Earn Entrepreneurship

Generational Wisdom from Madam CJ 

Kathryn Tuggle  |  August 3, 2022

From Madam CJ to A'Lelia Bundles: Black women and success. 

On this week’s HerMoney Podcast, we’re going to take a brief walk through history before we tackle the future. Because sometimes it’s important to think about where we’ve been before we decide where we’re going next. 

Do you know the name “Sarah Breedlove”? Better known as the icon Madam CJ Walker, she was the first female self-made millionaire in the United States. Not Black self-made female millionaire. The. First. Self-made female millionaire. She made history selling hair care products, and while her legacy is lasting, how she got her start is truly remarkable. She was born on a plantation to former slaves. She didn’t start her business until age 38, after working as a cotton sharecropper, a laundress and in many other service roles that were available to Black women at that time. When she started her company, she exclusively employed women as sales agents for her products, and at its height the company employed 20,000 women nationwide, during a time when most all salespeople were men. She also led business trainings for groups of female entrepreneurs and businesswomen in the hopes that their camaraderie would make them all stronger and more successful. 

And today, her great great granddaughter A’Lelia Bundles is continuing her incredible legacy. A’Lelia is the brand historian for MADAM by Madam C. J. Walker, a new haircare brand launched in January of 2022. A’Lelia is also an author and a journalist. Her book, “On Her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam C. J. Walker” is a New York Times Notable Book and was the source material for “Self Made,” the fictional four-part Netflix series starring Oscar-winner Octavia Spencer. A’Lelia also founded the Madam Walker Family Archives and is on several nonprofit boards including the Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America at Harvard’s Radcliffe Institute and the Smithsonian’s American Women’s History Initiative.

She tells us what it’s been like to follow in her great great grandmother’s footsteps and just how incredible her work and economic impact for Black women truly was. We talk about some lessons the beauty industry as a whole derived from the work of Madam C.J. Walker. (And A’Lelia gets candid about what Netflix’s “Self Made” got right, and what they got wrong.) 

We also talk about the current state of Black women in business. In the United States, an astounding 17% of Black women are in the process of starting or running new businesses. That’s compared to just 10% of white women, and 15% of white men. In other words, Black women are more likely to start a business than white men, according to data from the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor. Today, Black women represent 42% of new women-owned businesses, and 36% of all Black-owned employer businesses. Yet just 3% of Black women are running mature businesses that are successful at the 5-year mark… A’Lelia tells us what she sees as the main hurdles and stumbling blocks, and how more Black women can work towards building generational wealth, and eliminate the Black wealth gap once and for all. 

In Mailbag, Jean offers advice to listeners who are considering selling a home, and buying an electric vehicle. And in Thrive, how to balance different spending styles when on vacation with a friend. 

Check out the MADAM Launch Video to learn more about the brand, and you can learn more about A’Lelia Bundles here. Plus, follow the MADAM IG and MADAM Pinterest for some inspiration! 

This podcast is proudly supported by Edelman Financial Engines. Let our modern wealth management advice raise your financial potential. Get the full story at EdelmanFinancialEngines.com. Sponsored by Edelman Financial Engines – Modern wealth planning. All advisory services offered through Financial Engines Advisors L.L.C. (FEA), a federally registered investment advisor. Results are not guaranteed. AM1969416

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The HerMoney podcast is supported by      Edelman
All advisory services offered through Financial Engines Advisors L.L.C. (FEA), a federally registered investment advisor. Results are not guaranteed. AM1969416

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