It all started with a pair of white pants.
Sara Blakely was getting ready for a party in 1998 and couldn’t find a pair of undies that looked smooth under her white pants. So she took a pair of scissors to a pair of control-top pantyhose and ended up creating the first rendition of what would become her billion-dollar business idea.
Just two years later, Blakely’s Spanx undergarment brand was being touted on Oprah’s Favorite Things list. Twelve years after that, Blakely graced the cover of Forbes as the world’s youngest self-made female billionaire.
Not too shabby for a woman who sold fax machines door-to-door before some unsightly panty lines drastically shifted her life.
After founding Spanx with just $5000 of her own money, Blakely, now 50, just sold the majority stake in the business to investment firm Blackstone, with a valuation of $1.2 billion. Blakely isn’t leaving or anything—she retains a significant share of the company, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and will become executive chairwoman once the transaction closes.
“This is a really important moment in time for female entrepreneurs,” Blakely said of the deal in a press release. “I started this company with no business experience and very little money, but I cared the most about the customer, and that gave me the courage to launch the company.”
Blakely also cares about her employees. Every conscientious businessperson understands that you can’t grow a successful company without hard-working employees, but not every businessperson generously rewards the people who help build and maintain their success. Blakely does, however. Upon selling part of the company, she decided to share some of the wealth she gained with the 500+ people she employs.
“When I first started this company, I wrote down one goal,” Blakely said in a video posted on her Instagram account. “I said this company will one day be worth 20 million dollars. And everybody laughed at me.”
Blakely explained that Spanx had created success using “very feminine principles in a masculine space, which is business,” which include leading with intuition and vulnerability. Then, after toasting the women who came before her and those who have not had the opportunity she’s had, Blakely announced a surprise.
“This is a very big moment for each and every one of you,” she said. “To celebrate this moment, I have bought each one of you two first-class tickets to anywhere in the world.”
She also gave each employee $10,000 to spend wherever those tickets take them.
Sara Blakely sold fax machines door-to-door and started Spanx with $5,000 in savings & no experience.
She never ra… https://t.co/jX65k0FqKE
— Joe Pompliano (@JoePompliano)
“I really want every employee to celebrate this moment in their own way and create a memory that will last them a lifetime! Cheers to 21 years of magic and many more to come,” Blakely wrote on Instagram.
Talk about taking care of your employees. Phew.
According to the AJC, Blackstone will be leaving Spanx’s executive management team in place. There is also a joint plan to create an all-female board of directors as the company grows.
Blakely’s mission has been “to help women feel great about themselves and their potential,” and she has used Spanx’s success to help elevate women. The company’s website highlights the female founders of companies and organizations bettering the lives of women around the world, and Spanx uses a portion of its products’ proceeds to support their work.
The Spanx by Sara Blakely Foundation has also donated $5 million to boost female entrepreneurship. In partnership with GlobalGiving, the foundation established The Red Backpack Fund to help small woman-owned businesses, giving more than 1,000 female entrepreneurs a gift of $5,000—the exact amount Sara Blakely started Spanx with 20 years ago.
Congratulations to Sara Blakely for hitting yet another entrepreneurial milestone in an incredible self-made career, and congrats to her employees for being rightly rewarded for building her company’s success.
Definitely more of this, please.