Founder and president of Tarte Cosmetics
Born c. 1972; daughter of a judge and a board of elections commissioner; married Mark Ludvigsen (a bond salesman; died, 2001); remarried, c. 2004; children: Sully (son, with second husband). Education: Earned undergraduate degree in English from State University of New York—Binghampton, 1992; Columbia University, master's degree in psychology.
Addresses: Home —New York, NY. Website —http://www.tartecosmetics.com/.
Founder, Tarte Cosmetics, 1999, and president, 1999–.
Awards: Woman of the Year, Entrepreneur magazine, 2007.
Maureen Kelly founded Tarte Cosmetics out of her New York City apartment in 1999 after abandoning a plan to become a clinical psychologist. Two years later, she suffered a tremendous personal loss in the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks, but remained committed to growing her business and moving forward. "Looking back, I realize I was entering an industry with huge competition," she admitted in an interview with Entrepreneur magazine's Sara Wilson. "Estée Lauder, Lancôme, big companies that had millions of dollars in advertising budgets. Because I was very green, I [thought], 'Why should they be able to do it, and I can't?'"
Born in the early 1970s, Kelly was the daughter of two politically active parents: Her father was a judge on the New York State Supreme Court bench, while her mother served as a board of elections commissioner. She was fascinated by makeup at an early age, and concocted her first product, a rather sticky predecessor of Tarte's bestselling Cheek Stain, at the age of six from some shaving cream and bright red cough syrup. At the Binghampton campus of the State University of New York, she majored in English, and after graduating in 1992 went on to earn a master's degree in psychology from Columbia University.
Kelly retained that interest in the chemistry of cosmetics well into her adult years. For the holidays, she made lip gloss to give to friends as gifts, but had little luck when she bought products from department-store makeup counters. "I was frustrated, because I could never recreate the look," she recalled in an interview with the Binghampton Alumni Journal . "I also felt that makeup lines had gotten very technical. The packaging had gotten boring. They were catering to the makeup artists and not to normal, everyday women."
In 1998, while working on her doctorate in clinical psychology, Kelly married Mark Ludvigsen, a New York City bond salesperson and avid rugby player. She was already working in her field of clinical psychology, but was unhappy with her job, and won- dered if she had erred in her choice of a career. Her new husband encouraged her to start her own makeup line, telling her that "life was too short" not to follow one's dream, she recounted in a People interview. Giving up her doctoral studies, she began conducting extensive research into the cosmetics industry instead, and teamed with Troy Surratt, the makeup artist she had hired for her wedding day. The pair launched Tarte Cosmetics in 1999, with its first product, a gel called Cheek Stain, available at the online e-tailer Beauty.com and at Henri Bendel stores.
Kelly started her company out of the one-bedroom apartment she and her husband shared in New York's East Village. In her first year in business, she accumulated $100,000 in credit-card debt to keep it afloat, and her parents and four siblings were sometimes recruited to help with packing and shipping. "My parents weren't thrilled with me dropping out of Columbia, but they still supported me," she told the New York Post . Surratt eventually returned to his consulting-artist work, and Kelly eventually hired actual employees, but only moved into a separate office space during Tarte's third year in business; at one point she and four others were still working out of her home. Sales improved every year, however, and Tarte gained a devoted following.
Kelly's company was nearly sidelined by tragedy, however, on September 11, 2001, when her husband went to work that day to his job in the south tower of the World Trade Center and never came home. Just after the first plane hit the building, "he called and said he was fine and would call back in ten minutes," Kelly told People . "I never heard from him again." The funeral service was less a time for mourning than a celebration of Ludvigsen's spirit, and the upbeat mood was the result of a conversation the couple had had just a few months earlier about their funerals, Kelly explained to the New York Post . "I always figured I would go first. I said, 'Mark, I want a big party. I want everyone to drink a lot of Veuve Clicquot and tell stupid jokes about me.' Mark said, 'Me, too.'"
A widow before she was 30, Kelly was devastated by the loss but forced herself to return to work as soon as possible, driven by the idea that to let her company fold would have been the last thing her late husband would have expected of her. By 2003, Tarte's sales figures had reached the $2 million mark, and the following year Kelly introduced a Tarte fragrance. A blend of bergamot, freesia, Japanese plum, peony, musk, and sandalwood, among other notes, the scent was another intensive hands-on experience for Kelly, who devised, tested, and retooled every one of her products herself before launching them. In 2005, she signed a contract with the television shopping channel QVC, which resulted in an impressive spike in revenues: Tarte took in around $10 million in 2006, but reached sales of $15 million a year later; its Cheek Stain remains one of the company's top-selling products.
Kelly donates five percent of Tarte's net profits to charity, and has worked with Dress for Success and Habitat for Humanity. She explained why in the interview with Entrepreneur magazine, which named her its Woman of the Year for 2007. "People have helped me on the way and I've been given wonderful opportunities," she told Wilson. "You have to give back no matter how small you are."
Kelly eventually remarried and had a son. As a working mother, she discovered a renewed appreciation for the women in her family. "My mom raised five kids on a very small income and always managed to look stylish and focus on what's important in life—family and friends," she told the blog Lipstick, Powder 'n Paint in 2006, and also cited as a role model a "grandmother who raised four kids alone after her husband passed away and always managed to volunteer. It never fails to amaze me how much one woman is capable of."
Entrepreneur , January 2007.
Food & Drug Packaging , May 2001, p. D2.
New York Post , September 23, 2001, p. 8; November 17, 2005, p. 47.
People , November 24, 2003, p. 130.
WWD , July 21, 2000, p. 4; March 26, 2004, p. 7.
"Minding Their Own Business" Binghampton Alumni Journal Online Edition, http://alumni.binghamton.edu/AJ/2005/spring/feature01.htm (February 13, 2007).
"Top Women in Focus: Maureen Kelly," Lipstick, Powder 'N Paint, http://lipstickpowdernpaint.blogspot.com/2006/12/top-women-in-focus-maureen-kelly.html (February 7, 2007).