Friday, August 1, 2008

signed, sealed, delivered: Brownie Wise

A hat tip to reader Mark Sofman, who pointed us to a new book that tells the story of the woman whose presentation skills formed the basis of Tupperware's success. Brownie Wise's story is told in the new history Tupperware Unsealed: Brownie Wise, Earl Tupper, and the Home Party Pioneers, in which author Bob Kealing describes how Wise, an executive secretary who'd been supplementing her income selling home products, created the Tupperware party, where women sold the containers in their homes. Here's how the Wall Street Journal review summarized it:
Tupperware had languished on retail shelves because shoppers weren't sure how it worked: Someone needed to show them how...Wise ordered a small supply and found that housewives loved the colorful, unbreakable bowls that kept food fresh...Wise's parties, and those of a handful of other dealers across the county, were such a success that they became the company's defining strategy.
Wise went on to create a national dealer distribution system, and became the first woman with her image on the cover of Business Week. But Tupper, the product's creator, resented her achievements, even asking her to be more deferential to him. She resisted, was fired and edited out of the company history. WSJ reviewer Mark Lasswell notes that a speaking engagement added a poignant note to the end of her life:
She died at age 79 in 1992, three years after she had finally been invited to speak at the company where her contributions had long gone unacknowledged. As Mr. Kealing reports -- in a book that certainly does her justice -- Brownie Wise, feisty to the end, didn't take her former employer up on the invitation.
I love the idea of paying tribute to Wise, who was savvy enough to use a speaking venue--small, personal group interactions in a "party" atmosphere--that suits women's instincts to speak one-on-one or in small groups. Check out this long-overdue history of an inspiring speaker.

Buy Tupperware Unsealed: Brownie Wise, Earl Tupper, and the Home Party Pioneers