Who was the first woman to be featured on the cover of Business Week magazine? 

It was 1954, and the first female to be showcased in a cover story was Brownie Wise. Now can you name the company?

The answer is Tupperware, the famous polyethylene containers with the “burp” as a seal. Developed by Earl Tupper, the product and its highly successful home sales distribution network was made a household name by Brownie. But because of a falling out with the founder, her name was banished for 50 years from even the company’s history, and she did not receive the legacy she deserved.

In many ways, Brownie Wise was ahead of her time, not only because she recruited and empowered a large female work force and provided opportunities for women to have significant incomes at a time when few did, but because she saw the gains that could be realized when a company took care of its people. “If we build the people, they’ll build the business” was her mantra.

Under her leadership as head of the Tupperware Home Parties division, the company grew to over 10,000 dealers and $25 million in retail sales (in 1954!). She was a precursor to Oprah: giving away trips around the world and cars, granting wishes for her top dealers, writing a book and providing inspiration through regular newsletters and training films. Brownie was also known for her handwritten notes to people and for the lavish jubilee celebrations she held each year to inspire top dealers. 

Brownie was one of the early dealers herself, and then rose through the ranks and eventually became head of the sales division. She perfected the home party network, which gained such acclaim that Brownie’s celebrity and her sales prowess overshadowed Earl Tupper and he fired her. 

A new book about Brownie Wise, Life of the Party, may revive interest in her story and give her the recognition she is due, but regardless, we can all learn from Brownie’s dedication to her dealers. I just listened to a webinar by Simon Sinek who is preaching the same advice Brownie shared. “We are responsible for the people who are responsible for the results,” he said. 

Take a lesson from Brownie Wise’s playbook and shower love, personal concern and recognition on those who do the work. The results will follow.

beth triplett

Life of the Party by Bob Kealing, 2016

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