How Mary Kay Cosmetics Shaped My Business Career

Mary Kay Cadillac

Photo by Telstar Logistics on flickr.

Mary Kay Cosmetics had a huge influence on my professional life.

Are you imagining me driving in a pink Cadillac?  Hosting Mary Kay parties?

What an image.  Unlikely.  Didn’t happen.  (But don’t laugh because there are men who apparently are quite successful.)

So how did Mary Kay have such a big impact on me?

In my very first post on this blog, I shared the unique way I grew up.  My parents took people in.  All ages, races, religions.  Some would stay a night while others stayed for years.  That meant that there were usually more girls at home than just my four natural sisters.  My mom wanted to earn some extra income and save money on buying all of the required cosmetics and skin care.  Someone recruited her into Mary Kay.

Everything you do has an impact.

What impact did that have on a teenage boy?

Lessons from Lincoln

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Photo by H4NUM4N on flickr.

Like many, I have always been fascinated with all things Lincoln.  Studying great historical figures like Lincoln, who endured and persevered through unbelievably tough circumstances, can teach more about leadership and character than almost any modern lesson.

Abraham Lincoln, notoriously quiet about himself, would undoubtedly be amazed at the number of books written about him.  Ford’s Theatre Center for Education and Leadership in Washington DC now has a spiral staircase piled three stories high with over 6,800 books written about his life.  Thousands more books could also be added, and every year many more are published.

With all of the great books already available about Lincoln, it’s easy to wonder whether any more are needed.  My good friend Stephen Mansfield has just written an extraordinary book, proving that it’s still possible to add to our understanding of the 16th president.  Though I’ve likely read over fifty books about Lincoln, I’m a novice on his life.  Stephen’s Lincoln’s Battle With God filled in missing pieces for me, added perspective, and provided more color.

In studying Abraham Lincoln’s life, what characteristics made him such a powerful leader?  Tell me more about his character.

I suggest in Lincoln’s Battle with God that there were three forces that profoundly shaped his leadership but are rarely discussed.

First, his depression. Lincoln battled depression all his life. He neared suicide more than once. He was haunted by the deaths of loved ones. He had to fight through it, had to reach for the meaningful facets of life so he could endure. This inner struggle gave him compassion, wisdom and an outsider’s perspective—all of which fed his leadership gifts.

The Power of Convergence

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Photo by Martin Lopatka on flickr.

I’ve enjoyed getting to know Faisal Hoque, CEO of BTM Corporation.  His story is the classic success story.  He moved to the United States from Bangladesh with nothing and now is regularly cited as a business and technology expert.  We discussed his leadership journey, his views on company culture, and his latest book.

Faisal, you’ve had quite the journey.  You grew up in Bangladesh and started a business at the age of 14 in order to raise money to move to the United States and study here.  What a journey it’s been from that point until now.  You’re the founder and CEO of BTM Corporation, you’ve written five management books, you’ve been named as one of the most influential people in technology.  Give me a synopsis of your story.

I’d be happy to, Skip. It’s perfect that you use the word “journey” because that’s exactly how I view life – a journey. To date it has been comprised of a series of events as you mentioned, and each has held a valuable purpose in guiding me through every stage. One of my favorite books is The Alchemist by Paolo Coelho. There are many quotes from the books that I think of often, but the following, “There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure,” is particularly meaningful to me because regardless of the difficulties I’ve faced, I have never allowed a fear of failing to dissuade me from pursuing my dreams.

Twenty-three years ago, I had just finished my first summer semester at Southern Illinois University Carbondale after arriving from Bangladesh in 1986. I was 17 and a student in the College of Engineering. After paying my tuition for the summer and fall, I had $700.00 left to survive, secure an education and start my life. I didn’t quite realize how tight of a situation I was in.

I met some local students who became good friends. They suggested I introduce myself to the “art and science” of on-campus “janitorial engineering.” So began my expertise in polishing marble floors, cleaning arena bleachers, offices and bathrooms. My friends urged me to request financial assistance going forward. So my “pitching” career began with efforts to set up meetings with the dean, provost and university president.

It is here in the corridors of Carbondale I experienced rejection when I was told “No” to my request for financial help. The provost began by suggesting I should seriously consider going back home, which I would not even consider. After submitting numerous applications, I received a full scholarship to the University of Minnesota in Duluth. I built my first software/hardware product, which was sold commercially by a local company.

Not long after, I accepted an offer from Pitney Bowes, even though it was not in the financial industry where I initially envisioned myself. From Pitney, I moved onto Dun and Bradstreet and then took the step of building my first company, KnowledgeBase.

I was asked to join GE to launch their first B2B e-commerce spin-off as one of their youngest business executives at the age of 24. Ten years after my journey here began, I started my next company, EC Cubed. We launched in December 1996 and immediately signed up GE as a customer. Less than two years later, after raising millions of dollars from venture capitalists (VCs) and securing top-tier customers, I was fired as CEO. It’s a story many entrepreneurs have experienced at the hands of VCs, and a lesson I will never forget.

Not long after, I returned to the drawing board and wrote another book, then prepared for the launch of my next company in December of 1999, BTM Corporation. Fast forward 13 years, four more books, and many Fortune 500 customer transformations, and I count my blessings each day as I continue to pursue my dreams in this ongoing journey.

Your latest book is The Power of Convergence.  Define convergence.

Our ability to manage business technology has not kept pace with our creation of new technology.

Let me stop for a moment to define ‘‘business technology’’: the application of technology to deliver a business capability or automate a business operation, in other words, the right technology to meet the business objective. In many organizations there are still two camps–technophiles and technophobes–and if they aren’t at war, they are at the very least wary of each other. In too many organizations, the ‘‘business side’’ comes up with a plan and throws it over the wall to the ‘‘technology side’’ for implementation. Because technology is so embedded in the way things work today, these two sides should have been sitting and planning together from the very beginning.

Commitment: What will you do no matter what?

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Photo by hectorir on flickr.

When you make a commitment, especially one to yourself, you begin to energize your mind in a way that opens new doors of possibility.

A commitment starts the engine of the subconscious mind.  It takes a dream or an idea, and begins the process of turning it into reality.  Mixed with discipline, commitment shapes the future.

Steve Jobs is known for a lot of his attributes, but one of them was his commitment.  He was committed to excellence.  There’s one story about him opening up an Apple computer, looking inside and making the team start over.  You can hear the conversation:

Steve:  That’s ugly.

Engineer:  Who cares what the PC board looks like?  The only thing that’s important is how well that it works.  Nobody is going to see the PC board.

Steve:  I’m gonna see it!  I want it to be as beautiful as possible, even if it’s inside the box.  A great carpenter isn’t going to use lousy wood for the back of the cabinet, even though nobody’s going to see it.

That’s commitment.

What’s Your Yes?

Some people are defined by “yes”.  They live to fulfill their “yes”.  They dream, plan and act all according to their “yes.”  Everything they do revolves around the “yes” of their own lives.

Their opposites are “no” people.  These are people who don’t live for their “yes.”  Instead, they just try to avoid their own “no.”  They never discover their own potential.

My friend Mike Glenn recently wrote a book called The Gospel of Yes.  I asked him about the title of this book.  He grew up in a way and in a church that defined life with “no.”  (As in no drinking, no smoking, no this and no that.)

But, he later realized that life’s power is in the “yes”:

It’s not what we are against, but what we are for.

It’s not what you’re bad at, but what you’re good at.

It’s not about your limitations, but about your gifts.