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Madam C.J. Walker LeadershipMadam 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.Madam C.J. Walker Leadership


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.


3. Principles

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 beauty products.Madam C.J. Walker Leadership

Particularly popular were her:

  • Wonderful Hair Grower (see point 5)
  • Wonderful Scalp Ointment (pictured right )



5. Hard workMadam C.J. Walker Leadership

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)



5. Self-confidence

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 hair.


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 poverty.

They earned up to $25 a week, compared to $2 for a domestic job, their likely alternative employment.

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 experienceMadam C.J. Walker Leadership

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 success

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!

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