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From the Masters

An excerpt from What’s The Big Idea:  How One Idea Can Change Your Business and Your Life by Mac Anderson

Beginning with an initial investment of $5,000 and a dream of creating a company based on the ‘Golden Rule,’ Mary Kay Ash built a cosmetics company that is now a multi-billion dollar business with more than 1.7 million independent sales force members worldwide. It all began with an idea, an indomitable spirit and a ‘can-do’ attitude.

When Mary Kay’s father was stricken with tuberculosis, her mother became the sole support of the family, leaving seven-year-old Mary Kay to shop for and make the family dinner. Talking her daughter through dinner preparation by phone, Mary Kay’s mother always told her, ‘Honey, you can do it.’ The phrase stuck with Mary Kay, providing a confidence that she would later call upon in launching her business.

She got married at 17, but at a low point in her life, Mary Kay’s marriage dissolved, leaving her to support her three children. She chose a job with flexible hours, as a dealer for Stanley Home Products. She achieved success, sometimes hosting three Stanley parties in one day. After 25 years of direct sales, Mary Kay retired and decided to write her memoirs ‘a book that would help women overcome some of the obstacles she had encountered, as she describes in her autobiography, Mary Kay.

‘First, I wrote down all of the good things the companies I had been with had done and then the changes I would make to create a company that was based on the Golden Rule. I began to dream of a company that would give women the opportunity to do anything in the world they were smart enough to do. I realized that I didn’t have to just sit and wish’I could start that dream company because I had already discovered the ideal product. The skin care products that I loved and had been using faithfully for years would be perfect for my dream company.’

Mary Kay bought the formulation for the skin products she loved, developed the strategy and philosophy for her dream company and invested her life savings in it. She approached her business in a different way, eliminating assigned territories and creating a commission structure that was unheard of for a company its size. But, everyone did not rally around her idea.

‘When I began Mary Kay, my accountant looked at my proposed commission structure and said, ‘There’s no way, Mary Kay. You can’t pay this many cents out of a dollar and still operate.’ My accountant was not the only disbeliever when I began talking about my dream. Many well-intentioned people, including my attorney, assured me it would fail. After all, who ever heard of a company based on the Golden Rule?’

Mary Kay persevered with her business idea. She had remarried by this point in her life and she and her husband decided that he would run the administrative end of the business while she focused on what she knew best’sales.

‘My dream company was about to become a reality. When a man starts a business, he usually establishes monetary goals, such as ‘We’re going to do a hundred thousand dollars the first year.’ I’m often asked what my financial objectives were when we first started Mary Kay Cosmetics. Well, I didn’t have any. My interest was in offering women opportunities that in 1963 didn’t exist anywhere else.’

A month before the company was to open its doors, her dream faced another huge setback’with very personal consequences. Mary Kay’s husband suffered a fatal heart attack.

‘The company was my dream and my idea, but I had never planned to run it alone. I knew I didn’t have the skills or experience for the administrative end. And yet, all the merchandise and bottles and labels were useless if the company folded. I had to go on.’

Mary Kay turned to her attorney and accountant for their advice. They both counseled her to liquidate the business. ‘Recoup whatever cash you can,’ said her attorney. ‘If you don’t, you’ll end up penniless.’

After her husband’s funeral, Mary Kay’s two sons and her daughter rallied to her support, repeating back to her what she had told them all their lives, ‘You can do it!’

Mary Kay’s son, Richard Rogers, gave up a promising career and took a salary cut to help her run the business and her other children joined her later. ‘We’ve watched you all our lives make a success of everything you’ve done. If you could be successful working for someone else, we know you can do even better working for yourself,’ said Richard, who was 20 years old at the time.

Mary Kay launched her business in 1963’exactly one month to the day after her husband passed away. The first headquarters was in a 500-square-foot storefront in Dallas, with used furniture, homemade drapes and a single metal shelf from Sears.

But Mary Kay was excited about their business location since it was occupied by 5,000 women who worked in different offices.

We figured we’d get lots of sales from that captive market. But in the morning, they were rushing to get to work on time, and in the evening, they were anxious to get home. The only advantage we had was that they did get coffee breaks twice a day. Before very long, we learned to give the fastest facials you’ve ever seen!’

Mary Kay and her family also offered wigs and a wig stylist to help draw customers in to learn about her unknown line of cosmetics. She and her sons would put in 16- and 18-hour workdays when they first started the business. But the hard work paid off.

Mary Kay’s independent sales force thrived in the recognition-based environment she created…and the opportunities that she provided to women remain her legacy.

To learn more about What’s The Big Idea:  How One Idea Can Change Your Business and Your Life, please click here!

Reprinted by permission of Simple Truths (c) 2011. In order to protect the rights of the copyright holder, no portion of this publication may be reproduced without prior written consent. All rights reserved.

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