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Mary Kay Ash and Her Leadership Style Research Paper

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Updated: Jun 14th, 2020


In this paper, the work of one of the famous American leaders, Mary Kay Ash will be discussed. The success of this woman, as well as her contributions to the world of business, may be explained in terms of her biography, milestones, she had to cope with, and the decisions she made during her life. The respect and admiration Ash has around the whole world may serve as one of the best evidence that her style of work and the possibility to understand what and when something should be done were effective.

Mary Kay Ash Biography

Mary Kay Ash was born on May 12, 1918 in Hot Wells, Texas, into a family of a restaurant manager (her mother took this position after she was done with her nursing training) and an invalid (her father has serious health problems and could not provide the daughter with the required portion of financial support) (Mary Kay Ash Biography, n.d.). Her first working experience was at Stanley Home Products. Being good at making sales, she was hired by World Gifts. However, after the decade of work at the company, she did not get the desirable promotion, but the man she trained personally got it (Mary Kay Ash Biography, n.d.).

It was one of the first times when she faced the problem of gender inequality in business. The result of such frustration was a book that aimed at guiding women on how to succeed in the world of business. However, it was not the final decision she made to support women, who suffered from sex disparities in the workplace. In the middle of the 1900s, a number of women could not find good jobs because the majority of working places were offered to men.

At the age of 45, Ash created her own business using the help offered by her second husband (who died of a heart attack), and her two sons, who invested $5000. Though her personal life and career plans were intertwined considerably, it was never a problem for her to gain benefits in both of these spheres. She experienced three marriages with two of them ended because of her husbands’ deaths. She had three children with two of them involved directly in the running of the company she created in 1963. In 2001, Mary Kay Ash died. It was Thanksgiving Day, one of her favorite holidays, when she said “Good bye” to the world (About Mary Kay, n.d.a).

Mary Kay Opening

September 13, 1963, was the day when Beauty by Mary Kay opened. It was a 500-square-foot storefront located in Dallas, Texas (About Mary Kay, n.d.b). The beginning of the company was rather simple. Ash used her investment of $5000 to buy several formulas that were appropriate for skin lotions. She addressed a person, who worked in the sphere of tanning and invented that formula while working with hides (Howell, 2013; Mary Kay Ash Biography, n.d.).

Her confidence was the best principle according she worked and made choices. She did not hire many people. There were about ten people, who worked at Mary Kay shop. In 30 years, the stores of the company were opened in ten countries, and more than 1,6 million people worked at her company. Nowadays, Mary Kay Cosmetics Company is known around the whole world. Her life and leadership styles serve as an icon for many business beginners. Her impact remains to be priceless in the sphere of management.

Mary Kay Leadership Styles

One of the main basics of Ash’s company is the attention to a gender issue. Her goal was to create a company where each woman can find the required portion of support and understanding in addition to a number of opportunities that became available to women. Her intention to support the work-life balance was a crucial point in her career. As a leader, she considered three main rules that followed the order it was – God, family, and career (Howell, 2013).

Her distinctive feature was the promotion of managers, who could appreciate their chances to work to create a good family. To prove her true intentions, she wanted to start a new business with her husband. Though he died before the first store was opened, Ash did not give up her desire to unite family and business and invite her son to participate in developing a cosmetics company. The tendencies of Mary Kay Company were not usual. Ash did not want to attract people with low prices.

She knew that low prices led to cheap quality and poor salaries. Her goal was the creation of a profitable business that she could be responsible for. Howell (2013) admits that “she believed that caring for people was completely consistent with a profit making organization as long as its operations added value to her beauty consultants, customers, suppliers and the business” (p. 110).

The main peculiarities of her leadership style were support and transformation. On the one hand, Ash promoted the idea to treat people the way you wanted them treating you. She did not impose her style of leadership. She did not try to invite experts. All she tried to do was to provide people in need with help and opportunities. On the other hand, she was ready to help and train people to clarify what could be done to improve the results.

The company created by Ash has a flat structure. It means that the majority of people are able to work as independent entrepreneurs, earn as much as they want, and set the prices to cover the losses spent on them by the company. In other words, people can take products developed by Mary Kay Company and sell products under different conditions. The only thing is to return the sum of money spent on the creation of the products. Many beauty consultants want to try themselves with Mary Kay because they regard this opportunity as a new step in their safe future.

A transformation is one more characteristic of the work developed by Ash. She was a transformational leader, and this kind of leadership promotes changes and processes that can influence people and leads to employees’ commitment and empowerment (Bowerman & Wart, 2014). Ash followed this style of leadership and became its icon. The opportunities she offered to women around the whole world changed the sphere of business considerably as women got a chance to follow their dreams, gain respect, and have enough time for their families.

Internal and External Organizational Environment

The role of internal and external organizational environment remains to be crucial for the decisions made by Ash as a leader. Sex discrimination and the impossibility to protect female rights in the workplace are the two main factors that made Ash think about a new, unusual organizational structure (Bowerman, 2014).

She knew that there were many women, who could not demonstrate their full potentials because of the necessity to meet social expectations, have families, and raise children. There was no place for work that could bring personal satisfaction, income, and self-respect. Ash considered those external factors and created the organization that could have profits from sales, involve women in work, and prove a male part of society that women could work as well.

The internal organizational environment is also successful because Ash was able to improve sales force with the help many independent cosmetics consultants. Besides, there is a powerful system of training that allows even non-educated women join the company (Ash, 2009). They can take several lessons from experienced consultants, observe their activities, and follow their examples. Such leadership decision helps to save time on searching a staff and choose people, who want but not just can work in Mary Kay.

Decision-Making Processes

There are many successful and recognizable quotes offered by Ash. Still, her decision to provide women with a chance to feel important is one of the best ideas she offered (Ash, 2009). This idea became the key for her strategic management decision. As a leader, she knew the nature of male and female workers. Such facts that women are more sensitive and need more time to handle with a new challenge cannot be neglected. Still, she could find more grounds to prove that women should deserve the chances equal to men. For example, she supported her decisions with the fact that even if men and women got the same portion of motivation, women could respond more quickly to the offered chances and treat the task with a higher responsiveness (Ash, 2009).

At the same time, her decisions were not emotional only. The success her company achieved proved that all her decisions had a financial benefit for the company. She explained her decisions as the chances to change the life and help women in need to discover the beauty of the world. Work should not be divided according to gender factors. It does not matter who can perform a certain amount of work better. The main point is who can benefit more from the work done. Ash found this approach crucial for a decision-making process.

Employee Motivation

Ash was the leader, who treated her employees with respect regardless their gender, age, or educational level. She motivated her employees in one of the most unexpected way underling the fact that she created the company for them. She did not find it necessary to follow the rules and meet general business expectation. She decided to reward her employees with a pink Cadillac in case a number of requirements were met. The point was that workers did not want to get the car just to get it and use the priorities of driving. It was a symbol of trust and worth in the company. It was one of the best examples of motivation for people, who loved their job.

As soon as employees understand that their presence in a company is appreciated, they start working better. The idea of employees’ commitment strengthens the company considerably. Ash could not even guess that a simple idea to respect employees could lead to such success. Of course, she knew that self-respect and support were crucial for people. Still, it was a surprise to find so many people, who wanted to experience such conditions and emotions in the workplace.

Organizational Changes

Mary Kay Ash proved that the success of every leader was a personal achievement and the possibility to understand what actually mattered for a person, but not what is expected. Her life and experience were the main influential factors in her career. She could use her needs and passion to create a company and change the lives of many people. The changes that she introduced to the sphere of entrepreneurship were impressive:

  1. She underlined the power of commitment in the workplace;
  2. She used the female needs and expectations as the main source of motivation;
  3. She explained that it was necessary to know personal needs and discover a full potential;
  4. She showed that it was possible to work without senior managers and become a good boss for yourself.


In general, the leadership style chosen by Mary Kay Ash proved that considerable changes and improvements could be made in one company and change the business situation in the country. A number of Americans used the ideas developed by Ash as a source of inspiration. Leaders try to follow her example to motivate employees, and workers understand that there is always a way to become better. The respect Ash had in the world is the best proof of her success and the correctness of the decisions she made. She did not put the goal to earn a lot or become the best leader. She was inspired by the idea to help other people, and such altruistic intention became the core of one of the most successful companies in the world.

Reference List

About Mary Kay. (n.d.a). About Mary Kay Ash. Web.

About Mary Kay. (n.d.b). MK Milestones: Enriching Women’s Lives. Web.

Ash, M.K. (2009). The Mary Kay way: Timeless principles from America’s greatest woman entrepreneur. Hoboken. NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

Bowerman, K.D. & Wart, M. (2014). The business of leadership: An introduction. New York, NY: Routledge.

Howell, J. P. (2013). Snapshots of great leadership. New York, NY: Routledge.

(n.d.). Web.

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