Gloria Mayfield Banks


A native of Detroit, Gloria Mayfield Banks ( began her professional career as a sales representative for IBM, later joining Stratus Technologies as a manufacturing marketing manager. A graduate of Howard University and Harvard Business School, she went on to become assistant director for admissions at HBS, where she traveled nationally and internationally to recruit students. Faced with a difficult divorce, Banks began selling Mary Kay products to supplement her income. Within a year she set the company sales record; within a few more years, her business had grown to over $24 million in retail sales with a sales group of over 6,000 consultants. Over her career with Mary Kay, Inc., Banks has broken company sales records, including largest personal team, largest unit, and largest national unit, while earning several cars, numerous trips, and jewelry. Her performance ranks as #3 in the United States and #1 for an African American.

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What impact did HBS have on your life and the life of others?

I majored in business at Howard University and remember wanting to go into sales and sales management. I don't think I would have ever looked at Harvard if my sister Amy hadn't gone before me—Amy and I are still very close, and were particularly so at that stage in our life. She was a role model for me.

Howard provided a tremendous sense of confidence in terms of who I was, but when I walked in the doors of HBS, I was still nervous. Half of the grade was based on written exams, and my first test—a four-hour exam—was very low-scoring because I have dyslexia. So I had to be humble and find the courage to speak up on my behalf to make other testing arrangements with the professor. It was a very challenging situation, but by the time I left, my confidence was that much stronger. I really came out of there a beast! Now I give back by working with young girls in the community and offering lessons in professional life skills and self-esteem—I see my job as teaching them how to be super-bad all day long. I also work with adults and professionals through Charisma Factor, an international coaching and motivational speaking company that I cofounded in 1997 with Angie Onianwa.

After I graduated, I achieved top honors in IBM's sales department then became marketing manager at Stratus Technologies before returning to HBS to serve as assistant director of admissions. While I was there, I went to a Mary Kay skin care class. I didn't wear much makeup, but I saw that they were enjoying themselves. At the time, I was in the midst of a divorce situation and coming out of ten years of domestic violence. So selling Mary Kay seemed like an interesting way to make a little extra money. From that, I've progressed today to being the Number Three salesperson and Number One African American salesperson in the nation. I think I came to Mary Kay for the money, fell in love with it because of the recognition, and grew because of the competition. I'm the sort of person who loves a race—at Howard, I worked as a checker in a Safeway grocery store, and I always worked the fast lane because I wanted to play the game with myself of seeing how quickly I could get the line to move. Finally, I think I've stayed motivated at Mary Kay because I'm excited to see other women's lives improve. I always tell people, 'If you look at Mary Kay and all you see is cosmetics, you haven't looked deeply enough.' We are a people company and our vehicle is cosmetics.

If I had any advice to give young women, it would be to not be afraid of hard work. Also, no one understands your dream but you. Be okay with that. And don't look for the discipline, look for the desire—if the desire is strong enough, the discipline will show up. Find out what pushes your passion button. Distraction and discouragement will cross your path, because life happens. You'll need to rekindle your passion over and over.

When I think about Amy and myself and the young women who come into HBS, I want to tell them not to be afraid of the slogan, 'You can't have it all.' That's not necessarily true. I think it's possible to have a blend of financial, spiritual, physical, emotional, family, and career success. I don't know what 'having it all' really means, but you can have a whole lot! And mentorship is critical, obviously. Network with others so that you can learn from someone else's experience and shorten the learning curve.