Bette Nesmith Graham (1924-1980)
Company: Liquid Paper (Mistake Out)
Started: 1957; sold for $47.5 million in 1979 to Gillette)
Bette Nesmith was a divorced, working mother in Dallas, Texas, in the early 1950s, who found her typing skills put to the test when her boss replaced her manual typewriter with a new, electric model. She worried that all the mistakes she made on the more sensitive machine might cost her the job she needed to support her young son Michael. So, in 1954 she tapped into her training as an artist to develop “Mistake Out,” a white liquid that could paint over typing errors. Other secretaries started asking to buy her product; by 1958, she focused full-time on her fledgling company, which was selling 100 bottles a month. In 1962, she married Robert Graham, and the pair hit the road promoting her brand, which she renamed “Liquid Paper” in 1968. By that time, she was selling 40,000 bottles a week; nine years later in 1977, her firm had 331 employees worldwide selling 500 bottles a minute. Success enabled Graham to apply her feminism and Christian Science faith to her business; her corporate headquarters included a library, day care center and art showcase, and she launched a foundation helping other women succeed.
“I didn’t have a fellow at the time, so I had to do it all myself. I had to …appreciate that as a woman, I was strong, complete, adequate.”