Mary Kay Ash -- Mary Kay Cosmetics
A gifted salesperson and a top trainer in a Texas direct-sales firm, Mary Kay Ash was 45 years old when she left a sexist workplace and revolutionized women's roles in business.
In 1963, Ash took a $5,000 investment and turned it into a business selling beauty products -- but that's just part of the story.
Mary Kay Ash set about giving women a winning role in sales, instituting a revolutionary incentive program and a wholesale-retail structure that allowed for unlimited earnings. She succeeded to the nth degree, building not only a $2.2 billion company but also a space where enterprising women could (and still can) escape the limitations of a male-dominated sales world.
Mary Kay Cosmetics has 1.8 million sales consultants and has won Fortune magazine awards for best places to work and best companies for women.
Up next: The first (kids') doll with boobs.