A Focus on Gratitude Helped Mary Kay Ash Build a Global Brand

Author Jennifer Bickel Cook, retired Mary Kay executive, discusses her debut book, Pass It On: What I Learned from Mary Kay Ash, and shares nuggets of wisdom from one of the most successful women in recent history.

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What inspired you to write this memoir?

I frequently speak about Mary Kay Ash, and invariably I am approached with the suggestion that I should write a book. I have always been concerned with Mary Kay Ash’s legacy, and I came to believe that it was important for me to share my memories of her along with stories from others who knew her well.

Can you tell us a bit about the title? What does “Pass It On” refer to?

So many women have been positively affected by Mary Kay Ash’s example and her philosophies and also by building their Mary Kay businesses. Whenever anyone would ask her, “What can I do to repay you, her answer was always, ‘Pass it on.’” She was such an influence in my life that it is only natural that I would want to pass on her Golden Rule way of living to others.

You mention in your memoir that Mary Kay has had a big influence on your life. What would you say has been her biggest impact on you?

Mary Kay introduced me to my faith, and she showed me what it means to balance faith with work and family— and also what it means to live by the Golden Rule.

In Pass It On, you mention that Thanksgiving was Mary Kay’s favorite holiday. Could you tell us a few of the things for which Mary Kay was most thankful?

She was grateful for her family, which is one of the reasons this is her favorite holiday. She always hosted the Thanksgiving feast at her home. She was grateful that God had used her company to touch so many lives. That was her intent in starting Mary Kay, to build a company that would be a blessing to people, and especially women. She was grateful for all that God had given to her. In fact, she talked about how important it is to have an attitude of gratitude. She would say that when she was feeling down, she would think about all that God had done for her and then take all those blessings away one-by-one. Then God would give them back to her, and her heart would be full of gratitude and joy.

The Mary Kay name is world famous. Everyone knows the brand and commonly associates it with the makeup and the pink Cadillacs. However, not everyone outside of the company knows what a big part her faith played in its success. Could you give a few examples of this?

God was at the center of Mary Kay’s life. She prayed to Him, talked to others about Him, and gave Him credit for her success. She wrote hundreds of get well, sympathy and encouragement cards in which she would enclose a tiny cross and the poem, “The Cross In My Pocket.” Although she never imposed her faith on anyone, if asked to pray, she would offer up the most beautiful prayers. She believed God heard her and that He would answer. She faithfully supported her church, financially and with attendance, and she inspired others to also develop deeper relationships with God.

What was the significance of the bumblebee at Mary Kay?

In her speeches Mary Kay would use the story that aerodynamic engineers had found a long time ago that the bumblebee could not fly because its body is too heavy and its wings are too light. But the bumblebee doesn’t know it, so it goes on flying anyway. To Mary Kay, many women who make it to the top are told by others that they do not have what it takes to be successful. But they don’t know it, so they go on doing the work and believing in their dreams, and they soar upward. One year Mary Kay’s husband, Mel, gave her a diamond bee pin, and when she saw it, she knew it would be the perfect prize for the top people in Mary Kay. A bee pin is a coveted award at Mary Kay Inc.

What do you hope that readers take away from reading Pass It On?

That Mary Kay was an extraordinary Christian leader who can be a role model for them personally.

Jennifer Bickel Cook started her career at Mary Kay Inc. while earning a Bachelor of Arts Degree in English with Highest Honors from The University of Texas at Arlington. After graduation, she was hired full time by Mary Kay Inc. and shortly afterwards was appointed Mary Kay Ash’s Executive Secretary at the age of 24. She retired from Mary Kay Inc. in 2017 after a forty-five-year association with the company, working directly with Mary Kay Ash for twenty-five of those years. Her roles at Mary Kay included manager of her personal staff, director of the Mary Kay Museum, and director of The Mary Kay Foundation. She lives in the Dallas area with her husband and her fur persons. She has three grown children, three grandsons, and another grandson on the way. Pass It On: What I Learned from Mary Kay Ash will be Jennifer Cook’s debut title.