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Jo Malone’s is a rags to riches story. After growing up poor in a council house in England, battling dyslexia, and quitting school with zero qualifications, she went on to launch one of the most coveted perfume brands of all time. Shortly after selling her namesake company to Estée Lauder for “undisclosed millions,” the wife and mom-of-one was diagnosed with breast cancer and given one year to live. Once again, she defied the odds and not only recovered, but found the courage to start over — and risk a very public failure — by launching her sophomore perfume startup, Jo Loves. Here, Malone, who’s been awarded both an MBE and a CBE by Queen Elizabeth, shares the secrets to her entrepreneurial spirit — and Midas touch.
Claire Coghlan: Was it terrifying to try to recreate the success of Jo Malone, this time in the public eye?
Jo Malone: Yeah, with capital letters. If I’m ever even slightly thinking about doing another one, I want someone to lock me in a room and throw away the key.
Coghlan: What was the biggest challenge in coming back after parting ways with the namesake brand that made you famous?
Malone: It’s like you have to prove your own existence again. People who have sold their namesake business, they have a right to still live their life, to still be that creative person. You’ve sold a business — not your person, not who you are.
Coghlan: You had to wait five years because of a non-compete. You call those the “wilderness years.” Why?
Malone: I lost my identity. I didn’t know who I was, I couldn’t find anything with potential to build on, and I didn’t know where I was going. Creatively, I hungered. I remember sitting downstairs and putting together a resume. I looked at it and thought, “No one’s ever going to give me a job.” It’s so funny, when I tell that story now everybody says, “Have you any idea? If we knew you were looking, we would’ve given you a job there and then.” But I didn’t have the courage or the self-confidence. When you’re going through those times, you couldn’t feel any smaller.
Coghlan: Did anything good come of that time?
Malone: I learned more about Jo Malone than I had ever done in my life. I went to the depths and back. I really saw what I was capable of. I learned that your dreams, your aspirations, and the things that you want to achieve in life, they belong to you. They’re your inheritance.
Coghlan: You also battled breast cancer. Did it feel unfair, having just reaped the rewards of years of hard work?
Malone: It was gutting, and terrifying. I was 38 years old. I was told that I probably had about a year to live. I remember thinking, “You’re not going to tell me when I’m going to die.” It was like when my teachers told me at school, “You’ll never make anything of your life. You’re lazy and stupid.” I knew I was neither. I was dyslexic. I fought cancer in the same way I built my business. I fought every single day… and it was absolutely grueling. My body was taken to the wire. And I felt guilty.
Coghlan: Why guilty?
Malone: Because this amazing family had just bought my business and I’m sick. Leonard and Evelyn Lauder were amazing, I can’t tell you. They didn’t just save my life, they helped me get through. When I was walking down to the operating theater on that first day, I had Evelyn Lauder on the phone saying, “Honey, don’t you worry. You’re going to come through this.” They were the most loving, caring, wonderful family, and I’m truly grateful, but I felt guilty. I felt, “Why me?” Then I thought, “Why not me?” Nobody deserves that. Nobody.
Coghlan: Yours is an unlikely success story. What strengths can anyone draw on — no matter her background, education or qualifications?
Malone: 1) Passion. You have to feel what it is to want for your product, or whatever it is you’re doing, and not be afraid to show that passion to others.
2) Resilience. Don’t be frightened of where you come from, who your parents are, your lack of education, because that doesn’t take away your right to become globally successful. If I’d listened every time somebody told me who I should be and what I didn’t have the right for, I’d never be where I am today. It’s funny, I walked in the door today and there’s this huge, beautiful envelope sitting on my dining table with the crest of Buckingham Palace. Inside is a piece of paper with the signatures of the Queen and Prince Philip, acknowledging my CBE, which is a Commander of the British Empire. I looked at it, and it represents sheer determination and hard work and never, ever, ever, ever quitting — that resilience.
3) Respect for creativity — what it does for your life, what you do for it. When you walk the road with creativity, it can be very isolating, because you’re the first one with the idea and there’s often no one around who believes in it. I don’t believe you own creativity, I believe it’s a relationship you have with it. When you acknowledge that relationship, really great things can happen.
Coghlan: What convinced you to risk a potential public failure and come back with Jo Loves?
Malone: I remember I was making a television show with BBC One called Classic Dreams. I was filling bottles with chili sauce, and I stood there thinking, “Jo, give it one more try. What have you got to lose?” I probably had everything to lose — and everything to gain. Ultimately, I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life never creating fragrance again.
Coghlan: Two years in, you almost quit. What stopped you?
Malone: Never quit on a bad day! On a bad day, you look at the landscape and think, “Oh my God, I just cannot cope any longer.” Seven days on, 10 days on, six months on, the landscape changes. Would you still make that call? I promise you, nine times out of 10 you wouldn’t. I kept saying to myself, “Not today, Jo. Just get through today.”
Coghlan: What’s your #1 piece of advice for defying the odds?
Malone: Don’t let other people’s opinions dictate your dreams and define who you are. You’re the only one who has the power to do that. Everybody has the right to dream, every single person, but it’s up to you to make it happen. All the way through history, when things were tough, that’s when you see that entrepreneurial spirit raise up.
Coghlan: You’re lobbying to have entrepreneurialism added to the school curriculum in the UK. Why?
Malone: I’m very sad about where we are as a country at the moment, but entrepreneurs will always pick up the pieces that are left and build, and that’s what I’m dedicated to. I want to see it taught in schools from the age of eight so that we’ll have a generation of young people who all know how to build, how to create. Wouldn’t that be amazing? That’s what changes the world.
The conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.
December 20, 2018 at 02:02AM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs