Making Up Ground

Lynda Rose overcame numerous obstacles to find her calling at Mary Kay, where she is furthering the brand’s focus on advancing women’s careers

“We stand for enriching women’s lives. A few weeks ago, an independent beauty consultant told me she had put three kids through college without debt, and that tells me we’ve done the right thing.” (Photo: Dasa Tufts)

Today there are laws protecting pregnant women in the workplace from wrongful termination, but as Lynda Rose learned the hard way, that wasn’t always the case. “During my maternity leave, I was asked to come in for a meeting [but] couldn’t make it due to family circumstances,” she recalls. “And two days after I returned from maternity leave, I was fired because the company needed someone more focused on business than family.”

It was a shock, Rose says, because in the 1990s you were only as good as your title. “I faced a lot of challenges internally, between having a new child and losing my job,” she says. But it was also a new beginning—a turning point that would eventually lead Rose to her current position at Mary Kay Inc., known for its founder’s philosophy of faith first, family second, career third.

Prior to joining Mary Kay, Rose began her career as a makeup artist but gradually worked her way into sales—first as an account executive for Lancôme, then as a national sales director at Quadrant Cosmetics, where she launched notable brands such as Giorgio Beverly Hills, Liz Claiborne, and Hugo Boss. The experience thrilled Rose in the image-driven days of the ’80s and ’90s, but by the time she was 30, she wanted a change of pace. “The work was all-consuming, and I was getting married and wanted to slow down to have a family,” she says.

Thinking she would fare better at a smaller organization, Rose joined a hair-care company and oversaw its launch in the Ontario marketplace. It was a tremendous success, and Rose was promoted to national sales director while on maternity leave, but when she returned, that’s when the axe fell.

Serendipitously, Rose lived minutes away from Mary Kay offices, even driving past on a regular basis. One day, while looking for a new book, Rose stumbled upon a biography of Mark Kay founder Mary Kay Ash. The rest was history. “I loved how she built a billion-dollar company based on the idea that women need balance in their lives,” Rose says, “so I dropped off a résumé and, after a number of interviews, was hired as director of sales development.”

Seventeen years later, Rose is general manager for Mary Kay and is responsible for the entire Canadian organization—an accomplishment she achieved without a university education. “I was passionate about the cosmetics industry,” she says. “I was a very good salesperson, and at the end of the day, whatever degree you have, whatever field you’re in, you have to know how to sell your ideas. And I learned things along the way.”

If she could do it over, Rose would get a degree, but she notes that she was launched forward in her career so quickly that she didn’t have the time. She never got ahead of herself, though—a key piece of advice she gives to others seeking to follow in her footsteps. “You can’t be so focused on the next promotion that you’re not focused on the task at hand,” she says. Rose also touts the value of having a foot in the field. “In Canada, 36,000 women sell Mary Kay, and they’re our first customers,” she says. “We have to understand their needs and challenges and get them excited, so we market to them first.”

Today Rose loves watching the reinvigoration of the brand. The car program, in which successful team leaders win the opportunity to drive a pink Cadillac, now includes a BMW. Meanwhile, the company has developed strong relationships with beauty bloggers, with social media driving engagement. “People are shocked by how modern we are,” Rose says. “We’re not your grandmother’s Mary Kay.”

Rose also serves on several boards, including the Direct Sellers Association and the Canadian Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association. Recently she was appointed by Dr. Kellie Leitch, Minister of Labour and Minister of Status of Women, to serve on Canada’s Advisory Council for Women Entrepreneurs and Business Leaders, which seeks to help female entrepreneurs succeed in starting and growing their businesses. It’s a role that her Mary Kay experience has prepared her for—and one she doesn’t take lightly. “Mary Kay is a company that helps hundreds of thousands of women become entrepreneurs,” she says. Bring on the next hundred thousand.