1978 Horatio Alger Award Winner
"The only difference between successful people and unsuccessful people is extraordinary determination."
When she was only seven years old, Mary Kay Ash knew all about adult responsibility. Every day she hurried home from school to make dinner for her invalid father while her mother, an expert cook, ran a local restaurant to support the family. Born in Hot Wells, Texas, Mary Kay Ash was the youngest of four children. She was only two when her father developed tuberculosis, and the family moved to Houston. She cared for her father and did the household chores while her mother worked. A good and competitive student, Ash chose to marry soon after high school. The marriage ended, however, after 11 years and three children.
Looking for a way to earn a living while remaining home with her children, she became a dealer for Stanley Products, a direct-sales party-plan firm. After one year with the company, she was crowned Queen of Sales. In the 1950s, she became national training director for World Gift, another direct-sales firm. In 1963, she retired from direct sales. She was happily remarried and looking forward to a more relaxed life. It didn't take long, however, for her to realize she didn't enjoy being idle. While making notes for a planned book about her business experiences, she instead developed a marketing plan for a new business.
Ash, who had been buying skin-care products from a local woman, thought that if marketed correctly, these products could be very successful. She invested her $5,000 savings in a direct-sales cosmetics company, buying formulas and having products professionally bottled and packaged. Her husband was to be in charge of administration and she would head sales. A month before the business was to open, however, her husband died of a heart attack. "It was the darkest day of my life," Ash says. At the urging of her children, Ash continued with her business plan. Her 20-year-old son, Richard Rogers, was in charge of administration.
Today, Mary Kay, Inc., a private company, is in 26 countries with retail sales at $2 billion. The company has been listed among The 100 Best Companies to Work for in America each of three times the list has been published. Of her success, Ash once said, "I believe that most successful people are ordinary people with extraordinary determination." She advised young people "to live a balanced life. Your priorities should be God first, family second, and career third."
Ash wrote three best sellers, the latest titled You Can Have It All, published in 1995. After suffering a stroke in 1996, Mary Kay Ash was unable to serve her usual role as a motivational speaker to her 500,000-member sales force. She did, however, send written messages and attended all five divisional sales meetings in 1997. The Mary Kay Ash Charitable Foundation is devoted to funding research for cancers affecting women.
Of her Horatio Alger Award, Ash said, "It will always and forever be one of the achievements I am proudest of. To continue the dream in this way is a cause that I am proud to be associated with."