How Mary Kay (Yes, She’s a Real Person) Ended Up Running One of the Most Successful American Beauty Brands of All Time

August 11, 2015 | By | Comments (21)
730x466 How Mary Kay (Yes, Shes a Real Person) Ended Up Running One of the Most Successful American Beauty Brands of All Time

Photo courtesy of

Q: How did a woman who graduated high school smack in the midst of the Great Depression — and who was left the single mother of three after a painful divorce — end up founding and running one of the most successful American beauty brands of all time?

A: Like a boss.

Chances are, you’ve either attended or at least been invited to a Mary Kay party at some point in your life — and if you’re lucky, you’ve spotted one of the iconic Mary Kay pink Cadillacs on the highway. Many people simply know the brand as a beauty company with a sales strategy similar to Avon, but what isn’t as well known is that the real Mary Kay Ash was a gutsy trailblazer and a business visionary. Oh, and her hair. Her hair was amazing (she was from Texas, after all!).

The woman who would be known as the High Priestess of Pink wasn’t handed anything on a silver platter. At age seven, she started caring for her ailing father who suffered from tuberculosis, and just ten years later, at age 17, she married her first husband. His name was Ben and he was in a band called Hawaiian Strummers. Sadly, though, that awesome band name was pretty much all he had going for him, and after his return from World War II, the two divorced — an event she reportedly said was the lowest point in her life.

The newly single mom of three didn’t have time to wallow, though. Instead, she set off to work, getting direct marketing job after direct marketing job. In 1963, after 25 years in the business, she was yet again passed up for a promotion in favor of a guy she’d actually trained (note that Don denied Peggy a well-deserved promotion in Mad Men’s Season 3, which was set in the same year), she quit and decided to start her own company — the Mary Kay you know today.

With just $5,000, some help from her financial-advisor son, and a staff of nine sales consultants, she launched her company with the idea that women shouldn’t have to rely on their husband’s money, and that employees’ efforts should be justly rewarded and appreciated (eventually that led to the cars and other major incentives the company has become famous for). One year later, she hosted her first company seminar, making chicken and Jell-O salad for the 200 attendees herself.

I’m sure there were those at the time who gossiped behind her back, thought she was throwing away her savings, and generally thought it was foolish for a woman to try to start her own company — in fact, it’s reported that her lawyers were against the whole idea of her doing it on her own — but within two years of launch, Mary Kay had reached nearly $1 million in wholesale sales. The woman behind it all passed away in 2001, but her namesake company lives on, and has more recently been valued at over $1 billion.


  1. Mary Grayson

    What a Wonderful company!!!!!!!!

    April 2, 2016 at 2:24 pm
  2. Barb Rheinhardt

    Having a Mary Kay business for 32 years, having been a director for 4, having driven a free car….having known Mary Kay herself are such blessings in my life and for my family which has watched goals being set and met. It’s an amazing journey full of friends and extra income! Yes, one can make a great deal more money when they build their team and become a director or National by spinning off other directors from their unit, yet I find a couple hundred or more each week or so is great. Love my $1000 weeks of which I keep $500 is still worthwhile and I do have a team which gives me some mad money each month. You gotta work it to make the money. Never meant to be a get-rich-quick sort of direct sales company. And isn’t it great everyone buys the product for the same price and the company pays commissions on one’s team members and leases those cars for us out of the 50% we pay them for our products. Ingenious! and Mary Kay thought of it more than 50 years ago.

    September 20, 2015 at 2:55 pm
  3. Toyia King

    Dear Unknown who wrote the derogatory comments about Mary Kay. If you are going to write such, have the courage to stand behind your remarks with your name. Mary Kay is not a scheme. It is a legitimate, successful, direct marketing company, with a marketing plan that offers financial independence when one works. Yes, there may be some individuals who misrepresent it, but that exist in every industry, and is a reflection of those individuals, not the standards of the companys.

    August 24, 2015 at 8:40 am
  4. ET Trexler

    This story always inspires me, no matter how many times I read it.

    August 23, 2015 at 1:08 pm
  5. Kathy Bourg

    I was blessed to have worked for MKCorp for 17 years, until I retired. I got to meet MK at a Valentine’s Day party.
    She was a wonderful business woman, with employees & consultants following her guidelines.
    She broke the glass ceiling wide open.
    I was very happy working there.

    August 16, 2015 at 10:27 pm
  6. Rosie Lenz

    I was a young wife with the military and mother of two when she came into my life. She taught me things that every women should know. I learned God first, family second and career third. In that order. She taught me to make my husband a prioriry by having a date night. I know this is a different world now with everyone always connected. But we had dinner together everynight, we have family day on Sundays after church. I wasnt going from sports events every night with my kids until 9 pm every night so that they were well rounded. It was simpler than, but it was a choice we made to make our family a priority and to do things as a family. For someone who never went to college, Mary Kay was the reason I was always home with my girls, made great $$$ , move across country and not miss a beat in my business and earn 7 MK Car’s. That meant 14 years of driving free with MK paying for the insurance and tags. MK had a great influence in the women I am today. Love my Mary Kay!!!

    August 16, 2015 at 7:48 am
  7. Unknown

    Mary Kaye is a wonderful company. But it profits from a lot of hard work from women who previously in thir fulltime work were professional salespeople or marketing people who made hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in their prior marketing and sales professions. Mary Kaye lures these retired women into their sales network promising them the same salaries with a lot less work. But in reality, the real money never comes unless you can get more sales people under you, selling the same scheme. The scheme is you cannot make real money unless you have more sales people under you. And it is so very sad that Mary Kaye is like that because they have an awesome product.

    August 16, 2015 at 3:21 am
  8. Carol Roth

    Very good company. Only wish they would please bring back the original cleansing cream, magic masque and night cream.

    August 16, 2015 at 12:35 am
  9. Judy Alltop

    I am still a loyal Mary Kay customer. I was an associate over 20 years ago and I can’t say enough about the lady or the company.

    August 15, 2015 at 11:18 pm
  10. Brittney

    I just joined 3 weeks ago and I couldn’t be happier so far! The philosophy is amazing and the people are amazing!

    August 15, 2015 at 8:42 pm
  11. Donna Bayes Scott

    Thank you, Mary Kay, for the courage to start this amazing company when everyone thought you were crazy! I’m so grateful that I actually got to talk to Mary Kay and be in her space many times over my years with this wonderful company. What a legacy she left with us.

    August 13, 2015 at 11:26 am
  12. Donna Higdon

    I am so thankful and so blessed to be a part of this amazing organization! I am currently working only my Mary Kay while putting my husband through college and I can’t begin to tell you how Mary Kay has been the answer to so many of my prayers! Thank you God and thank you Mary Kay Ash!!

    August 13, 2015 at 7:42 am
  13. Tonia Sturm

    I learned so much from Mary Kay & will be forever grateful. I continue to learn from the National Sales Directors that she left to carry on her vision. Thank you Nationals & all at Corporate for an awesome company!

    August 12, 2015 at 9:25 pm
  14. Carolyn Hodges

    It’s about her mission, our mission…to enrich women’s lives..cosmetics is just the vehicle. Incredible company with devoted leaders who live (which includes work) by the Golden Rule, and priorities God, Family then Career…wow. wow. Wow! Never in my life would I have ever considered being a consultant w a very demanding job as a director of a major nonprofit. Thank God for her vision and courage!!

    August 12, 2015 at 5:19 pm
  15. Gail Martin

    Mary Kay, the company, is a cultured sisterhood. We are blessed to use the finest products as a way to make women feel beautifully special! Many women just know they are on this earth to do “something more”. Those are the same women that not only use and love the MK products, they also discover that a Mary Kay business offers them the choice do become “something more”! Many companies have tried to replicate the Mary Kay business. It can’t be done – there was only one visionary – Mary Kay Ash! When she built this company, she was way ahead of the times. That’s why Mary Kay will continue to grow worldwide for the next 50 years and beyond! So, while others may try to imitate, it can never be duplicated. And like diamonds, nothing looks or feels like the real thing! Ready to see for yourself?

    August 12, 2015 at 8:19 am
  16. Cathy Sims

    Have been with Mary Kay for almost 32 years. Love the company and its principles. Love the products. Love changing lives. Love my lifestyle. Love the Mary Kay Foundation and its work.

    August 12, 2015 at 7:37 am
  17. Leslie Jones

    I love being part of a company that encourages us to live the golden rule, to put God first, family second, and career third and that empowers women! Mary Kay Ash truly was an amazing woman!

    August 12, 2015 at 3:15 am
  18. Sandee Popadich

    Such an amazing woman and company. Grateful for the opportunity. #lifechanging

    August 12, 2015 at 2:21 am
  19. Sharon Nielsen

    I love being part of a company that puts God 1st, family 2nd and career 3rd and actually encourages us to follow the Golden Rule! It’s broken record after record,is totally debt free,in 37 countries, and we have more FREE cars on the road than UPS trucks! It’s freedom to go at your own pace, unlimited possibilities, a truly giving company! I’m so glad to be part of a company that has the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval BEFORE the products hit the market! The Mary Kay Foundation gives back to the communities by helping fight against domestic violence and abuse! I’m proud to be anice Independent Beauty Consultant with Mary Kay! I’ve Discovered What I Love!

    August 11, 2015 at 11:34 pm
  20. Jessica Stiles

    Soo thankful and count it a huge privilege to be a part of this ever-growing, amazing company!!!!!

    August 11, 2015 at 11:17 pm
  21. Toni Branan

    The very best company in the world!!! I love being part of this ground breaking company!

    August 11, 2015 at 9:16 pm

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s