Sharrie Williams, author of The Maybelline Story, is an original descendant of the Maybelline family. Her Great uncle, Tom Lyle Williams, founded the Maybelline Co in 1915 and sold it in 1967. Sharrie shares her family's photos, stories and vintage Maybelline ads.
Original Maybelline Company known as "The Wonder Company" in the Cosmetic Industry
PEOPLE, CULTURE AND STYLE by Harris A. Neil Jr.
One of the of the original executives at Maybelline
Nothing in my work experience, before or since, came close to matching the work environment of the Maybelline Company. The people, from my mentors Tom Lyle Williams Jr. and John Cole on down, were outstanding. Rags Ragland, was the father figure for all of us, the glue that held the place together, no disrespect to Tom Jr.. The management style was professional, but very simple and workable.
Communication is probably the best indicator of how the company operated. I can’t remember writing or receiving more than a dozen or so internal memos in all my years with Maybelline. If there was an “Employee Handbook,” I can’t remember it. We all knew where we stood, and treated one another with respect and good will. Life was simpler then, with almost no Federal or State personnel oversight except for minimum wage and overtime provisions. There was no OSHA, no ADA, and very few other “alphabet soup” agencies. There was some presence at the City government level. For example, the company had to operate the “Chicago way,” such as the annual courtesy call at Christmas-time from the Chicago Fire Department. Several fire officials would call on Tom Jr., and leave with whatever tribute was prevailing for that year.
While that streamlined system of communication kept things going internally, things were much more conventional in external affairs. In my case, I had heavy daily contact with our supplier group, and I did almost everything in writing, to put a form of importance and accountability into our relationship. It worked for the most part, and it beat trying to remember what it was that we discussed when so many contacts were buzzing around.
As declared by (Tom Lyle Williallms,) T. L. (as explained in The Maybelline Story), there was no pattern of nepotism within the company. Of course, there was the arms-length relationship, company to vendor, with Deluxe Mascara. Also, Ches Haines was the Maybelline Traffic Manager, responsible for all material and order movement, in and out of our loading dock. The company was 100% dependent on truck movement, so this was a vital function. It could get quite exciting if the Teamsters decided to walk out, or if Chicago had one of its trademarked blizzards.
Just as the management group was small in number, so were the personal office needs. In my early days, I worked in the general office area, and there were four private offices on “executive row.” In later years, Mary Ann Anderson came into the company as Vice President of Advertising, and the company converted some apartment space adjacent to the general office and created offices for that function. As mentioned earlier, this expansion also moved further to provide space for the new Computer Department, Credit Department, and for Rag’s now two assistants. Bob Medlin had joined Carle Rollins to assist Rags.
In addition, Ches and his assistant, Herb Zimmerman, had an office near the Receiving/Shipping areas downstairs. Also, Julius Wagman was a “vagabond,” spending much of his time across town with the action at Munk Chemical Company, but visiting the Maybelline building frequently.
After the management group loosely outlined above, there were many more wonderful employees involved in clerical, production, warehousing, material handling, accounting, you name the function and there were people covering that square. Most of the employees were long-time veterans, although we had newer hires that came aboard with the growth that moved us all.
The employment profile was a reflection of the neighborhood surrounding the company. We sat in a North Side neighborhood called “Edgewater.” Chicago, like all large cities, was a city of neighborhoods, and Edgewater was a mixed area of single and multiple residences, retail and commercial, but no industrial. There was also a large public high school across Ridge Avenue from Maybelline..Overarching this idyllic pattern of operation was the mostly invisible hand of our founder and leader, Mr. Tom Lyle Williams. He and his California staff communicated mainly with Rags and Tom Jr., but also from time to time with Dorothy Molander, of course, and John Cole and Julius Wagman. I personally never talked with the gentleman, but one time John recorded a detailed guideline for us and I heard his pleasant, deliberate voice.
The telephone was the conduit for all of T. L.’s daily contact, and it was constant. Rags, of course, traveled in his national contacts, and told me one time, humorously, that T. L. would find him at his hotel and go on and on, whether or not Rags could talk right then. When that happened, Rags would just set the handset on the bed and go about what he needed to do. When he got back, T. L. would still be talking and Rags would rejoin the conversation. Rags said he never got caught!
This was the pleasant and very active work environment that we enjoyed with one another over the years. It was pleasant and functional without being stuffy. The only cloud on the horizon was that nagging question of how we’d dodge the bullet on the space crunch we were facing by 1967. The answer came one morning in October.