Monday, September 05, 2011

I’ve had my fill of Mary Kay Ash

I recently read Mary Kay Ash’s autobiography Mary Kay.

Motivation for reading:
800ceoread, a website dedicated to business books, provided a list of recommended business biographies including this list of business autobiographies from Fast Company. Miracles Happen : The Life and Timeless Principles of the Founder of Mary Kay Inc by Mary Kay Ash was included on the Fast Company list. Intrigued to read a book featuring a female entrepreneur, I picked up a copy from the library.*

What it is about:
Mary Kay Ash is a self-made businesswoman and founder of the Mary Kay Cosmetic Empire. In the book she chronicles her career as a salesperson and the creation of her cosmetic company using the lessons she learned from her sales career and her personal philosophies.

What I liked:
Her story:
Mary Kay Ash’s story is inspirational. From the age of seven when her mother instilled a can do spirit in Mary Kay (she had to prepare meals for her ill father and shop for her own clothes while her mother worked) she seemed destined to become a success.

Mary Kay originally aspired to be a doctor and went to school part-time while divorced, raising three children and working as a salesperson. Realizing she had a knack for sales, she dropped out of college. She spent the next 25 years working in direct sales. She retired in 1963 after being passed over for promotion numerous times by male co-workers. She intended to spend her retirement writing a book that would assist women in business. Instead this book turned into the business plan for Mary Kay Cosmetics.

Her success:
Mary Kay tells us she wasn’t the most talented she was just willing to make more sacrifices.
I think it was more than that. Mary Kay had the unique ability to blend the strategic big picture with the details. She used the lessons she learned in her 25 year sales career to create a company that enabled women to become financially independent. She instilled her values: God first, family second and work third as her company philosophy.

My favorite Mary Kay company principal is to encourage women to compete with themselves rather than with each other:
I've seen people step on each other to win a contest. That kind of competition is so destructive to morale within an organization that we’ve been very careful to avoid it altogether. (Pg. 19)**
She offers advice on starting a new company:
It is not wise to start a business unless you have something new or different or better to offer than is presently being offered. The best reason to start a new company is that there is a need for what you to offer or that you are better than what is being offered. When we began no cosmetic company was teaching skincare. (Pg 119)
Thoughts on communication skills:
I believe those who have the best communication skills become the most successful. Mary Kay thinks they make the best employees:
It was John D. Rockefeller who said:
I will pay more for the ability to deal with people than for any other commodity under the sun – sugar or wheat or flour. (Pg. 156)
Making others feel important
You give the gift of confidence by praising. (Pg. 156)

What I didn’t like:
Mary Kay lost me somewhere between the first thing her consultants are to do in the morning is put on their makeup and her recommendation that consultants involve their husbands in their business by having them do the bookkeeping and recordkeeping. Much of her advice seems dated, but then in the early 60's when Mary Kay Cosmetics was created a woman (meaning a middle-class white woman) working outside the home was still a novel idea.

More annoying than her outdated advice, I felt Mary Kay never took her sales hat off and her book was one big promotion for Mary Kay Cosmetics.

*It wasn’t until I was almost finished with the book I realized I was not reading the book on Fast Company's list. I had checked out Mary Kay: The Success Story of America's Most Dynamic Businesswoman the original Mary Kay autobiography from 1981.  Miracles Happen is the 2003 updated and re-released edition. At this point, I had had quite enough of Mary Kay and her company and was not about to check out the later version to see what if anything had been revised or updated.

Overall, I think the book would be a good read for an aspiring salesperson or entrepreneur. I have to give Mary Kay credit for creating a business that empowered so many women to go into business for themselves at a time when it wasn't the thing to do. Though, I do think I would have preferred reading a biography about Mary Kay and her business rather than reading her own words.

As to my thoughts on whether Mary Kay is a viable business opportunity, I am going to direct you to this article: Mary Kay Cosmetics: Destroying Half a Million Women a Year. It is written by Tracy Coenen a forensic accountant and founder of her own business Sequence Inc. I have heard Tracey speak a number of times and respect her judgment.

**Remember Robin from this post. Robin's co-worker's fixation with knocking her out of the #1 sales spot (and winner of all the prizes) was the driving force behind her resignation from her job.

Please Note, I am an Amazon Affiliate


  1. I'll admit that I was a Mary Kay consultant for a while. I never bought into the brainwashing and ended up leaving after a year. New consultants receive the biography of Mary Kay Ash as part of their orientation, and I did read it. I agree that it is nothing but one big advertisement for the company and make-up line.

  2. I'm not sure this is a book I'd be interested in reading, especially if it's just an ad for the company. But I do think it'd be interesting to see how her business advice works or doesn't work today, since some parts feel dated.

  3. Michelle,
    Hopefully in the long run you didn’t lose any money. I know former sales consultants who sold their Mary Kay inventory at rummage sales for pennies on the dollar after they quit.
    Mary Kay makeup was popular when I was in college. I bought the skincare kit before my freshman year. (Kind of an expensive purchase for a poor college kid.) The foundation I bought was 2 shades to dark. I bet I looked real cute walking around with a line on my neck all winter.
    I agree with Tracey that there are so many makeup and skincare choices today we don’t need the hassle of tracking down a Mary Kay rep. Glad you didn’t buy in to their brainwashing. (They would have lost me with the singing.)

  4. Kim,
    I agree an analysis of the MK philosophies, whether they worked and if they are relevant today would make a great book. I would skip this one.

  5. Oh the lovely Mary Kay story.. ;-) PS Stopping by from LBS.. I saw we were the only two posted thus far!

    I agree- both inspiring and yet extrememly dated.

    Have a great Saturday!

  6. Although I do admire her I couldn't get through the book nor could I be a consultant. I tried both. Great review btw.

  7. I'm really glad I read your review. I grew up going to Mary Kay parties with my mom, and had I seen this at the store, would have bought it. I agree though that there is nothing worse than reading someone's business plug. And the part about the husbands handling the money...I would have been really angry!!! Sounds like that book needed a 21st century smackdown. Thanks for the review, you saved me money!!! :)

  8. Anonymous7:25 AM

    Im an old white guy and a business owner. I found her book inspiring for its message. It may be an advertisement for her company but its also an ad for her style of leadership. I think y'all missed the point. Read it again. Just sayin' JL Dallas TX