EXCERPT: 'Viral Loop'


It was a bold gamble, but Wise had shown what was possible when you combined the power of social networking with "sizzlemanship"—a word Wise had invented. Within a year, Tupperware distributors brought in wholesale orders of $2.2 million, and Earl Tupper rewarded her with a new Cadillac. In 1953, Wise was overseeing a network of three thousand dealers, managers, and distributors, with sales growing 115 percent. By 1955, sales volume hit $30 million and Wise's network of sellers had grown to twenty thousand. Wise became the first woman to grace the cover of Business Week, accompanied by her quote: "If we build the people, they'll build the business." Meanwhile the Tupperware party seeped into the public con-sciousness. Producers from I Love Lucy approached the company with an idea: Lucy would host a Tupperware party with the usual disastrous conse-quences. Wise turned them down flat. "Oh, no!" she cried. "I won't allow it. It won't help us." She was afraid Ricky Ricardo might end up with a bowl of spaghetti on his head.

For seven years, Wise was the effervescent face of the company while the tart-tongued Tupper toiled in relative obscurity. That was fine by him—at least in the beginning. They were polar opposites. Wise was a people per-son, a hands-on manager who kept a typewriter on her bedside table in case she thought of a memo to write in the middle of the night. She organized frenetic sales conferences in Florida called "jubilees," where "some 600 women dug dementedly in an acre plot for buried prizes," as Business Week described it, and sang, "I've got that Tupperware feeling deep in my heart." For prizes Wise gave away cars, diamond rings, mink stoles, and TV sets. She cajoled, encouraged, and enlightened her growing sales force, all the more amazing because she had no formal education in running a business.

As for Tupper, he never had much use for people, preferring the sanctity of his laboratory. The first time he attended a jubilee, he watched from the back of the auditorium, then snuck outside. When Wise caught up to him, he confessed that just the thought of her up there in front of so many people made him sick. Like Wise, he was demanding, a perfectionist who painted his factory floors white to illuminate any dust. While she became a celebrity engaging in glitzy displays of razzmatazz, he remained a solitary figure in the background, personally designing and overseeing the manufacture of every product. Together they made up far more than the sum of their parts, and like many legendary companies, owed their rise to their opposing perso-nalities. Steve Wozniak built the Apple personal computer, but it took Steve Jobs to market it. At Microsoft Paul Allen was instrumental in pushing for new products and technological innovation, while Bill Gates had the greater business vision. And Earl Tupper was just another kooky inventor until Brownie Wise came along.

By 1958, after eight years together, Tupper tired of Wise receiving the lion's share of credit and abruptly fired her with a year's salary as severance, expunging all references to her in the company's literature. Shortly after, he sold the company for $16 million to Justin Dart of Rexall Drug Company, divorced his wife, and bought an island in Central America, eventually skipping off to Costa Rica, where he gave up his U.S. citizenship to avoid paying taxes.

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