Michelle Mone OBE is the creator of Ultimo, the range of lingerie made famous by Julia Roberts in the film Erin Brockovich, and modelled by a plethora of famous women from Mel B to Penny Lancaster. Her success earned her an OBE in 2010, as well as first place in Glamour magazine’s list of the most influential businesswoman in the UK.
In this exclusive interview, Mone gives Startups her tips for reaching the top in business.
As the years go on, you learn from your mistakes and you make sure you never repeat them. For example, I’ve learned you need to put procedures into place so you have a plan B. Early on in my business life, a distributor ran away with £1.6m of my money – that wouldn’t happen now, because I have procedures in place.
The biggest challenge I found was securing finance until you reach critical mass, which is the same for every business.
I gave everything I had from the start, I wasn’t kidding on with it. I put my redundancy money in, mortgaged against my house – I did everything I could. It does take a lot of risk, it doesn’t happen overnight. I’d say it took me 10 years to build Ultimo.
No, I don’t have regrets. Even the distributor who ran away with £1.6m – you only live once and these things make you stronger. Every day is a school day; every day you learn.
Well it comes back to a simple truth – you should never sit and wait. If you don’t send your product to people, pitch it to well-known names, you won’t get the exposure. We sent our product to Julia Robert’s stylist, for example, and she wore it Erin Brockovich. That was huge for us.
You’ve got to decide why each retail partner would want your product. We don’t give every partner the same things. It has to be individual and give them a unique selling point (USP). You have to treat each retailer individually, and listen to their needs.
I’m not the typical businesswoman in a pin-stripe suit; I dress the way I want to dress. If you want to be glamorous, then why not! Walking into a meeting well groomed, with your lipstick on and high heels, makes you feel good. I use my femininity to its full effect.
I sit on the board of the Prince’s Trust, and a key issue that comes up over and over again is mentoring. Starting a business is not easy, and mentoring is key. Perhaps the government can do more to provide mentoring schemes. They could also help more with corporation tax, VAT etc, to businesses on the ladder.
Ultimately, the government shouldn’t just think in percentage targets for start-up businesses. It’s not about how many businesses that start; it’s about how many you start AND how many keep going.
I’m launching Ultimo Beauty and U-tan over the next few weeks, which is really exciting because it’s a different industry. It’s taken three long years of investment, but we’re there now. You’ll see it in 100 branches of Debenhams, plus Harrods and Selfridges.
Turn to page two for our quick-fire round
The quick-fire round
My golden rule is to work the hardest you can work, play the hardest you can play, and always give something back.
The best piece of advice is always to think of plan B in case plan A fails, and kick in with plan B as soon as you think it’s failing. Don’t be scared of changing your mind – go with your instinct.
When it comes to litigation, there are no winners apart from lawyers! The lawyers are the only ones who get all the cash, so if you can stay away from litigation, you definitely should.
Probably Virgin, because of what Richard has done with them in terms of music, airlines, trains etc. He’s diversified, as I’m trying to do. Ultimo Airlines would be nice one day perhaps!
I’ve always gone to my mum and dad, and my friends, such as Sir Tom Hunter, who’s a great source of insight and probably the entrepreneur I most admire.
I need to know sales for the day before, and also how we’re doing against the key performance indicators (KPIs). Those are the main metrics for me.
I have to pick two. My iPhone, for phoning, internet etc, and my Blackberry, because I wouldn’t be able to travel the way I travel without it. I could do without my make-up bag, but not them!
Giving customers what they want, and getting the recognition. Receiving flowers, teddies and champagne from customers, that’s amazing. I always feel that, when I buy a dress, I paid my money and I deserve a good service, so I really appreciate the extra support from our customers.
I’ve been involved in The Apprentice and You’re Hired, so it has to be those programmes really. They really help to promote enterprise and educate people about business.
I haven’t been home to watch this year’s series but it’s on Sky Plus so I’ll be Sky Plus-ing it.
I don’t know, I’ve never been a man! I’ve never let it hold me back though.