Mary Kay Ash

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“Everyone has an invisible sign hanging from their neck saying, ‘Make me feel important.’ Never forget this message when working with people.” 

Mary Kay Ash (May 12, 1918 – November 22, 2001) was an American businesswoman and founder of Mary Kay Cosmetics, Inc.

Mary Kay Ash, born Mary Kathlyn Wagner in Hot Wells, Harris County, Texas, was the daughter of Edward Alexander and Lula Vember Hastings Wagner.[1] Her mother was trained as a nurse and later became a manager of a restaurant in Houston.[2] Ash attended Dow Elementary School and Reagan High School in Houston, and graduated in 1934.[3]

Ash married Ben Rogers at age 17. They had two children, Ben Jr. and Richard Rogers. While her husband served in World War II, she sold books door-to-door. After her husband’s return in 1945, they divorced. Ash later had her only daughter, Marylin Reed. Ash went to work for Stanley Home Products.[4] Frustrated when passed over for a promotion in favor of a man that she had trained, Ash retired in 1963 and intended to write a book to assist women in business. The book turned into a business plan for her ideal company, and in the summer of 1963, Mary Kay Ash and her new husband, George Arthur Hallenbeck,[1] planned to start Mary Kay Cosmetics. However, one month before Ash and Hallenbeck started Beauty by Mary Kay, as the company was then called, Hallenbeck died of a heart attack.[1] One month after Hallebeck’s death on September 13, 1963 when she was 45 years old[2] with a $5,000 investment from her oldest son, Ben Rogers, Jr. and with her young son, Richard Rogers taking her late husband’s place, Ash started Mary Kay Cosmetics.[2] The company started its original storefront operation in Dallas.[2]

Ash was widely respected. She considered the Golden Rule the founding principle of Mary Kay Cosmetics and the company’s marketing plan was designed to allow women to advance by helping others to succeed. She advocated “praising people to success” and her slogan “God first, family second, career third” expressed her insistence that the women in her company keep their lives in good balance. Mary Kay Ash died in Dallas, Texas November 22, 2001.


Both during her life and posthumously, Ash received numerous honors from business groups, including the Horatio Alger Award. Ash was inducted into the Junior Achievement U.S. Business Hall of Fame in 1996. A long-time fundraiser for charities, she founded the Mary Kay Ash Charitable Foundation to raise money to combat domestic violence and cancers affecting women. Ash served as Mary Kay Cosmetics’ chairman until 1987, when she was named Chairman Emeritus. 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 10 companies for women to work. Her most recent acknowledgements 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.[4]

Mary Kay Cosmetics, Inc.

Ash and her partners, which included her son, Richard, took the company public in 1968. In 1985, the company’s board decided to take the company private again after seventeen years as a public company. Ash remained active in Mary Kay Cosmetics, Inc. until suffering a stroke in 1996. Richard Rogers was named CEO of Mary Kay Cosmetics, Inc. in 2001. At the time of Ash’s death, Mary Kay Cosmetics had over 800,000 representatives in 37 countries, with total annual sales over $200 million. As of 2014, Mary Kay Cosmetics has more than 3 million consultants worldwide and wholesale volume in excess of 3 billion. Mary Kay herself was honored as a leading female entrepreneur in American history.


Mary Kay Ash authored three books, all of which became best-sellers. Her autobiography, Mary Kay, has sold more than a million copies and appears in several languages. Mary Kay Ash’s second book “Miracles Happen” and Mary Kay Ash’s third book, You Can Have It All, was launched in August 1995 and achieved “best-seller” status within days of its introduction.


This profile is partly adapted from a Wikipedia entry on Mary Kay Ash, available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License.