University of South Florida

Muma College of Business

Tampa | St. Petersburg | Sarasota-Manatee


image of tarte ceo and gj de vreede

Tarte cosmetics CEO brings 'Kindness' and advice to USF students

TAMPA -- She's not your typical pop star. But she is a full-fledged celebrity. At least to the hundreds of thousands of followers of her multi-billion dollar makeup empire. Plus, she travels with not one, but two, concealer mascots.

Tarte cosmetics CEO Maureen Kelly rode up on a white trolley onto the University of South Florida campus on Thursday, where she doled out advice and swag as part of her cross-country Kindness Tour.

Kelly sat down with GJ de Vreede, interim dean at the Muma College of Business, for an hour-long Campus Conversation with a CEO event.

To the nearly 300 students gathered in the atrium, Kelly’s visit was nothing short of memorable.

image from tarte event

Flanked by Shape Tape and Creaseless, she strolled up to the college greeted by de Vreede and USF’s mascot, Rocky D. Bull. After some mock rivalries and fun photo sessions, Kelly and the mascots recorded TikTok videos for her 200,000-plus social media followers known as tartlettes.

The excited students, many of whom arrived an hour early and packed into the Muma College of Business atrium, fangirled over the giveaway tote bags filled with Tarte lip plumpers, mascara, liners, and a hoodie. Much of the loot quickly filled Instagram feeds and reels.

Kelly started the hour-long event by talking about her journey.

She founded Tarte cosmetics in 1999, driven by her own struggles with skin issues and acne. She started her company out of her one-bedroom, rent-controlled apartment.  Since then, the brand has experienced remarkable growth, becoming a globally recognized, award-winning favorite in the makeup industry.

Earlier this year, Kelly kicked off the company’s Kindness Tour to celebrate Tarte’s 25th anniversary. The tour aims to uplift customers, retail partners, and everyone who contributed to Tarte's success, according to a press release. It features events in 25 different cities, including Los Angeles, Dallas, and Miami.

image of maureen kelly

During her keynote, Kelly shared insights from her journey, which began as a graduate student at Columbia University when she was uncertain about her future. Reflecting on her diverse experiences across various industries, she imparted a valuable piece of advice: "Figuring out what you want to do is, a lot of times, figuring out what you don't want to do."

Kelly emphasized the importance of exploration, gaining experience during college, and cherishing the moments spent in college. She reminded them that "being in school is a wonderful experience," urging them not to rush through it but to savor every moment.

Kelly also recounted her early days in the beauty industry, confessing that despite her lifelong passion for makeup, her parents initially doubted its viability as a career. Despite facing doubts and imposter syndrome, she pursued her dream with determination. Sharing her mantra — "Why not me? I deserve this. I belong here. Why not me?" — she encouraged the audience to believe in themselves and stand up for what they believe in.

During the question and answer portion, Kelly stressed the importance of innovation, both professionally and in business, declaring, "If you wait, you're late." She highlighted the pivotal role of social media in Tarte's growth and her early adoption of platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok when others were hesitant.

image from tarte event

She said taking initiative is key—even when it feels like a stretch—because if you don't advocate for yourself, no one else will.

Following the enlightening discussion, Kelly posed for photos and engaged with students eager to connect. Despite the long line — some waited nearly an hour — her smile never faded as she interacted with each student, listened to their stories, answered questions, and even accepted resumes from aspiring employees.

Return to article listing



About Business News

Welcome to USF Muma College of Business news. We are dedicated to sharing compelling stories about our innovative research, outstanding faculty, staff, and students, and significant accomplishments from all three campuses. Here we are one college, six schools, and all business.