Business

An old woman on the way up

Ian Brown September 25 1978
Business

An old woman on the way up

Ian Brown September 25 1978

An old woman on the way up

It was pure Southern corn, somewhere between a Tupperware party and a Miss Georgia pageant. Mary Kay Ash, chairman of the $50-million Mary Kay Cosmetics, Inc. of Dallas, Texas, catapulted her somewhat beefy corpus out of her pink Cadillac at the official opening of her Canadian subsidiary fast week. To the catchy sound of $15,000 in diamonds jangling from every conceivable appendage, she rolled over to the pink ribbon she would cut with pink scissors to launch her drive from Mississauga, Ontario, against Avon, reigning royalty in door-todoor cosmetic sales. Later, someone asked the 60ish great-grandmother how old she was. “I always say when I’m asked that question," she cooed, “ ‘How old would you feel you were, if you didn’t know? I'm 24.’ ” Mary Kay Ash may sound foolish but beneath that reflecting Dolly Partonesque hair is skin of Carborundum and the brain of a marketing genius. In 15 years, she has built a cosmetics empire that last year made $6million profit on sales of $49 million. Now she and her son, Mary Kay President Richard Rogers, have turned her mascara-laden eyes to Canada, and since December of last year have recruited more than 1,000 beauty consultants, who by holding makeup parties in the living rooms of the nation have already

sold $1-million worth of face and body goop. They expect to double that next year.

But as a Mary Kay executive insists, Mary Kay Inc. isn’t just money: "It’s watching people grow." And, unlike the 40,000 Avon ladies ringing Canadian doorbells Mary Kay girls (and boys) have been known to earn, on rare occasions, $20,000 a month. The company is tiny next to Avon (U.S. sales of $1.6 billion, $80 million in Canada), but can almost promise good income by concentrating on the highly profitable middle range of cosmetics (70 ml. of skin moisturizer for $17) and because it emphasizes "skin care" over makeup, an advantage these days when aging is distinctly subhuman.

The whole operation is suffused with Mary Kay's warm, if glitzy personality. While son Richard manages the company’s finances, their interest in 20 oil wells, and their $ 100million fortune, Mary Kay concentrates on motivating her makeup hostesses to greater sales. She does so by touting her own unconventional rise from underpaid, overworked woman to cosmetic queen, and by dangling, fur coats, diamond baubles and pink Cadillacs as prizes for success. If there is a contradiction between those symbols of success and a philosophy that says you needn’t pander to the status quo, it was unrecognized by Norman Vincent Peale when he awarded Mary Kay the Horatio Alger Award earlier this year. Certainly she won’t admit to any contradiction. "I just know that when I go to bed looking like Elizabeth Taylor and wake up looking like Charles de Gaulle, I really need Mary Kay cosmetics."

Ian Brown