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Miriam Muléy ’78 is used to being the first. She is the first in her family to graduate college and one of the first marketers to recognize women of color as the powerful, $1 trillion consumer group it is.
A native New Yorker, Muléy is a first-generation Puerto Rican. Though she was always a good student, it didn’t occur to her to pursue a postgraduate education. “While my parents always supported pursuing education,” she says, “I didn’t grow up with the expectation to go to grad school.” As an undergraduate psychology major at Marymount College in Manhattan, Muléy didn’t consider business until a mentor suggested that she combine her strong math skills with her studies and consider it as a career path. “That was when I realized,” she says, “I could meld my interests into marketing and went for an MBA.”
Muléy’s first job after graduation was at Frito-Lay, where she says she learned the foundations of brand marketing. From there, she moved to Johnson & Johnson’s product-development division, working on its baby powder lines.
Muléy remained true to her product-development roots throughout most of her career, launching a successful hair-care line for Clairol — Lasting Color by Loving Care — then transitioning to Avon, where she became general manager and successfully reversed the company’s market-share erosion among women of color. Avon was also the first company where Muléy reported to women. “It was so refreshing,” she says. “There was a natural camaraderie.”
After a stint in the mid-1990s heading up marketing for a hair-care company that eventually merged with L’Oréal, she was approached by General Motors to lead a new division dedicated to increasing market share among women.
While at GM, Muléy realized she wanted to strike out on her own. “Everyone was recognizing the women’s market as a growing entity,” she says, “but no one was really speaking to diversity—they were looking at women as a monolithic audience.”
Now running her own business, The 85% Niche (www.85percentniche.com), Muléy does strategic marketing and sales consulting with corporations that want to better reach women or that have a foothold but aren’t reaching specific groups, such as Latina women. “It’s great to be an entrepreneur,” she says. “Technology allows you to have your own business so much more efficiently than even five years ago.”
She recently authored The 85% Niche (Paramount Market Publishing, Inc., 2009), and she speaks both virtually and in person to audiences around the country. Muléy says she loves spreading the message of women as important consumers.
“We have an obligation to give back to each other by sharing what we’ve experienced,” she says. “As a woman of color and a business school graduate, it’s important to help those on the fence about pursuing opportunities take the plunge.”