Mary Kay, Inc. turns 60 years old today. Across the millennia, 60 years isn’t that long. Heck, Jonathan, the world’s oldest turtle turned 190 earlier this year! Some giant redwoods in California are 2,000 years old. 60 years in the direct selling arena, on the other hand, is a long, long time. Direct selling companies come and go...they come and go...they come and go. Not only has Mary Kay stood the test of time, but today the company sets standards against which many other direct selling companies measure themselves. Those still in business, that is.
I met Mary Kay for the first time in the summer of 1987. Lisa and I had driven to Dallas from Madison, Wisconsin, to attend our first Seminar. As a member of the Queen’s Court of Personal Sales, Lisa had secured an invitation for both of us to visit Mary Kay’s home. We boarded a bus and were driven to a swanky part of Dallas where Mary Kay lived in her beautiful pink mansion. I figured we’d be hustled through the place because there were a lot of other people there. Much to my surprise, when we walked in the front door, there stood Mary Kay herself greeting everybody as they entered. She said hi to Lisa first and when it was my turn, I took Mary Kay’s hand and said, “Hi! I’m Dan Madson.”
Mary Kay looked me in the eyes and said, “Well, Dan, how are you?”
“I’m pretty good, Mary Kay.”
She cocked her head slightly, smiled, and with a quick ‘tsk’, she said, “You’re not pretty good,” she said. “You’re great!”
I’m not always the brightest bulb in the box, but I learned right then and there that when Mary Kay asked, “How are you?” I would respond by saying, “I’m great!”
There’s a common superstition in the United States that Friday the 13th is an unlucky day. People tend to hunker down and avoid doing things they would normally be unafraid to do. Mary Kay decided to defy convention and ignore the advice of her attorney and close circle of friends. With $5,000 she had saved, and with the help of her 21-year-old son, Richard, she opened the doors of her new company on that very day – Friday, September 13th, 1963. The rest, as they say, is history.
My wife, Lisa, joined the company in October of 1986. She signed her Independent Beauty Consultant agreement after a chance encounter with an Independent Sales Director that lived in our city. With nothing to lose and everything to gain, she started off her new home business with a bang. Her goal was to earn $70 a week so she could quit one of her part-time jobs and have some extra money to buy Christmas presents for our two small kids.
By the following year she had completed the requirements to become an Independent Mary Kay Sales Director and made her debut in May of 1988, two months after giving birth to our third child. She informed me that she had to travel to Dallas in June for a week of training. Since we had a newborn, I agreed to drive down with her and watch the baby while she spent time at the company's headquarters.
We made the trip again and stayed at the Renaissance Hotel on I-35, not too far from the corporate offices. When I say we were on a shoe string budget, I mean it. There wasn’t even a shoe attached. It was just the shoe string. We stopped at a grocery store and I bought a bag of apples, a loaf of bread and some Jif extra crunchy peanut butter – you know, the jar with the blue top. While Lisa was eating like a queen at the company events, I was sitting in our hotel room trying to keep a three-month-old from screaming. I didn’t have a knife with me so I scooped peanut butter out of the jar with my fingers and dined on sandwiches and apples, washed down with luke warm water from the hotel bathroom sink.
Since the baby was breast feeding, every few hours I would drive over to Mary Kay headquarters so Lisa could feed him. The first time I did that I was meandering around the lobby with the baby in a stroller, waiting for Lisa to finish her meeting. I struck up a conversation with an older gentleman who was standing in the lobby. As it turned out, he was the head of Mary Kay’s security team. He must have felt sorry for me because he asked me if I would like to go up and see Mary Kay’s office. We headed to the elevators and just as we got there, the door opened and who should step out but Mary Kay herself. I doubt she remembered who I was from our meet and greet the summer before, but as she always did, she took my hands, looked me in the eyes and said, “How are you?”
“I’m great, Mary Kay!” I said. (Quick learner.) I explained that my wife was there for new Sales Director training and I was watching the little guy.
She said, “What’s her goal?”
To be honest, I wasn’t really sure, so I said, “I think she wants to be a National Sales Director, Mary Kay.”
Mary Kay said, “I know she can do it.” With a twinkle in her eye, she added “Just remember to always pat her on the back...high up!” With that she walked toward the ballroom where she was scheduled to speak with the new Sales Directors. Her security guard, good to his word, took me up to the 8th floor and gave me a private tour of Mary Kay’s office!
As Lisa moved up Mary Kay’s ladder of success, we started traveling on Top Sales Director Trips in 1990. We had the privilege of spending time with Mary Kay on many of those trips. She was a wonderful human being. She loved being around her people – her daughters as she called them. At our dinners, she would take turns sitting at different tables with her top sales people. She had a unique way of making everybody feel special. There could be a thousand people in a room, yet when Mary Kay spoke to us, if felt like we were the only people there. She loved to travel; she enjoyed fine dining; she loved to shop and was always on the lookout for bargains. She had a terrific sense of humor and was a great story teller.
Mary Kay also had a compassionate heart. If I could tell one story about her, this is the one I’d share:
Lisa had a Sales Director named Christy LaRue who was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 38. At a company gathering Lisa had told Mary Kay about her. Christy had already scheduled a visit to see Dr. Kahn, Mary Kay’s doctor in Dallas. When Mary Kay heard she was coming to Dallas to see her doctor, she said, “When she gets here, please have her call me.” Lisa told Christy what Mary Kay had said.
Christy laughed and said, “Oh, I’m sure I’m going to call Mary Kay!”
She and her husband, Bob, flew to Dallas for her appointment. While she was in the examination room waiting for the doctor, a nurse came in and said, “Christy, there’s a phone call for you.” It was Mary Kay. She had found out when her appointment was and called to speak to her and find out how things were going.
After her appointment, Christy and Bob went to take a tour of the new company headquarters. On the tour, they were waiting for an elevator. When the doors opened, Mary Kay was standing inside. The woman giving the tour was the assistant to the president of the company at the time, Tom Whatley. She said, "Mary Kay, this is Christy and Bob LaRue!"
Mary Kay said, "Christy! Come into my office!" As busy and scheduled as Mary Kay was, she took the time to welcome them into her office and then spent 45 minutes visiting with them. They were so excited, they could have flown home without a plane!
Christy called Lisa from the airport in Chicago. She was so excited to tell her about seeing Mary Kay that she forgot to even mention the diagnosis she had been given. Sadly, Christy passed away two years later, but she never forgot that trip to Dallas. That's the kind of person Mary Kay was.
Mary Kay's motto is simple: Enriching Women's Lives. To say that our lives have been enriched is the understatement of the century. We've traveled the world with Mary Kay. We've dined at the Great Wall of China; biked down a volcano in Hawaii; had a private tour of the Vatican in Rome; went scuba diving at the Great Barrier Reef in Australia; helicoptered to the top of the Andes Mountains in Chile; listened to a private concert of the Vienna Boy's Choir in Austria; rode camels in the desert outside Dubai; walked the streets of ancient Ephesus. We even recorded a song at Abbey Road Studios in London.
We've made wonderful friends across the country and around the world. Our children have learned from and been inspired by the people we've met.
Across the millennia, 60 years isn't that long. Heck, a bowhead whale can live to be 200 years old. 60 years in the direct selling arena is a monumental achievement. Happy 60th anniversary, Mary Kay. Let's celebrate!