Mary Kay Ash

Most Outstanding Woman in Business in the 20th Century

Mary Kay Ash and Mary Crowley Holding Award
Bettmann Archive / Getty Images

Upset with the way she had been treated in the male-dominated business world, Mary Kay Ash began to make a list of all the negative and positive things she’d seen working for previous employers. She discovered after writing this down that she had the perfect plan for a successful company.

Before Mary Kay Inc

Born Mary Kathlyn Wagner in 1918, at age 17 she married Ben Rogers and soon had three children. While he served in WWII, she sold books door-to-door, selling an amazing $25,000 in just six months. After her husband's return in 1938, they divorced, and she decided to change careers, going to work for Stanley Home Products. Though one of the top sales directors, she was repeatedly refused promotions and pay raises that the men were getting. After 25 years of hard work, she retired in 1963.

Mary Kay Inc

With her life savings of $5,000 and the help of her 20-year-old son, Mary Kay opened her first 500 sq. ft. store in Dallas in 1963. Mary Kay Inc. started with just nine independent beauty consultants. She based the company’s philosophy strongly on her Christian faith. She told her people to prioritize their life with God first, family second, and work third. With this as her guiding practice, she has encouraged women and given them new opportunities for their own personal and financial success.


One of Mary Kay’s most effective strategies was incentives. In 1969, pink Cadillacs were given to the top sales directors. Diamond bee pins were another incentive to keep the women striving to do their best. With thirty-seven markets worldwide ​and well over 350,000 consultants, Mary Kay Inc. now makes over $1 billion in sales in nineteen different countries.

Recognition and Awards

Fortune magazine recognized Mary Kay Inc. with inclusion in “The 100 best companies to work for in America.” The company was also named one of the best ten companies for women to work. Her most recent acknowledgments were the “Equal Justice Award” from Legal Services of North Texas in 2001, and “Most Outstanding Woman in Business in the 20th Century” from Lifetime Television in 1999.

Mary Kay Ash Charitable Foundation

Mary Kay started the Mary Kay Ash Charitable Foundation in 1996 after seeing her most recent husband’s suffering and death from cancer in 1980. The organization is a non-profit establishment that provides funding for the research of cancers affecting women and is dedicated to putting an end to violence against women by supporting women's shelters and educational programs.

Best-Selling Author

Mary Kay is the author of three best-selling books. The first was her autobiography, Mary Kay, which sold over 1 million copies. Her second book, Mary Kay on People Management, was based on her business philosophy and has been included in business courses at Harvard University. Her third book, ​You Can Have it All, was a best-seller just a day after it was introduced.​

Mary Kay Ash died in 2001. A Web site dedicated to her memory is located at


"Don’t limit yourself. Many people limit themselves to what they think they can do. You can go as far as your mind lets you. What you believe, remember you can achieve."

"Do you know that within your power lies every step you ever dreamed of stepping and within your power lies every joy you ever dreamed of seeing? Within yourself lies everything you ever dreamed of being. Become everything that God wants you to be. It is within your reach. Dare to grow into your dreams and claim this as your motto: Let it be me."