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The power of language to influence people: Mary Kay Ash the entrepreneur

Victoria Crittenden (Department of Marketing, Babson College, Wellesley, Massachusetts, USA)
William Crittenden (Department of International Business and Strategy, Northeastern University, Boston, Massachusetts, USA)

Journal of Research in Marketing and Entrepreneurship

ISSN: 1471-5201

Article publication date: 23 December 2022




As a business executive and philanthropist, Mary Kay Ash is legendary as a glass-ceiling breaker. With the belief that Mary Kay Ash is both modern and relevant, while simultaneously legendary, the overall purpose of this paper is to explore the role of Mary Kay Ash as an influential entrepreneur. This research responds to the call by Cogliser and Brigham (2004) for an increased understanding of how entrepreneurial leaders influence, challenge, inspire and develop followers.


Following on research by Hoppe (2013), this objective was accomplished via a pentadic analysis of Mary Kay Ash’s rhetoric aimed to influence the mental mindset of readers (followers) over the course of generations. Burke’s pentad was the sense-making tool used for examining Ash’s rhetoric of influence as an entrepreneurial leader. The data used in the pentadic analysis were also analyzed via Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count (LIWC) and IBM Watson Emotion Analysis to see where analyses might converge or diverge.


Based on the analysis of her written work, Mary Kay Ash resided at the intersection of leadership and entrepreneurship and, in so doing, was an influencer. Her primary rhetorical approach to influencing was idealism. Interwoven in her writings, she also exhibited both pragmatism and realism. She knew that she had to start the business to have the future she desired and that she needed to train her team appropriately for success to be forthcoming. The motivation in Mary Kay Ash’s rhetoric was that of influencing people so they would be the best that they could be.

Research limitations/implications

Qualitative research brings with it an array of inevitable research problems. Pentadic analysis cannot be judged by the basic objective standards of reliability and validity because objective reality does not exist in personal interpretation. That is, one person as a critic cannot be impartial because the interpretation is only one personal way of viewing the data and another critic might view the same pentads and come up with different ratios. With this subjectivity in mind, however, the data used in the pentadic analysis were also analyzed via LIWC and IBM Watson Emotion Analysis to see where analyses might converge or diverge.

Practical implications

The findings from this research denote clearly that Mary Kay Ash was a forerunner of the modern day influencer. As a primogenitor of the influencer marketing phenomenon, Mary Kay Ash’s entrepreneurial legacy is expected to continue through generations of followers. This finding speaks to the importance of today’s entrepreneurs using the spoken and written word to influence others and create a lasting organizational legacy.


Countless scholars have used pentadic analysis, with a variety of artifacts, to examine the motives behind the rhetoric. However, rhetoric as a means of persuasion and influence has received little attention within the context of the written works by management gurus (Jones et al., 2009), and, aside from the exploration by Berglund and Wigren (2012), the narrative of entrepreneurial influence has not benefitted from close examination.



Funding: Funding for this research project was provided by Mary Kay Inc.


Crittenden, V. and Crittenden, W. (2022), "The power of language to influence people: Mary Kay Ash the entrepreneur", Journal of Research in Marketing and Entrepreneurship, Vol. ahead-of-print No. ahead-of-print.



Emerald Publishing Limited

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