Think Pink

How Mary Kay got its groove back

"Hi, I'm Maria, a beauty consultant with Mary Kay. Can I interest you in a free facial?"

She sold $600 in cosmetics right away. Within a month, she'd tripled her salary.

"It's changed my life," Jimenez says. She learned to drive. She quit her waitressing job. "You're crazy," her friends told her. "You'll be back," her co-workers said. But she didn't go back; she got a promotion. As a sales director, she has started building her own team with recruits. "Now what I enjoy the most is talking to women, being able to share the opportunity," she says. "I hope other women's lives can change the way mine has."

Pretty in pink: The Mary Kay Museum, located inside the corporate headquarters in Addison. Clockwise from top left: A portrait of founder Mary Kay Ash, who died in 2001; life-size figures of Ash and the company's current sales force uniforms; a gallery devoted to national sales directors.
Peter Calvin
Pretty in pink: The Mary Kay Museum, located inside the corporate headquarters in Addison. Clockwise from top left: A portrait of founder Mary Kay Ash, who died in 2001; life-size figures of Ash and the company's current sales force uniforms; a gallery devoted to national sales directors.
Maria Jimenez quit her waitressing job to become a full-time consultant. She tripled her income in a month.
Peter Calvin
Maria Jimenez quit her waitressing job to become a full-time consultant. She tripled her income in a month.

She is a shy woman who sometimes casts her eyes down at the floor as we speak. But she's growing more confident. She recruits everywhere now--at the movies, at the park, at Olé. Now she's the one stopping people as they shop.

"I don't know if it's just among the Hispanics," she says, "but when they see the way I'm dressed, when they see the way I look, they know there's something good to be said about what I'm doing."

People may think of Mary Kay as square and lily-white, but it is an increasingly multiracial company--especially when it comes to Hispanics and African-Americans, both of whom are historically underserved by mainstream cosmetic brands. Unlike other minorities, such as Asian-Americans (whose presence in the company is growing, but slowly), they may also more eagerly embrace the company's traditional motto, "God first, family second, career third."

This year, Andrea Newman became the youngest-ever black national sales director in Mary Kay, which means that at 32, Newman is essentially the CEO of her own company. The big-eyed, full-figured beauty stood onstage that afternoon at Seminar to accept her honor alongside her husband, a pastor in Jacksonville, Florida; her stepson; and her mother, who recruited her. "I went to a Mary Kay meeting and told her it was a cult," Newman says. "I'd never seen so many women so happy." The audience laughs; it's a common reaction. Newman gets emotional as she nears the end of her speech. "Promise me you won't look at where you are but where you're going. This is not just a dream for me but for everyone who wants to be on this stage. You can do it."

"Isn't that beautiful?" Kimberlee whispers beside me.

Outside in the lobby after the speech, an African-American consultant waits around for Newman. "I just wanted to meet you and tell you how empowering it was to see you up there today," she tells her.

Newman takes the woman's hands in hers, and they walk arm in arm down the hall. "Now tell me how long you've been with Mary Kay," Newman says, as they disappear around the corner.


In other parts of the economy, 2002 was a sucker punch to the pocketbook. But at Mary Kay, it was another record year. "As far as I'm concerned, 40 is fabulous," Tom Whatley tells the audience. "In a time of tremendous difficulty, you have rewritten history. Here we are getting stronger." Whatley is the company's president of sales, a tan and dapper man with slicked-back hair graying at his temples. Although the news of Mary Kay's recession success is surprising, it's also logical. Becoming a beauty consultant is a classic stopgap career, the kind of thing women pick up when they need extra cash or when their husbands are suddenly left jobless. With no ego-crushing application process--indeed, no barrier for entry at all save a hundred bucks--it's a career practically made for tough times.

Whatley delivers the numbers grandly: "1.6 billion in wholesale," he says. "A sales force of 1 million in 33 countries."

Make that 34. On September 13, the company's 40th anniversary, Mary Kay Cosmetics opened in Warsaw, Poland. Business is booming in developing countries, where cosmetic brand choices and (more important) job opportunities are limited. To celebrate its international expansion, Mary Kay placed its foreign directors onstage at Seminar. They waved flags from their native countries--Brazil, Argentina, Guatemala--as they sang along to a familiar song, written in 1984 about starving children in Africa. Listening to it now, in this context, the song sounds like an eerie portent of 21st-century globalization. "We are the world," the auditorium sings. "We are the women. We are the ones who make a brighter day, so let's start giving."

After Whatley finishes his speech, Arlene Lenarz takes the stage. Since Mary Kay Ash's death, the company has been steered by Richard Rogers, Ash's son and the company's co-founder, but the public face remains that of a woman, Arlene Lenarz. The company's top saleswoman, she has netted more than $11 million in her career. When she takes the stage, the audience stands.

"Are you ready for the three most exciting days of your life?" Her voice is growing froggy from public appearances, but she remains enthusiastic. Yesterday, Lenarz stood in the summer heat for hours while the local media interviewed her about the seminar's kickoff--100 pink Cadillacs parked outside Dallas City Hall.

"There's about 2,000 of these on the road today," she told them, gesturing with her manicured hand. One thing about Mary Kay: Everyone wants to know about the pink Cadillac. Even David Letterman, when Mary Kay Ash appeared on his show years ago, couldn't resist. "How do I get me one of them pink Cadillacs?" he asked. The real answer is that he'd have to be a sales director, and his unit would have to net $96,000 wholesale in a six-month period. Then, he would get a two-year lease on a Cadillac DeVille. Mary Kay also offers Grand Ams and Grand Prix, but the big daddy--the icon--is the Caddie. The color is patented each year, and GM shuts down its plant in Detroit for two weeks to manufacture the cars. This year's hue is pearlescent, a minty breath of pink. They glitter outside in the Texas sun with vanity plates like PAZZAZZ and LUV LIF and 1MILLUN. "I've had one of these every year since I joined the company in 1972," Lenarz tells each interviewer patiently.

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