affairs, particularly the important task of motivating and rewarding her consultants.

Perhaps the most outstanding characteristic of Mary Kay Cosmetics is the enthusiasm of its sales force. This infectious fervor for both product and company philosophy is largely the result of Ash’s personal style. She showers top performers with lavish gifts and public praise. Every year the company awards trademark pink Cadillacs, diamond jewelry, and five-star vacations to deserving employees. The affection of her work force was once the subject of amusement in the business world, but now other companies study her program of self-esteem boosts and generous incentives.

Chronology: Mary Kay Ash

1915: Born.

1963: Launched Mary Kay Cosmetics in Dallas, Texas.

1964: Mary Kay Cosmetics earned $198,000.

1968: May Kay Cosmetics stock went public; sales top at $10 million.

1970: Opened first Mary Kay branch office.

1981: Wrote autobiography, Mary Kay: The Success Story of America’s Most Dynamic Business Woman.

1983: Named one of America’s 100 most important women by Ladies Home Journal.

1985: Leveraged buy-out returned company to private ownership by family.

1987: Succeeded by her son, Richard, as head of Mary Kay.

Ash has been credited with offering a business run by women to benefit women. Remembering the promotion she lost to a man 30 years earlier, Ash told Texas Monthly, “Those men didn’t believe a woman had brain matter at all. I learned back then that as long as men didn’t believe women could do anything, women were never going to have a chance.” She continued, “I feel God has led me into this position, as someone to help women to know how great they really are.”

Ashkenazy, Vladimir (Davidovich) [next] [back] Ascher, Leo

User Comments

Your email address will be altered so spam harvesting bots can't read it easily.
Hide my email completely instead?

Cancel or

Vote down Vote up

over 3 years ago

does anyone know Mary Kay Ash's hobbies or things she liked doing?

Vote down Vote up

over 4 years ago

Thanks this was very helpful in researching about Mary Kay for a paper I am writing for an Into to Business class at University!

Vote down Vote up

over 5 years ago

This Was A Very Helpful Website... What Are Her Hobbies Tough?? Im Doing A Project In School.

Vote down Vote up

about 6 years ago

She was 83 years old

Vote down Vote up

about 7 years ago

this is a great websites to do projects on

Vote down Vote up

over 7 years ago

I would like to know how old mrs.Mary Kay was when she passed. I'm doing a report on her at school, we were told to pick our favorite entrepreneur.


Vote down Vote up

about 6 years ago

She was 83 years old and died on November 22,2001...

Vote down Vote up

about 7 years ago

Okk she passed away november 22,2001 thank youu

Vote down Vote up

about 4 years ago

Hate it

Vote down Vote up

over 5 years ago

it does not work:(