“Within you lies everything you ever dreamed of being. You can become everything that God wants you to be. It’s within your reach. Dare to grow into your dreams.”                                                                          Mary Kay Ash

August 1963 – Dallas, Texas: Mary Kay Ash poured herself another cup of coffee and sat at the kitchen table. She had lain awake worrying about what the future held. The 45-year-old business executive had just quit her vice president position with the World Gift Company. She was tired of bumping her head against the glass ceiling in a male-dominated corporate world.

Mary Kay had long dreamed of having her own company. On a yellow legal pad, she made two lists: one included the good things she had seen in the corporate world, the other a list of much-needed improvements. After another cup of coffee, she began developing a plan for her own company. Mary Kay’s mission was to create a business that lived by the Golden Rule, a company that believed in the power of recognition and encouragement and one where women could be successful.

Born in 1918 in Hot Wells, Texas, Mary Kay Wagner cooked, cleaned and cared for her sickly father while her mother worked 14-hour days in a restaurant to support the family. Her mother frequently encouraged her, “You can do it, Mary Kay, you can do it.” There were plenty of opportunities to put her mother’s encouragement to the test.

She married at age 17, had three children and was divorced at age 28. Mary Kay went to work in direct sales for Stanley Home Products to support her family. Her energy, enthusiasm and people skills made her a natural at selling. She progressed through the sales ranks at Stanley, recruiting 150 women to work for her. Bothered by her success, Stanley moved her to Dallas and dropped her sales commission. Mary Kay left the company when a man she had trained was promoted to be her boss at twice her salary.

In 1952, Mary Kay joined the World Gifts Company in Dallas. Once again, she progressed through the ranks and recruited women into prominent sales positions. A decade after joining the company, Mary Kay was national sales director and a corporate board member. But in 1963, she resigned in frustration, when, for the second time in her career, a man she trained was promoted over her.

After leaving World Gifts, Mary Kay took her yellow legal pad lists and turned her dream into a business plan. She created cosmetic products, wrote sales and marketing plans, and hired and trained nine women in her initial sales force. On Friday, September 13, 1963, ignoring the advice from her attorney and accountant, and armed with a dream and a $5,000 loan from her oldest son, Mary Kay started Mary Kay Cosmetics in a small 500-square-foot storefront in Dallas.

The company grew quickly and exceeded expectations, with sales of $200,000 in the first year and sales quadrupling in year two. In 1968, with annual sales topping $10 million, Mary Kay took her company public. A year later, she introduced her signature Pink Cadillac program, which awarded cars to top sales consultants. In 1985, Mary Kay and her son Richard Rogers, who was acting as President and CEO took the company back private.

Mary Kay remained active in the company until suffering a stroke in 1996 at age 78. At the time of her death five years later, the company had more than 800,000 representatives in 37 countries, with annual sales of more than $2 billion.

In 2014, Mary Kay Ash was inducted into the American National Business Hall of Fame and the American Entrepreneur Hall of Fame. Baylor University has named her America’s Greatest Female Entrepreneur of the 20th Century.  

Today, 1,600 patents and 800 products later, Mary Kay Cosmetics is still headquartered in Dallas. The global company has 5,000 employees, more than 2.5 million independent associates and annual sales of $3.5 billion. Mary Kay has been named one of the 100 Best Companies to Work for in America and one of The 10 Best Companies for Women.

Forbes Magazine lists Mary Kay in the Top 300 largest private companies in America and has recognized them as the Best Mid-Size Employer, Best Employer for Diversity and Best Employer for Women.

The company model that began on a yellow legal pad in Mary Kay Ash’s kitchen in the summer of 1963 is still taught at Harvard Business School. Her dream has empowered millions of women from all walks of life to achieve financial independence.