In Brands We Trust: Pink Cadillacs and the Art of Giving

In business, establishing and maintaining long-term trust relationships between your brand and your customers is easier said than done. In the world of woman’s cosmetics and beauty products that challenge is even more daunting when you consider the discerning taste woman have for the products they use on their skin, hair, and body each day.   

An example of a company driving trust and reputation of their brand is Mary Kay. Founded in 1963 and with an initial $5,000 investment by entrepreneur and philanthropist Mary Kay Ash, Mary Kay is a company that continues to live up to the ideals, passion, and brand of trust that was embodied within its spirited founder.

Mary Kay has become a dominant brand among women globally. The company now has more than $3.5 billion in global wholesale revenue generated by 3 million Independent Beauty Consultants who offer more than 200 premium products in more than 35 countries worldwide. The company has competed on innovation and the ability to produce superior products that women want. But the true power of the Mary Kay brand and their thriving business has been the ability to build, maintain, and grow trust, particularly with their sales representatives and customers.

Beginning in 1969 the company began awarding its top five independent Sales Directors with the infamous pink Cadillac to reinforce the positive potential of women. By 1979 one of the company’s original Independent Beauty Consultants surpassed the $1 million in lifetime commissions, the first time in Mary Kay’s corporate history. By 1984 and after 20 years in business the company was featured in Fortune magazine’s “The 100 Best Companies to Work for in America”.

In 1996 the company established the Mary Kay Ash Charitable Foundation which is currently known as The Mary Kay FoundationSM, a nonprofit which provides funding for preventing violence against women and to support research of cancers which affect women. In this same year the company’s global wholesale sales exceed $1 billion for the first time.

By 2009 Mary Kay’s global sales exceed $2.5 billion and as their sales force reached 2 million people worldwide. By 2010’s the company was celebrating key milestones including their 30th anniversary in business in Argentina (2010) and their decade of business in Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Philippines, and Slovakia (2010). In 2013 the company celebrated 50 years of business in the U.S.

In 2014 Mary Kay announced that their Beauty That Counts® global cause-related marketing program would donate $2.50 from each sale of their limited edition Journey of Dreams™ Eau du Toilette fragrances. The proceeds will be support The Mary Kay Foundation’sSM shelter grant program which provides financial support to women’s shelters across the U.S., serving the needs of domestic violence survivors. Mary Kay’s Beauty That Counts® campaigns have led to the donation of more than $7 million (USD) to organizations that benefit women and children throughout the world.

When it comes to manufacturing, packaging, and distribution of their cosmetics, Mary Kay is not using excessive concealer. The company’s Environmental Policy anchors their commitment to pollution prevention, resource conservation, regulatory compliance, and continual improvement. In addition, Mary Kay has enveloped alternative and more sustainable forms of energy and materials into the manufacture, packaging and distribution of their products. The Mary Kay® Botanical Effects™ product line, for example, is made of 50% post-consumer resin, and their cartons are comprised of 100% post-consumer recycled materials.

The company has, since 2008, reduced its total transportation carbon-footprint by 33%. And, the company has reduced water consumption at their global manufacturing facility by nearly 20%. These accomplishments are just a small sample of the corporate-wide environmental sustainability initiatives Mary Kay has in place (other initiatives include recycling, tree planting, renewable material use, energy conservation, and carbon reductions).

Trust relationships are built and sustained over time by action, authenticity, and accountability. Mary Kay’s choice to leverage their iconic brand toward social causes of consequence is a testament to their leadership and decision to be a company that wants to be trusted by their Independent Beauty Consultants, their customers, and by society. In the act of driving positive trust-based relationships, Mary Kay is demonstrating how leading companies can be a force to mobilize humanity toward a more sustainable future.


Mark Coleman is the author of “Time to Trust: Mobilizing Humanity for a Sustainable Future” and “The Sustainability Generation: The Politics of Change and Why Personal Accountability is Essential NOW!” Mr. Coleman is President of Convergence Mitigation Management (CMM), a management consultancy focused in the areas of sustainability, risk, and innovation. Mr. Coleman resides in the Finger Lakes region of New York with his wife Aileen and two boys, Owen and Neal.

Follow Mark on Twitter @TheSustainGen.