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Mary Kay: Even mentors need mentors

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When Mary Kay Ash started her career in sales with Stanley Home Products, she figured she could learn something at the company’s annual convention.

But the trip cost $12 (including train fare and hotel), and Ash didn’t have $12. So, she borrowed it from a friend who told Ash she should spend the money on shoes for her children instead of some “wicked convention like men go to.”

Ash wasn’t sure if the fee included meals, so she took along a pound of cheese and a box of crackers. She didn’t own a suitcase, so she emptied her Stanley case, packed it and went. That was her first great move.

Those three days changed her life.

Ash—who later founded Mary Kay Cosmetics—watched company leaders crown their Queen of Sales and present her with an alligator handbag. As befitted an employee of three weeks, Ash sat in the last row and yearned to stand in that spotlight. She vowed that next year, she would be Queen of Sales.

Then, Ash made her second great move. Among the lessons that day was to “hitch your wagon to a star.” So, Ash “hitched to the Queen so hard, she must have felt it … even from the back row.”

After the ceremony, the novice asked the Queen of Sales to put on a Stanley party so she could learn from her. Ash took 19 pages of notes at the party, and saw her sales jump immediately from $7 to $28 per party.

Ash’s third great move came from another lesson that day: “Tell somebody what you are going to do.” She saw instantly how that would help her stick to her goals, so she straightened her little hat, marched up to president Frank Stanley Beveridge and said, “Next year, I am going to be the Queen.”

He could have laughed, but instead held her hand for a moment, looked in her eyes and said: “You know, somehow I think you will.”

Bottom line: At the end of that year, Ash did become Queen of Sales. And the rest is history.

—Adapted from Miracles Happen, Mary Kay Ash, HarperPerennial.

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