Picture this. The billionaire owner and founder stand in the conference room trying on bras while the CEO stands behind her, adjusting the straps. The floor is littered with underwear. The owner takes off one bra and puts on another. Five executives in the conference room barely blink. Welcome to Sara Blakely’s company, Spanx. In just a few years, Spanx became slimming underwear that Jello is
to gelatin and Kleenex is to facial tissue: So dominant that its name is synonymous with the industry.
At 44, Blakely is one of the youngest billionaires in the world. Like many stories of entrepreneurial success, hers is part gritty determination, part inspiration, and part circumstance. The grit was easy to see early on. As a child growing up in Clearwater Beach, Florida, she lured friends into doing her chores by setting up a competition. At 16, Blakely was so intent on the success that she listened to self-help guru Wayne Dyer’s recordings incessantly. Friends refused to ride in her car. “No! She’s going to
make us listen to that motivational crap!” Blakely recalls what they said. After twice failing to get into law school, Blakely started her first business in 1990, running a kids’ club at the Clearwater Beach Hilton. It worked until the Hilton’s general manager found out. Later, while working full-time in sales,
Blakely began learning how to start a more viable business. Her inspiration for Spanx came while she was cold-calling customers as a sales manager for an office supply company. She hated pantyhose. “It’s Florida, it’s hot, and I’m carrying copy machines,” she noted. At the Georgia Tech library, Blakely researched every pantyhose patent ever filed. She wrote her patent application by following a textbook she read in Barnes & Noble. Then she worked on marketing, manufacturing, and financing, treating each as its own project. After numerous rejections, she finally found mill owners in North Carolina
willing to finance the manufacturing. “At the end of the day, the guy ended up just wanting to help me,” Blakely said. “He didn’t even believe in the idea.” For a time, Blakely relied on stores like Neiman Marcus to set up her table and on word of mouth to get the news out to the public. Her big break came when she sent samples to Oprah Winfrey’s stylist. Harpo Productions called to say that Winfrey would name Spanx her favorite product of the year and warned Blakely to get her website ready. She didn’t have a website. Billions of dollars in sales later, Blakely has no plans to slow down. Spanx is sold in 55 countries, and Blakely wants to double international sales. She says: “The biggest risk in life is not risking. Every risk you take in life is in direct proportion to the reward. If I’m afraid of something, it’s the next thing I have to go do. That’s just the way I’ve been.”
6-17. How much of Blakely’s success is due to her personality and effort and how much to serendipity
(being in the right place at the right time)? Does attribution theory help you answer this question?
Why or why not?
6-18. What evidence is there in the case to suggest that Blakeley is not risk-averse?
6-19. Use the three-stage model of creativity to analyze Blakely’s decision-making. What can you learn
from her story that might help you be more creative in the future?
Sources: Based on J. Mulkerrins, “All Spanx to Sara,” Daily Mail, April 6, 2013, downloaded May 7, 2013, from www.dailymail.co.uk/home/; C. O’Connor, “American Booty,” Forbes, March 26, 2012, 172–78; and R. Tulshyan, “Spanx’s Sara Blakely: Turning $5,000 into $1 Billion with Panties,” CNN.com, December 5, 2012, http://www.cnn.com/2012/12/04/business/sara-blakely-spanx-underwear/.
Go to mymanagementlab.com for the following Assisted-graded writing questions:
6-20. In relation to Case Incident 1, how do you think more employers’ dim view of e-portfolios can be changed?
6-21. Consider Case Incident 2, the chapter-opening story, and the chapter. Do you think creativity is “born” (inherent in the individual) or “made” (a product of opportunity and reinforcement)? Compare what we know of the lives of Palmer Luckey and Sara Blakely with those of other creative individuals you know personally.
6-22. MyManagementLab Only – comprehensive writing assignment for this chapter.