Contingency Models: Case study about Mary Kay Ash and Bill Gates

Category: Bill Gates, Case Study
Last Updated: 20 Apr 2022
Essay type: Case Study
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Leadership, in traditional as well as in modern world has always been viewed in terms of character traits that a person either innately has or develops. While in the traditional world, leadership was always associated with physical superiority, bravery and a host of other similar attributes, in the present day world, the word encompasses a host of other characteristics. Experts also agree that the list of these characteristics, whether naturally possessed or developed consciously, varies as per the situation. That is to a say a person with a proven leadership quality in one field may not always be an effective leader in some other circumstance. Also, leaders can be successful by having different visions of what constitutes success for them – there is no single formula (Bryman, 1986, p. 19; Harvard Business School, 2001, p. 191). The present discussion focuses on this particular aspect of leadership – that is, people with different characteristics can be successful leaders, and that there is no single success formula. The two leader selected for analysis are Mary Kay Ash of Mary Kay Cosmetics and Bill gates from Microsoft. Both these leaders have radically different mantras of success, extremely different business models, and both have been immensely successful in their corresponding business – both are in fact heads of the top business in United States, albeit in different areas.

LPC and situational control of each leader

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Both Mary Kay and Bill gates started their business from scratch and grew them into the large conglomerates they have now. Mary Kay, whose company was public listed on the NYSE, however brought back the company under private control using a leveraged buyout after some years. On the other hand Microsoft – the largest and most well known computer software company in the world, is still public listed, with Gates being only a minority shareholder. Both the leaders faced immense challenges in their respective businesses at the time of startup. On the LPC scale Mary Kay comes scores extremely high – she was considered to be extremely friendly, pleasant, accepting, close to her employees, caring, harmonious, cheerful, trustworthy, considerate, sincere, kind and nice. This is reflected in fact in the reason why she wished to open the business in the first place, and the way she placed her priorities – god first, family second and career third. Bill Gates, however has a pragmatic view of work. While he is extremely sincere, trustworthy charming and even entertaining, he does not score high in terms of being kind, considerate, nice and supportive towards his coworker. He is hence extremely task oriented, which can be seen in the way he puts work before anything else, and like being busy, as compared to Mary Kay who has a more benevolent approach towards her employees (Sapienza, 2004, p.77).

Similarity between the two leaders

Needless to say, the immense success in their respective areas of business is perhaps one of the similarities between the two leaders. Both their companies are ranked high and have presence in over 30 countries. In addition, both employ a large workforce, both directly and indirectly. They have both started businesses from scratch and have hence seen adverse environment and passed successfully though them. They are both extremely generous towards the performing employees in their company. They are continuously in touch with their employees, who have the access to them at any point. They are both sticklers for perfection in the quality of their products and services (Crowley A, Halbig C, White cited in Nahavandi, 2006).

Differences between the two leaders

Despite the above mentioned similarities mentioned between the two leaders, they are as different as they possibly could be in terms of business, attitude towards success and priorities in life. While Bill Gates is considered by many to be the ultimate example of young entrepreneurship, Mary Kay started her first cosmetic outlet when she was almost 50 years old, and had been divorced and had a grown up son. In this way, Bill gates probably comes across to be more arrogant since he did achieve success at a pretty early age, as across to may Kay who has definitely seen lows in her life, which decided her priority and the place that money would hold in her life. Bill Gates is one, who worked extremely hard and had succeeded in achieving his ambitions probably beyond what he expected and he is hence more demanding and unforgiving towards his employees who under perform – performance is probably the only means to survive in his company. He is well known for his short tolerance towards people who make mistakes and a job well done is just compensated monetarily. While he is equally well known throughout the world for his generosity, the same does not extend to his workplace which is extremely disciplined and tightly regimented. In contrast, Mary Kay’s experiences have shown that people, especially women, despite their best intentions do compromise a lot in terms of their career. This is because of the many expectations and obligations they have towards their home, and often this is taken by many corporate executives to be a weakness – even though they do understand its importance. Having passed over for a promotion by a man for this very reason, makes her more understanding and hence her company is for women who wish to achieve success in their lives without compromising on their values and principles. She is generous with praise as well has with gifts towards performing employees (Crowley A, Halbig C, White cited in Nahavandi, 2006).

Reason for effectiveness of the two leaders

Despite the extreme difference between the two leaders, they have proven to be extremely effective in terms of leadership. The reason for this is probably because their respective organizations clearly reflect the values they endorse, and hence attract people who wish to succeed by following their values. For instance, Bill Gates’s Microsoft is the haven for young and middle aged and even older career oriented people, who have a drive to achieve success and are willing to work hard for it. The corresponding compensations they receive are the one they expect to receive as a form of appreciation. Mary Kay’s employees consist primarily of women, who wish to succeed by not giving up their home and their family values. They also work extremely hard, since they need to work at both home and work fronts, hence appreciation of the work they do is extremely important for them (Harmon, 1996, p. 116). Read about difference between behavioural theory and contingency theory of leadership

Conclusion – Which leader is more preferable?

While both the leaders are extremely successful and have their own following, May Kay is probably the one who is more preferable. Leaders like Bill Gates are good to work for at the start of someone’s careers, but the demanding work schedules is not always possible by either of the sexes, and questioning loyalty of the employee at this stage is probably tantamount asking the person to give up his/her life and work for the betterment of the company – a decidedly selfish approach. While Bill Gates has earned lots of money, he still has to specially go back and do charitable works, while for Mary Kay it is probably a way of life and doing work.


Bryman A, (1986), “Leadership and Organizations”, Published: Routledge, Boston

Harvard Business School, (2001), “Manager's Toolkit: The 13 Skills Managers Need to Succeed”, Published: Harvard Business School, Boston, Massachusetts

Nahavandi A, (2006), “The Art and science of Leader ship: The Cosmetic Queen and the Software King by Crowley A, Halbig C, White R”, 4th edition, Prentiss Hall

Harmon FG, (1996), “Playing for Keeps: How the World's Most Aggressive and Admired Companies Use Core Values to Manage, Energize, and Organize Their People, and Promote, Advance, and Achieve Their Corporate Missions”, Published: John Wiley and Sons, New York

Sapienza AMS, (2004), “Managing Scientists: Leadership Strategies in Scientific Research”, 2nd Edition, Published: Wiley-IEEE, Hoboken, New Jersey

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Contingency Models: Case study about Mary Kay Ash and Bill Gates. (2018, Feb 17). Retrieved from

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