Make their day by building recognition into every day

For a lady that claimed to know nothing about finance, Mary Kay Ash, the founder of billion-dollar corporation Mary Kay Cosmetics, definitely knew a lot about people and what made them tick. According to her, “There are two things people want more than sex and money; recognition and praise.”

So perhaps she knew a few other secrets about rewards and recognition that we could all learn from?

Mary Kay Ash was one of the most outstanding businesswomen of the 20th century, yet many people have never heard her name. A cosmetic business mogul, she started Mary Kay Inc. in 1963, with her life savings of US$5000. That same company – currently still privately owned – was proclaimed in 2011 (according to Direct Selling News), to be the sixth largest direct selling company in the world, with net sales of US$2.9 billion.

Remarkably, Mary Kay didn’t have the ivy league education of many of her contemporary billionaires. Instead, she had something far more valuable –  an unshakable belief in herself and her people. Indeed, so much so that she turned her idea into a cosmetics empire that now supports an independent sales force exceeding 2.5 million people, globally.

How did she do it? A reward and recognition system.

Multi-layered by nature, the Mary Kay business rewards performance with ongoing recognition ... both big and small. Their queens of sales and recruitment are regularly showered with applause, praise and gifts and there’s also the more public annual Award Nights, where standing ovations, musical fanfares, tiaras, flowers and scepters are routine. The penultimate reward is a signature pink Cadillac (painted the "Mountain Laurel Blush" colour of Ash’s make-up compact) for the highest achievers. Over the years, General Motors has custom painted over 100,000 cars, all of which must be repainted – before reselling – to maintain their Mary Kay cache.

Make it meaningful

When Mary Kay died in 2001 she didn’t just leave behind a multinational empire, spanning 35 markets. She created a life, an income and inspiration for women around the world. She also left us a litany of quotes and advice to draw on, including this piece of insightful advice:

Everyone wants to be appreciated, so if you appreciate someone; don’t keep it secret. People are definitely a company’s greatest asset. It doesn’t make any difference whether the company’s product is cars or cosmetics. A company is only as good as the people it keeps.

Make it about them

One of Mary Kay’s strongest beliefs centred on giving people, especially women, the opportunity to succeed. Having started in the 60s – when women had few income opportunities – incentives were structured around recognising effort, results and attitude. However, there was also a deeper emotion being tapped.

True to Mary Kay’s ethos, all the rewards and recognition were aimed at building the consultants’ belief in themselves, to achieve even greater things.

Fundamentally, little has changed since 1963 – people still want to be recognised for effort and rewarded for their results. RedBalloon can help you structure your recognition, reward and incentive programs to best suit your people, culture and goals. With more than 3500 experiences, gifts and vouchers available, there’s sure to be something for your people, to rival a pink Cadillac!


Di Mace is a freelance story-making brand writer, strategist and purpose-digger. She turns boring brand messages into content and stories that matter. Find her at