Miracles Happen: Mary Kay Ash’s Fudge Factory

Written by The Scribbler

(Before reading this article, I highly recommend checking out Lazy Gardens’ article “Mary Kay Ash and the Missing Marriages” as it provides a helpful timeline with regards to Mary Kay Ash’s five husbands).

Did a recent Mary Kay inventory $600+ order (or impromptu Goodwill trip, for that matter) bless you with a copy of Mary Kay Ash’s autobiography, Miracles Happen?  For the record, I counted three copies on Goodwill’s shelves at my last visit.  I’m sure there were more, but my 5-year old had stumbled across a piece of curious machinery and wanted to know what it was.  It was a “previously-loved” George Foreman grill, and its discovery sparked a lively dialogue which began with Boxing 101 and ended with the question, “Why would George name five of his kids like him?”  For some things in life there are no answers, my daughter; let us ponder no further.  Goodwill:  Come for the 25-cent copies of multi-level marketing manuals, stay for the philosophical discussion!

Mary Kay Ash’s autobiography is full of fibs, convenient omissions, and contradictions which become increasingly apparent after the first read-though.  This is despite the fact that the “Just the FAQs” section on Mary Kay’s official website says, “Naturally, the most reliable source of information about Mary Kay is the Company itself, so if you have questions or concerns about something you’ve read online, we encourage you to consult this Web site, any of our other Company-produced materials or, perhaps most helpful, the books Mary Kay wrote herself: Miracles Happen…”

Ash once said that a woman who will tell her age will tell anything.  I’m thirty-eight years old.  With that little formality out of the way, let’s kick things off with four questionable quotes found in Miracles Happen:

The Claim: “I had been virtually [my children’s] sole emotional and financial support from the day of their birth to the day they were grown and on their own.”

Reality: This claim has more lie in it than a Persian rug.  For Mary Kay Ash to claim that she was the sole source of emotional and financial support for her three children completely spits in the face of the three husbands she was married to while her children were minors.  Husband #2 was the branch manager over at Stanley Home Products and undoubtedly pulling in decent money; how do you think he would have responded to Ash’s statement?  My guess is that he wouldn’t, since chopped liver generally lacks the ability to speak.  Well, except for the liver in my high school cafeteria; it would recite Hamlet in Arabic if you promised to release it back into the wild afterwards.  As-Salamu `Alaykum, sweet prince, and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!

The Claim: Ash describes her experiences selling cookware, which involved cooking demonstrations.  “The wives would invariably come out into the kitchen and ask me questions like “Is it really as easy as it looks?”  And because the cookware was truly wonderful, I would answer, “Yes!”

Reality: A few lines before this, Ash openly admits that selling that cookware was not as easy as it looked:  “I would purchase the food, prepare it during the day, and on the evening of the demonstration, we would bring everything into the prospect’s home…preparing it was supposed to look like child’s play, but I had spent a great deal of time purchasing the finest cut of ham, selecting the most tender green beans and sweet potatoes, carefully preparing them, and premixing the cake batter.” If Ash was fully aware of all the time and work she put into the demonstrations, why did she lie and tell her customers that things were as easy as they looked?

Mary Kay Ash was a natural saleswoman, a talent tempered further during her years with Stanley Home Products and World Gift.  When Ash speaks of recruiting some of her first Mary Kay beauty consultants, she admits, “Apparently, I was so enthusiastic, they couldn’t say no!”  In Ash’s autobiography, this same enthusiasm is claimed as the reason behind her ability to sell ten sets of children’s books to her friends without having the actual books present.  Ash would later lament, “When I saw my friends, they were often angry with me because of their purchases…my customers seemed to blame me because my enthusiasm had led them to buy books they did not fully utilize.”

It sounds like Ash used her gift of “enthusiasm” to get her friends to buy things they didn’t need so Ash, in turn, could meet her personal goals (which, in this case, was a set of books for herself).  It’s a concept that may sound familiar to any Mary Kay director who’s ever called her unit members at month’s end and “encouraged” them to place an order so production/car quotas could be met.  Puts a fresh meaning behind the popular Mary Kay song, “I’ve Got That Mary Kay Enthusiasm Down in My Heart,” doesn’t it?

The Claim: Mary Kay Ash used her life savings of $5,000 to found Mary Kay Cosmetics.

Reality: This example flips the tables around to put Mary Kay Corporate (and anyone who’s ever made this claim in recruiting interviews) on the hot seat.  Ash’s testimony in Miracles Happen says, “…[My elder son Ben] reached into his breast pocket and pulled out a savings passbook.  The balance showed $4500 – a sum I knew represented everything he had saved since high school…then he handed me the passbook.  “Here’s my savings.  If it will help you in any way, I want you to have it.”

A MK Corporate fact sheet dated 2010 reads “Mary Kay Ash founded Mary Kay Cosmetics on September 13, 1963, with her life savings of $5,000.” Except that it wasn’t Mary Kay Ash’s life savings; it was her son Ben’s. Why doesn’t the 2010 fact sheet simply state the truth and admit that without Ben’s help, Ash would have been up Pudding Creek without a spoon?  I’m going to make a casual guess and say that it’s because implying that Ash used her life savings makes for better recruiting bait; after all, why rig up the traps with boring ol’ mouse pellets when you can use cheese?

The Claim: “When you put God First, your family second, and your career third, everything seems to work.  Out of that order, nothing much seems to work.”

Reality: Ash says, “I remember one of our Beauty Consultants telling me when she got home late and didn’t have anything for dinner, she’d throw an onion in a pot of boiling water and it would smell like something good was cooking…in the meantime, she’d pull something out of the freezer.  While some people might not appreciate what she did, it kept her husband happy…”

Tell me again how lying to keep your husband happy helps women put God first.  And yet Ash felt that this story was important enough to include it in her autobiography.  I’d like to think if Ash truly believed in putting God first, she would have corrected this consultant on the spot by showing her Ephesians 5:33 and gently telling her, “Honey, the Word says let the wife see that she respects her husband.” Lying to him – however well-intentioned – isn’t showing him respect.”  But it’s clear that Ash wasn’t keen on men to begin with, as Miracles Happen is peppered with digs against God’s hairy little rough drafts.  Ash says at the end of chapter 12, “God…created man and He said, “That’s pretty good, but I can do better.  So He created woman.” It’s strange for me to see Ash be so negative towards men and know that she married five of ’em.  Clearly the brutes must’ve been good for something.

So if you have a copy of Miracles Happen, don’t be tempted to read it with a pathos-soaked mental image of Ash as a suffering single mother; a woman struggling to build her dream company from blood, sweat, and tears.  Instead, try reading it with the more realistic image of Ash as savvy saleswoman, someone who’s looking to sell youon both her story and more importantly, her company.  Doing this, you will not only avoid being snared by the highly-emotional “Mary Kay enthusiasm,” but also be privy to the many plot holes in Mary Kay Ash’s script.

2 Comments

  1. truthwins

    I DID buy that book at Goodwill! I gave it to my sister sort of as a gag gift…”look what I got for a quarter at the second-hand shop.” I’m not putting down second-hand stores…it is a smart way to shop.

  2. Lazy Gardens

    Ash’s testimony in Miracles Happen says, “…[My elder son Ben] reached into his breast pocket and pulled out a savings passbook. The balance showed $4500 – a sum I knew represented everything he had saved since high school…then he handed me the passbook. “Here’s my savings. If it will help you in any way, I want you to have it.”

    A MK Corporate fact sheet dated 2010 reads “Mary Kay Ash founded Mary Kay Cosmetics on September 13, 1963, with her life savings of $5,000.”

    And BOTH of them are ignoring that Mary Kay and her husband George Hallenbeck had been working on the product and launch for quite a while. He suffered a fatal heart attack a couple of months before the launch, but they would have already lined up production, samples, packaging and the retail site.

    I’ve been unable to track his career, because the surgeon involved in trying to save JFK’s life in Dallas was also named George Hallenbeck and he clogs up the searches.

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