Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Life of the Party

I don't usually read business books, but when I saw that Life of the Party was about Brownie Wise, I was intrigued. So I requested a copy.

You don't know who Brownie Wise was?

Yeah, I didn't either. And that's kind of the point.

Brownie Wise was the woman who was instrumental in organizing and managing and growing the home party concept for Tupperware. You might say she was the first Tupperware Lady.

Her rise was meteoric. She went from selling products for the Stanley company (Fuller brushes!); bringing what she learned there to selling Tupperware; to being the face of Tupperware, running the home party division and living in a company-owned mansion. She had enough money to buy a small island. She was a success story.

Unfortunately, meteors fall. And she came crashing down petty spectacularly. The owner of the Tupperware company, Earl Tupper, decided to fire her and no one could change his mind. Maybe he was jealous that she became the spokesperson for the company, or perhaps it was that she believed her own publicity and she got too over-bearing to deal with.

Whatever the reason, he fired her, booted her out of the company mansion, buried copies of the book she wrote, and erased her name from the official company history. Boom! She was gone.

The current management of the company has put her back into the history, and even re-released a book she wrote.

Her story was interesting, particularly because back in the early 50's many women didn't work, and the ones that did were secretaries or sales clerks. But she wasn't an average woman. She started her own business and parlayed it into becoming vice-president at a huge company.

What she did isn't all that different from what a lot of food bloggers do, except we're sitting behind computers and she was going door-to-door, selling cleaning products.

Brownie Wise didn't start out wanting to be the executive of a company. She just wanted to make enough money to feed herself and her son after her marriage fell apart. But along the way, she made some good decisions, got noticed by the right people, and took opportunities (and their associated risks) when they arose.

But she wasn't the only woman who was a go-getter. Another woman (along with her husband) grew her Tupperware distributorship until she was getting shipments from the company by rail car. That's a freaking LOT of plastic. She had ambition, she was hard-working, and her ideas on how to motivate the people under her were successful.

But Brownie was the one who became vice president, maybe just because she was in the right place at the right time. Reading the book, it seems she made a lot of right decisions, but she made some wrong ones. She was really good with people. Some people. The Tupperware dealers loved her. Idolized her, even. The Tupperware managers, one step up from the dealers, also loved her. But she was less concerned about the distributors. Less in touch with them. And for sure she didn't handle her relationship with the company's owner very well. And that's probably what went wrong. Not a bad business decision, but a bad personal relationship.

This book was a really interesting read, and although it's not really a how-to-do-it book, I think that it gives some food for thought for anyone who's thinking about running their own business.

I received this from the publisher at no cost.

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