Business Scholars meet CEO of ULTA

On Wednesday April 2, my fellow business scholars and I had the wonderful opportunity to meet with the CEO of Ulta Salon Cosmetics & Fragrance Inc., Mary Dillon.

Mary Dillon was our guest speaker for the Spring Speakers series, and it was an absolute honor to hear her story, meet with her in person, and ask her questions. The presentation given by Dillon was interactive, and many students got the opportunity to ask questions after the presentation. The CEO began by giving a brief history of Ulta, her journey there, her past careers, and finally, key leadership principles. Dillon got her bachelor’s degree in marketing from UIC and it was amazing to hear a successful alumna speak about her journey.

(CEO Mary Dillon Speaking to Scholars)


Since graduating from UIC over 25 years ago, Dillon has spent her entire career in the business world. She began her career in marketing for Quaker Oats in 1984 and held several positions of increasing responsibility, including vice president of marketing for Gatorade. Mary was named Chief Executive Officer of Ulta in June 2013. Before this position, she was president and chief executive officer and a director of U.S. Cellular, she served as global chief marketing officer and executive vice president for McDonald's Corporation, and  prior to joining McDonald's, she held various positions at PepsiCo, including president of the Quaker Foods division.

Dillion shared with the scholars Ulta's mission statement and the future action plan to expand Ulta through e-commerce, brand positioning, and targeting beauty enthusiasts. She explained that Ulta is the largest beauty retailer in the United States that also offers salons services which makes the store unique from other beauty retailers. Dillon also explained that the plan is to open 100 new stores a year. According to Dillon, there are currently over 22,000 employers working for Ulta and the opening of new stores will create 2,000 new jobs—which is remarkable!

During the presentation, Dillon described that like many students, she never could have imagined that she would one day be the CEO of Ulta. Dillon told us scholars that she was a first generation college student, who was very ambitious and worked hard to get to where she is today. During her undergrad years at UIC she had a job and worked all throughout college. Working allowed Dillon to develop her people skills and also helped to distinguish her from other students.

(Scholars: Azucena Acosta, Patricia Soto, and Mariya Amiwala ask the CEO questions).


Ultimately, it was fascinating hearing from someone like Dillon.  She provided us scholars with great insight—especially to the women in the room— to aim high. Dillon was so passionate about her career, and this really comes to show how passion and hard work can take one far.