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A Thing of Beauty: Wendy Wang

Gulfs don’t come much wider than the continental divide between China and the suburbs of Dallas, Texas. One of the Lone Star State’s biggest cities, Dallas is perhaps best known for oil, JR Ewing and the assassination of US President John F Kennedy in 1963.

Wendy Wang, President Asia–Pacific of Mary Kay Inc

However, for one Dallas entrepreneur, that year was momentous for a very different reason. During World War II, Mary Kay Ash entered the workforce as a sales agent, selling books door to door. Soon after, she joined Stanley Home Products to offer the company’s range of cleaning and personal care items direct to homes. Frustrated that men were constantly given raises and promotions in her stead, Mary Kay retired to start her own business.

The result, Mary Kay, sold cosmetics and beauty products in the ‘house party’ style. By taking her range – initially only four skincare products and one foundation – directly into the homes of her customers, she built a bridge between business and customer that remains to this day. It’s a bridge that’s carried revenue of almost US$200,000 in its first year of operations to a whopping multibillion-dollar company today.

Determined to provide the kinds of opportunities she’d been denied, Mary Kay put women front and centre of her operations. Word of mouth soon carried the Dallasite’s business far beyond the city, reaching as far as Europe, Asia and Latin America.

Making it legal

And it was the Asia–Pacific region where, almost 40 years after the company’s inception and a year after its founder’s death in 2001, Wendy Wang joined Mary Kay’s legal department as a staff attorney. “I’ll always remember that time,” Wendy reveals. “About a week after I started, we had our very first global business conference. We made a commitment not only to make sure Mary Kay’s operations in the international market would grow, but also to make sure that it grew in the Mary Kay way.”

The Mary Kay way, according to Wendy, is the absolute prioritisation of the progress of women. “There was such an emphasis on keeping intact Mary Kay Ash’s mission of enriching the lives of women and providing the same empowerment opportunity for women igniting their unlimited potential, wherever we are in the world,” she says. “That commitment stuck with me.”

It quickly became apparent to Wendy that her role at Mary Kay wasn’t simply to practise law. “I felt like I was here to fulfil a mission,” she says. “That’s what carries me through my Mary Kay journey.”

“You have to believe in the potential of other people, but never demand that they do what you can’t do yourself.”

Growth spurt

The opportunities envisioned by Mary Kay Ash in decades past didn’t take long to appear before Wendy. What began as a multi-year international assignment in China to start the company’s first legal department outside of the US came to encompass global legal compliance and elevating Mary Kay’s enterprise risk management program.

“When I first arrived in China, I had one task: to build the right team to support the healthy and sustainable growth of Mary Kay in this part of the world,” Wendy recalls. “It was critical that I made sure we were working together to lay a solid foundation for future growth, something that’s as relevant to us today as it was then in 2005.”

Hand-picking the right team required a strong judge of character to act in the best interests of a parent company half a world away. “I believe the formula for excellence is made up of strategy times the capability of the organisation,” Wendy explains. “And when you’re talking about the capability of an organisation, you’re talking about the people. Then as far as people are concerned, it’s about their skill sets; their competency. It’s about the mentality that they want to do this job, and empowerment that they can do this job. That’s how we motivate people to be the best they can be.”

Wendy’s own embrace of this mentality and aspiration to take her career within Mary Kay to its limits eventually brought her to the commercial side of the business. “I was creating and driving commercial strategies and then navigating and capitalising on opportunities for Mary Kay in this region.”

One aspect of the role, sales, is something Wendy still looks forward to. “Strategically, I ask myself and my team two questions: why buy from her – the independent beauty consultant – and why be her?” The answers shed light on a crucial part of Mary Kay’s competitive advantage: connectivity. “She connects with her customers the way she connects with the people around her,” Wendy says. “They’re not just there to sell products, but also to truly connect with the needs of customers and offer a total beauty solution.”

Hail to the chief

The Mary Kay opportunity doesn’t stop at having a viable sales proposition, either. In Wendy’s own experience, it presents a path for entrepreneurship and leadership development. In March 2021, she was made President Asia–Pacific of Mary Kay Inc, becoming living proof of the power of Mary Kay Ash’s vision for women in the workplace. “By offering the Mary Kay opportunity, we can enable and encourage more women to realise their full potential and to influence and enrich the lives of those they connect with,” she says.

As President Asia–Pacific, Wendy has had the chance to flex her leadership skills like never before. “You cannot lead where you don’t go,” she points out. “I think that pretty much defines my leadership style, and it’s a maxim that’s served me well ever since I joined Mary Kay. I’m hands-on with the work, I know exactly what I’m talking about and exactly what I envision.”

Such clarity of vision gives Wendy a natural ease when it comes to making sure her team is on the same page. “I can paint my vision to the team,” she says. “If I believe I can do it, they can probably do it much better than I can, and if I can’t do it, it doesn’t mean others can’t. That in itself is empowerment, which I believe is the most important quality a leader can have.”

It’s a fine line to tread, but Wendy believes it’s simply a matter of faith. “You have to believe in the potential of other people, but never demand that they do what you can’t do yourself.”

Digital beauty

With Wendy at the helm for Asia–Pacific, Mary Kay has plunged headfirst into the future armed with a firm digitalisation strategy. Sustainability and digitalisation have emerged as the two essential elements for the evolution of any company hoping to be around for the next 50 years. Mary Kay’s staying power has its roots in both, making the path forward not only clear, but also achievable.

“Those two words, sustainability and digitalisation, are the pillars of our future focus,” Wendy confirms. “They’re how we ensure that not only do we grow, but that growth is also sustainable for the company, our stakeholders, the society and the environment.”

Mary Kay’s new sustainability strategy aims to reach new targets for performance and define the company’s efforts to follow specific sustainable business priorities. “We are committed to reducing our environmental footprint and we’re taking steps to streamline our operations in the long-term by incorporating sustainability into our business practices,” Wendy explains.


“There’s a larger transition going on in the cosmetics and personal care industries to meet growing demand for environmentally conscious, transparent operations and cleaner, ethically sourced products, and we’re happy to be a part of it.”

The plan also addresses the ease of doing business offered by advances in digitalisation. “Our vision is to position our independent beauty consultants as the omnichannel and the ultimate experience,” she says.

This vision is already on its way to becoming reality: Mary Kay’s customers are now able to use the newest features in its innovative tool, the Skin Analyzer, to remotely assess their skin condition.


“Imagine a beauty consultant having the ability to provide customers with a preliminary read of his or her skin condition simply by taking a picture of themselves with their phone,” Wendy says. “There’s then the option to meet offline later for a more detailed analysis, diving deep into personal beauty needs and talking through a total beauty solution.”

“We had to learn to be comfortable stepping outside of our comfort zone and transforming risks into opportunities.”

Should the customer choose, product orders can be placed online and delivered to their home, improving the ease of first-time trials and repeat purchases. Technologically, it’s a long way from Mary Kay’s ‘house party’ origins, but it’s the spiritual successor in just about every other way.

“At the same time, digitalisation has been incorporated into the education efforts for the independent beauty consultants,” Wendy adds. “Whether it’s in a bite-size format to learn at their own pace, or lengthier sessions like immersive virtual events with special guest speakers from the beauty consultant community, it’s all designed to elevate the way she learns, the way she sells and the way she grows.”

Action plan

The COVID-19 pandemic, unimaginable in Mary Kay Ash’s day, has forced today’s Mary Kay out of its comfort zone in many ways. The face-to-face nature of the sales pitch that was the company’s trademark has had to endure a new reality of social distancing and mask mandates. The situation has been a test unlike any other for Wendy’s presidency, but she’s seen it as an opportunity to learn some important lessons.

“Imagine a beauty consultant having the ability to provide customers with a preliminary read of his or her skin condition simply by taking a picture of themselves.”

“It’s taught us how to focus on the short-term as well as the long-term,” Wendy says. “We had time during the worst of it to consider and implement a lot of the values we stand for.” One such example was the company becoming a proud signatory and advocate of the principles for women’s empowerment established by the UN Women in collaboration with the UN Global Impact. “Further to that, we expanded on this commitment and collaboration by initiating the Women’s Entrepreneurship Accelerator project in partnership with five United Nations agencies, designed to inspire, educate and build capacities for women entrepreneurs around the world.”

The project aims to address the roadblocks faced by women entrepreneurs by providing access to financing, education, capacity building, advocation of law and policy reform on intersectional discrimination and a focus on systematic changes in that regard – very much in keeping with Mary Kay Ash’s original vision for working women. “We’re committed to action, and even during the pandemic, we’ve taken that commitment very seriously,” Wendy asserts. “It was a time to dwell on what we truly value and what we could do to really make a difference in the world, and I think we’ve put it to the best use.”

Time for change

For Wendy, the other lesson of 2020 was that change is the only constant. “Practically everything changed for me in 2020,” she admits. “On a professional level, I transitioned into this new role and was suddenly forced to revolutionise the way Mary Kay independent beauty consultants connect with the world; on a personal level, I was juggling my two children at the same time. While we had plans for all sorts of things, nothing went according to plan.”

This unexpected situation meant the word agility took on a whole new level of importance. “We had to be quicker, not only in our thinking, but also in our actions,” Wendy reflects. “We had to learn to be comfortable stepping outside of our comfort zone and transforming risks into opportunities.”

A beneficiary of this sleek new approach to business was Mary Kay’s extensive network of partners and suppliers. “All the important stakeholders that shape our business came through the pandemic stronger because we had to truly rely on each other and improve the way we interacted,” Wendy reveals. “The way we do business shifted during this time. We had to learn to trust more, to communicate more. There are no longer lengthy business meetings to discuss every issue under the sun; every single touchpoint matters. Strategically, it served us well.”

“There’s a larger transition going on in the cosmetics and personal care industries to meet growing demand for environmentally conscious, transparent operations and cleaner, ethically sourced products, and we’re happy to be a part of it.”

The rapid-fire dissemination of information improved stakeholder relationships, she says, because it was much easier to keep them abreast of Mary Kay’s agenda. “They know where we are, what issues we have and what our expectations are in a way they didn’t before, and that fosters a deeper understanding between us,” Wendy says. “The mutual understanding leads to mutual trust, so when times are tough, there’s a little bit more appreciation for each other. It’s actually a lot like marriage in that way.”

The weight of the sky

In China especially, women are seen as a vital part of society. No less than Mao Zedong himself believed that “women hold up half the sky”, and as the nation’s economic might continues to grow, women are equal partners in that success. “Women make up nearly half of Asia’s business owners,” Wendy shares. “But while many countries have made formal commitments to gender equality, implementation is often undercut by a variety of factors, from limited resources and inconsistencies upholding laws to upheavals from natural disasters.”


Societal issues such as the gender pay gap, access to child care, domestic violence and job restrictions have also put women at a disadvantage, but Wendy believes this only serves to strengthen the company’s resolve to be the change it wants to see.

“Mary Kay Ash was truly ahead of her time,” Wendy says. “She built this company with a purpose to empower women through entrepreneurship and then flipped the script, thinking like a woman in powerful business opportunities.”

According to Wendy, this philosophy is alive today in every Mary Kay independent business all around the world. “We’re proud to carry on Mary Kay’s legacy in Asia and to empower women to have choices, whether it’s embarking on a journey of self-care or starting a business in pursuit of their dreams.”

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