Last Wednesday, Alice, IT Manager of First2Group and I went to see the marvellous Lady Michelle Mone, Baroness of Mayfair and OBE awardee at The University of Manchester. Led by Rachel Bridge, one of the UK’s leading enterprise journalists and author of ‘How to Make a Million Before Lunch’, Mone dug deep and spoke freely as the first speaker at this years Entrepreneurs@Manchester series.
Known primarily for being the founder of Ultimo and co-owner of Ultimo Brands International, Mone acquired over £1bn worth of press coverage in just 17 years during her lingerie reign. When Mone came into the room, you could see the passion and the drive that she had, she couldn’t wait to interact with us. Drawing us in with each and every word, she explained how her first PR stunt went down, the importance of helping people out, how simply being kind is key, and how a formulated structure has saved her.
As Mone spoke of the budgets and boundaries which held her back, she told us about her first PR stunt which had paparazzi swarming and became known as the biggest bra launch in Europe. With just £500 left to spend in her budget, she needed to drive people into London’s Selfridges store and get them to see Ultimo, get them to try Ultimo, and get them to buy Ultimo. Her business skill and initiative took over and she spent the money on actors. Now that’s not what you expected, is it? Hiring 12 actors and dressing them as plastic surgeons, she had them hold banners objecting the lingerie; ‘Ban the Ultimo bra because it’s putting us out of work!’ Protesting against the product, the actors created a scene on the street that was so bold, within 3 hours, Selfridges ran out of 6 months stock. Whilst speaking about the event, Mone exuded passion and integrity which meant you couldn’t help but be inspired by her.
One of my favourite stories of the night was one that promoted the mantra “be nice to people on your way up. You’ll meet them on your way down.” At an event hosted by a mutual friend, Mone was fortunate enough to come into contact with Sir Keith Whitson, former Chief of HSBC. As they spoke, Whitson later presented Mone with his card and told her to call if ever she needed anything, and not to hesitate for a second.
Mone has OCD, which she doesn’t shy away from. Having spoken about it on programmes like This Morning, she proudly discusses her experiences with the disorder, one of the most uplifting being when it essentially saved her business. If you’re like me, most of the cards and pieces of paper you’re given day in, day out are put in a ‘safe place’, never to be seen again – not Mone though. When her bank wanted to foreclose her business, Whitson was the only person she could think of who could help. With a business card being the only means she had of contacting him, it was amazing that she was able to find his card in a heartbeat and give him a call.
With her current bank wanting to foreclose her business almost immediately, and HSBC requiring a 6 week turnover period, it was no smooth process, but they managed to ease the situation. After muddling through, Mone was welcomed to HSBC. This banking transition came as the result of a previous act of kindness by Mone, which presented to us all perfectly that staying true to who you are, simply being kind, making friends and networking is just as important as having a strong business head on your shoulders.
Another thing that struck me during this talk was that she lives every part of her life with a solid structure. Mone had experienced depression, obesity and financial sorrow amongst other negative life events. What keeps her from falling back into these states? Routine. She’ll tell you a million times over, all you need is 4 hours sleep, an hour for yourself, determination and a plan from the moment you wake up. With routine, her health was back on track and so was her business – she now has a fool proof plan to keep her on track, and to this day it hasn’t failed.
It isn’t just the stories that she tells or the experience that she has, it’s the passion, compassion, integrity and the conviction that she speaks with, and it draws you in hook, line and sinker.
As a budding, female entrepreneur, Alice, my companion for the evening, was impressed beyond measure. She didn’t mess around acting like everything had gone perfect all the time; in fact she did quite the opposite. She made sure that we knew about the lowest lows as well as the highest highs, and this made her someone that a future entrepreneur could relate to. Sure, you could pretty much guarantee that none of us had experienced highs and lows to the extent she had, but we could relate. She motivated and grounded all the wannabe entrepreneurs and didn’t talk around the realities. You need determination, courage and passion. Starting with nothing may have inspired Mone, but everyone’s path to success is different, and success is possible for us all. She showed that it’s down to us to shape our future. You just have to plough through everything that life throws at you on the way – but it’s worth it, and essentially, that’s all that matters.
Written by Sammie Williams, Head of PR and Marketing.