Business profile: Michelle Mone

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michellemoneCareers profiles Michelle Mone, whose decision to set up her own business after being made redundant has made her one of the most important names in lingerie.

Michelle Mone OBE is a woman who works for women as the founder and co-owner of MJM International, which stands as the UK’s largest lingerie company and is worth £50 million. Even though she was forced to balance business and family life from a young age, this has in no way hindered her flourishing entrepreneurial skill or dedication to her brand. Mone was even invited to speak to the Cabinet alongside David Cameron and Nick Clegg in 2010 regarding her business expertise exhibiting the perceived value of her knowledge.

Born and raised in a working-class family in Glasgow, Mone found that school was not fitting to her entrepreneurial abilities and a blessing in disguise forced her to pursue work. The tragedy that befell her family life was the sudden illness of her father that subsequently left him paralysed.  As a result of this she left school at the age of 15 – without any qualifications – in order to support her family through gaining employment. She then began full-time work, initially as a model and afterwards joining the brewing company Labatts as part of their marketing team. Mone rapidly excelled in the marketing environment, moving from office junior to senior manager and overseeing the Sales & Marketing team by the age of 20, demonstrating her potential business qualities.  However, when the brewer became part of the Whitbread group in 1996, Mone took redundancy and made the decision to create her own business.  It was this step that would mark the establishment of MJM International and her entry into industry.

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Her decision to create the company behind innovative lingerie brands such as Ultimo – which uses silicone gel in its bras – was driven by a discomforting experience with her bra at an evening reception: “I told my husband I was going to invent a comfortable bra to give women a better cleavage.”  With this directive and the help of her husband, the ‘Bra Queen’, as she is dubbed, began business, seeking to create a more comfortable, innovative and cleavage-enhancing products for the modern woman. However, it was not always straightforward for the company, with Mone fighting off bankruptcy in the first year. In order to save MJM International, the couple were forced not only to use money left to Michael following his mother’s death but also to re-mortgage their home. 

Following these difficulties, Mone succeeded in launching the Ultimo brand in Selfridges and Debenhams in 1999. However, the event that enabled her to gain high-profile media coverage was when Hollywood actress Julia Roberts wore an Ultimo plunge-bra in Erin Brockovich in 2000. Following the success of this free advertising slot, she began to realise the power of celebrity endorsement, which resulted in the inclusion of famous female stars such as Mel B, Kelly Brook and Katie Price in her campaigns. Through such extensive promotion, the Ultimo brand began to build up a profile for itself as a high-quality product. It is also important to note that Mone has spoken out against size-zero models with her advertising campaign that featured a range of ‘normal’ models she sourced through social media channels, in an attempt to promote body happiness.

Mone more recently has appeared on the ITV reality programme 71 Degrees North in which she, and nine other celebrities, had to reach the North Cape (71 degrees from the North Pole.) This enabled her simultaneously to improve her public profile and go on a voyage of self-discovery, both of which proved valuable experiences to the entrepreneur. She has further expanded her TV career through her position as a regular business panellist on The Apprentice: You’re Fired TV show.

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In 2010, Mone was presented with the prestigious OBE award by the Queen for her services to business, as an acknowledgement of her contribution to British industry. As well as this accolade, she was asked to join the board of The Prince’s Scottish Youth Business Trust in 2001 by Prince Charles. The charity provides support and finance for the young people of Scotland to establish their own businesses, continuing to affirm Mone’s contribution to others as a secondary result of her prominent position in business.

After ten years of building up MJM International and dealing with the pressures of business, Mone steadily reached 17 stone in weight, which she was keen to lose. As a way of re-building her confidence and eradicating her insecurities, following achieving her target weight of 11 stone, she decided to return to modelling. Although this choice was not supported by Michael, her husband and co-owner of Ultimo, or the company board, Mone continued with the shoot in which she modelled Ultimo lingerie. Her determination to make the photographs public was in an effort to set a positive example for other women, and to empower them to make healthy changes if they were unhappy. The move reasserted her drive behind the brand she created which has always had the well-being of women at its nucleus.

MJM International has consistently expanded over the last decade, Ultimo, as one of its lead brands, now having concessions in 145 Debenhams stores across the UK. It also has partner lines including Adore Moi for Debenhams, Diamond Boutique at Tesco and Michelle for George at Asda. By associating her company with national retailers, Mone demonstrates that she is constantly seeking to evolve MJM.  In fact, she is aiming to launch her own chain of High Street lifestyle shops by 2013, continuing to extend her business empire.

Michelle Mone, then, is an exemplary example of an entrepreneur who has transformed negatives into positives throughout her life and career.  For this reason, she is a role model for people from all backgrounds looking to step into business as well as proof that women are not only able to develop, but in fact excel in maintaining an equilibrium between motherhood and the establishment of a well respected company, such as MJM International. Mone has earned a name for herself as a lingerie tycoon, which is understandable considering the plethora of awards her business career boasts. Her contribution to the lingerie industry alongside her impact on the lives of women is internationally renowned and it’s difficult to imagine that we won’t be hearing a great deal more of Mone and her various ventures in the years  to come.


This article was first published in Careers with Hayley Taylor in August 2011. [Read the digital edition here]


 Images: PA Photos

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