Monday, August 1, 2011

The sweet swell of :Michelle Mone

Michelle Mone
These gel-filled bras have secured ample profits
The fairy tale journey of entrepreneur Michelle Mone and her quest to create the perfect brassiere is a sublime episode in the history of business.

The inventor of the Ultimo bra grew up in a tenement in the east end of Glasgow, Scotland. Her brother died when she was 10 and her father was paralysed when she was 12.

Leaving school at 15 she embarked on her entrepreneurial odyssey and eventually became one of the most successful businesswomen in Britain.

Now, at the age of 34, she has been invited to appear at next week's 'Leaders in London' International Leadership summit where she will recount the story of her success, sharing a platform with such luminaries as Bill Clinton, Terence Conran, Mikhail Gorbachev and Sir Ranulph Fiennes.

I don't think I'm the best businesswoman on the planet
Michelle Mone

Though it has been a "rollercoaster" ride to the top, it took Michelle a mere three years to make her uplifting mark on the fashion world.

"I'd never of thought that coming from where I did and leaving school at 15 with nothing I'd be asked to speak at Leaders in London. I laugh sometimes!, " says Ms Mone in a rare interview.

Great Scot

Michelle's canny brush with destiny came at a dinner dance in 1996 where she endured an uncomfortable evening wearing a cleavage enhancing bra. It was so uncomfortable, she took it off.

That night she resolved to revolutionise the world of the 'over the shoulder boulder holder'.

1996 - MJM International founded
1998 - Wins contract to market and distribute Elle's underwear range
1999 - Ultimo Bra is launched
2000 - Ultimo launched at Saks Fifth Avenue, New York
2001 - Prince Charles asks Michelle to join the board at the Princes Trust Scotland
2002 - Ultimo backless body is launched
2003 - Backless and frontless bra is launched
2004 - MJM signs deal with Asda to launch a collection for its George range called 'Michelle for George'.

One month later - using redundancy money from her previous job - Michelle launched MJM International with the aim of creating and marketing the ultimate in bras.

There was just one snag.

"I knew nothing about the way bras were made", Ms Mone confess.

So she scoured the High Street, grabbed every bra on the market and then unstitched them.

After three years of pulling and stretching and lifting and separating, and with MJM £100,000 in debt and creditors banging at the door, the Ultimo was born.

The revolutionary silicone gel-filled push up bra was to change her life.

By that time juggling a booming career with a husband and three children, the arch rival to Wonderbra was launched at Selfridges in London. Twenty-four hours later, six week's worth of stock had been sold.

The next year Ultimo launched in the exclusive Saks Fifth Avenue stores in New York where there was a six week waiting list for the magic bra.

Stars in bras

The glitterati embraced Ms Mone and soon doors opened everywhere for her. Parties with Richard Branson - her childhood hero - and invitations to the Palace became de rigueur.

Rachel Hunter
Rod Stewart's ex-wife Rachel Hunter fronts the latest catalogue

"I think when I first started out I got a bit carried away with myself," Ms Mone says.

"It's like a footballer from a working class background; they're given all this money and fast cars and it goes to their heads a wee bit - and I think it went to my head a wee bit."

Hardly surprising.

Among the many gongs she has scooped up are Business Woman of the Year and Great Scot of the Year business award.

Management Today voted Michelle as one of the top 30 woman entrepreneurs in the UK alongside the likes of Martha Lane Fox and Stella McCartney.

Fashion icon Rachel Hunter is modelling the latest range for a business now estimated to be worth in excess of £20m and the 'best supporting garment' was worn by Julia Roberts in Erin Brockovich.

"Now the company is going from strength to strength," Ms Mone says. "We've tripled our turnover in a year and we've earned record profits."

Keeping perspective

Stripped of facts and figures, Michelle is disarmingly modest and like a child in a sweetshop at the thought of speaking at Leaders in London.

I think it's right that people like myself give a little something back because I remember how hard it was when I started up
Michelle Mone

"I'm certainly not going to stand up there and say I'm God's gift and the perfect businesswoman and I have the answer to everything," she says.

"I'm gonna stand up there and tell them my true story, tell them about the rollercoaster ride that I've experienced in the last nine-and-a-half years."

"I don't think I'm the best businesswoman on the planet. I think there are many other women who deserve to be at Leaders in London more than me."

Her resolve to keep her feet on the ground is backed by her determination to help the next generation of young entrepreneurs and she says she answers all letters requesting advice personally.

"I think it's right that people like myself give a little something back because I remember how hard it was when I started up.

"If we all give a wee bit of something it'll make a big difference."

'Batting away'

In 20 years, forecasters say, 60% of the nation's personal wealth will be controlled by women while a record number of women - including Ms Mone - have made the Sunday Times Rich List.

Michelle Mone
At 34, Michelle already has a successful brand behind her

When asked where she sees herself in 10 year's time she says: "I honestly don't think I've made it yet. I've got a long way to go.

"Because we live in such a competitive world I just want to have my company and have my brands and to be batting away at the big boys, taking their market share away from them."

And what about a future stock market flotation?

"Never say never."




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