Madam C.J. Walker Leadership
Madam C.J. Walker (1867-1919)
African American businesswoman (pictured right) , who successfully manufactured and sold hair and beauty
products to black women.
Why was she a great leader?
1. Determination and perseverance
She was largely self-educated, because the white government of her home state of Louisiana
didn’t finance education for blacks.
But she did attend night school, when she was starting her business.
She was determined to overcome racial prejudice, poverty and her personal problems.
Her parents (freed slaves), died when she was seven, and she and her sister had to pick cotton to survive.
- married to escape the violent abuse of her sister’s husband (aged 14).
- became a widow and single mother at 19.
- fled from her violent husband before divorcing him.
“I got my start by giving myself a start”, she said.
2. Purpose and ambition
Walker (pictured right driving with friends) wanted to promote the beauty, care and
growth of black women’s hair.
The business was inspired by a formula to cure baldness given to her by a black man in a dream.
She also fought for black people’s rights and opportunities.
“Don’t sit down and wait for opportunities to come. Get up and make
them!”, she once told black women.
She strongly believed in being honest and selling quality products, so that
her customers would trust her.
4. Customer satisfaction
She knew the success of a business depended on happy customers, so she made some great hair and
Particularly popular were her:
- Wonderful Hair Grower (see point 5)
- Wonderful Scalp Ointment (pictured right )
5. Hard work
To get her business off the ground, she tirelessly travelled for a year and a half throughout the heavily black
south and southeast of America
She sold the products door-to-door and gave demonstrations in churches.
Her first product was Madam Walker’s Wonderful Hair Grower (pictured right)
Madam Walker had great faith in her ability to succeed, helped by her faith in God.
But some black ministers criticized her for making black women look like white women with long straight
6. Aggressive selling
She toured America and then built training schools to make sure her lady sales agents gave
customers the best possible service.
The agents were motivated by selling on commission and being given the opportunity to free themselves from
They earned up to $25 a week, compared to $2 for a domestic job, their likely alternative
She made sure they were experienced and well educated, and by 1913 she had 20,000 of them in
America, Central America and the Caribbean.
8. Learning and experience
During the 1890’s she was embarrassed by losing some of her hair because of a scalp ailment.
So she experimented with the hair products of another black entrepreneur, Annie Malone
(pictured right), to try to improve them.
This knowledge, and her experience as an agent for Malone, gave her own
business a greater chance of success.
9. Risk taker
She took her third husband’s name, C. J. Walker, whose advertising skills helped the business.
But they divorced because he disagreed with her risky decision to rapidly expand the business, although he
continued to work for her!
Key quotes on
Perseverance is my motto.
There is no royal, flower-strewn path to success.
I got my start by giving myself a start.
Don’t sit down and wait for opportunities to come. Get up and make them!