Mary Kay Goes Pink in Shanghai

Mary Kay entered the Chinese cosmetics market in 1995 in a rented hotel room with a grand total of three employees. This year, the company moved into its new headquarters in China with 600 employees and six floors in the heart of Shanghai, the country's most dynamic city.

The Shanghai headquarters is a testament to the brand and the Chinese market's growing thirst for beauty products. And that beauty is reflected in the space, a remarkable office that holds the company's founding principles of empowering women and entrepreneurship dear.

The office was designed by the Hong Kong office of M Moser, and CBRE was the project manager for the headquarters, which took about two and a half years to complete from start to finish — a long time compared to most of China's speedy work. It took longer to complete because of the uniqueness of the Mary Kay project in China.

Mary Kay was making a major move and the company was determined to get it right, says Jodie Fu, assistant manager of facility maintenance. Mary Kay spent 18 months setting up a temporary office for its employees while construction took place on its new office. At the same time, the company set up a demo office to evaluate which furniture employees liked best. Each department spent a month in the demo office to get an immersive feel for what it would be like working in different settings. “We surveyed the staff needs to make sure it was dedicated to the design of the new office,” Fu says.

That's highly unusual for the China market, says Tom Gu, Humanscale's director in Shanghai. “They were very open about the process and wanted to hear the voice of the staff,” he says. “Mary Kay wanted a space that would best work for the new generation of workers in China, and I think that's just what they created.”

It is a hugely important office for Mary Kay, which has 500,000 salespeople — the company calls them beauty consultants — in China alone. Though manufacturing for the Asian market takes place in Hangzhou, China, the Shanghai office includes 11 departments. The Shanghai office also processes all of the orders for the 500,000 Chinese beauty consultants, which is done completely online.

The Mary Kay Shanghai office features a state-of-the-art fitness center with two health coaches. It includes the latest workout machines and a large room for yoga and sports dance classes.

Mary Kay is an iconic American brand, founded in 1963 by Mary Kay Ash and based just outside Dallas, but its ideas about beauty and empowering its beauty consultants resonate around the world, including China. Since opening its first international venture in Australia in 1971, Mary Kay has expanded to more than 35 markets on five continents.

Though Mary Kay's headquarters is more than 7,000 miles and a world away, there is no mistaking where visitors are when they step into the company's lobby. Mary Kay's corporate color is pink, and a huge pink wall emblazoned with its name can't be missed when walking into the building. It is a sleek, modern reception area, complete with Italian sofas and polished stone floors and walls.

Since the business revolves around the success of the beauty consultants, celebrating that success is front and center at the Shanghai headquarters. A wall of pictures shows the company's top Chinese beauty consultants. A video plays showing the company's annual gathering of beauty consultants, which is equal parts business and Vegas glitz. The Heritage Wall tells the story of Mary Kay Ash. A large rose-shaped Swarovski crystal, a gift from the company to Mary Kay, is found in one of the main corridors of the office. And yes, there are pictures of the company's pink Cadillacs, gifts from the company to its top beauty consultants (though top Chinese salespeople can choose from pink Mercedes Benzes and Volkswagens as well).

The overall design concept of the office is a jewelry box, says Fu, and there is a different color polished stone wall outside the elevators on each floor. The third floor, for example, has a large slab of green jade on the wall. Other floors feature ruby, sapphire and emerald.

Health and fitness are also important aspects of the office. The Mary Kay Shanghai office features a state-of-the-art fitness center with two health coaches. It includes the latest workout machines and a large room for yoga and sports dance classes.

While the offices are designed to improve the health and productivity of the workers, the company also incorporated feng shui, a design common in Chinese offices. Feng shui tries to create balance and harmony through design. Similar to the West's fear of the number 13, there is no fourth floor in the Mary Kay office. The word for “four” sounds like the word for “death,” which means it is unlucky in Chinese culture. In the fifth floor lobby, there is an aquarium. Feng shui water elements represent money.

Since visits from local government officials are common, the Mary Kay office includes a VIP room where they can be entertained.

The office also includes a massive conference room, called Diamond, with the latest technology for video conferences and meetings. Each of the conference rooms at Mary Kay also are named after jewels, such as jade and ruby. All conference rooms are electronically booked, and a screen outside the door shows the scheduled uses for the space.

The office space is open, and employees work at bench desks by Posh, Herman Miller's brand in Asia. New York-based ergonomics company Humanscale provided the office's seating. The open office has taken some time for workers to get used to, Fu says. “There were a lot of enclosed offices in the old office,” she says. “We decided on open space to create collaboration. People need some time to get used to it.”

The office is designed with the health of the worker in mind. Fu said the young workers Mary Kay wants to attract care about ergonomics and health a lot more than their parents. A large outdoor area filled with beautiful gardens is open to everyone in the office. It is used by workers for impromptu meetings and corporate events.

Though the floor plan is designed to encourage people to work without limits, some of the workers are still hesitant to venture far beyond their own desk. Old habits are hard to change. Still, it is slowly happening. And as a few adventurous employees move around the office, others are following, eager to explore the beauty in the office of a company founded on it.

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