By the time Annie Malone addressed Zeta Phi Beta Sorority’s 6th annual convention in 1925, she was THE wealthiest black woman in America with an estimated net worth of $14,000,000. The “Oprah” of her time stood before the group of scholarly black women, and advised them that while it’s great to make plans, it’s better to know how to execute them.
Execution was a business practice that undoubtedly helped the daughter of former slaves, turn home hair and beauty preparations into the uber-successful Poro Company.
Here are five other keys that helped her succeed in business and in life.
- Initial success of the Poro brand hinged on Malone’s small town habit of going door-to-door, offering home demonstrations of her products. Making a sale was as easy as a dramatic “before and after” reveal, however, scaling this personalized experience was a challenge no one had tackled before.
- In the early 1900s she began touring the country and training an all-female sales force to sell products in home. “Poro Agents” bought product from her and sold directly to their clients. Performance was incentivized and business sky rocketed. By the 1920s Poro Agents numbered around 75,000 in North America, South America, Africa and the Philippines. The business model Malone troubleshooted would be later copied by Mary Kay, Avon and the Madam CJ Walker company.
Malone didn’t put all her eggs in one basket. In 1918 she opened Poro College in St. Louis, Missouri. It was a cosmetology school providing training for Poro Agents. The grounds also served as headquarters for the Poro company, housed it’s manufacturing plant, leased out facilities to community and civic organizations such as the National Negro Business League (headquartered there in 1927), and Lincoln University’s Law School.
3. Corporate Culture
Malone crafted a culture at Poro that engendered a fiercely loyal and energized workforce.
- Incentives to employees who invested in real estate or assisted their parents to do so.
- Rewards for healthy living
- Rewards for punctuality
Malone was the first black philanthropist and believed that giving, especially to the youth, would create a ripple effect of good in the world.
- In 1915 she donated $5,000 to the St. Louis Missouri Colored YMCA, the largest philanthropic gift by a black person at the time.
- In 1924 she donated $25,000 to the YMCA, again the largest philanthropic gift by a black person at the time.
- Annual gifts of $5,000 to several orphanages
- Donated to several black institutions such as Tuskegee Institute, Wilberforce University, and Howard University.
- She donated land for the St. Louis Colored Orphan’s Home, now renamed in her honor
- At one time she supported two full-time students in every black land-grant college in the United States.
At the turn of the twentieth century, 90% of black women in St. Louis worked as domestics earning $2 a week. As Poro agents, they could earn as much as $100 week. Malone inspired black women to aspire for more and trained them to be respected entrepreneurs. One successful recruit was Madam CJ Walker, who had worked as a washerwoman for 18 years prior to becoming a Poro Agent. Malone’s training and business model provided her with a framework with which to create her own successful company.