Bra boss and self-made millionaire Michelle Mone tells her story

Michelle Mone was different from other little girls growing up in the rough East End of Glasgow in Scotland. By the time she was 10, she had 17 teenagers working for her doing paper rounds and, as a teenager, it was a poster of Richard Branson that hung above her bed rather than Madonna. She was determined to become a successful entrepreneur – and by the age of 28 the Ultimo bra brand she created four years earlier at the age of 24 had made her a millionaire.

Her autobiography My Fight to the Top, first published last month, tells the story of Ms Mone’s rise in the world of business but also the behind-the-scenes drama of her marriage to a controlling husband, a major shareholder in her company. It also details her binge eating and resulting weight gain – caused, she says, by stress and unhappiness.

“Being an entrepreneur is the loneliest job on the planet,” she writes.

Ms Mone’s story is most absorbing when she describes her victories along the road to success. As well as her flair for innovation, she has a knack for PR. Launching the Ultimo range at Selfridges in London, she paid 12 actors to dress up as surgeons and wave banners outside the store saying “Ban the Ultimo Bra”. The message: you don’t need a surgeon, this bra is the answer. Selfridges sold six months’ worth of stock in five hours.

Readers with a particular interest in Scottish business will enjoy the cameo appearances by singer Rod Stewart (both his current and ex-wife posed as Ultimo models) and the entrepreneur Tom Hunter – founder of the retailer Sports Division and Scotland’s first home-grown billionaire.

However, the book is somewhat light on the nitty-gritty of running a business. When the firm nearly goes under because the factory in Portugal cannot keep up with demand, a manufacturing expert comes in and moves production to Hong Kong. But the reader gets no insight into how supply chains work or the financials behind that move.

The prose is also somewhat cliché-ridden with phrases like “sometimes you gotta fall before you fly” making an appearance more than once.

Still, Ms Mone comes across as a likeable character and, ultimately, the reader roots for her success.

q&a perfectionist’s passion

Lianne Gutcher offers more insights into Michelle Mone’s autobiography My Fight To The Top:

How did Michelle Mone become the “bra tycoon”?

After taking redundancy from a high-flying sales job to spend more time with her family, Ms Mone was casting around for a business venture. The cleavage-enhancing bra she wore to a black-tie dinner dance was so uncomfortable it motivated her to create a bra that not only flattered the wearer but was also comfortable. Creating her first designs took three years.

Three years?

The woman is nothing if not a perfectionist. Lingerie is one of the most complex manufacturing products. It takes about 26 components, of which the fabric is just one, to make one bra.

So what happened next?

Her marriage ended in 2011 and she bought her husband out of Ultimo in 2012 for a reported £24 million (Dh134.2m). She then sold 80 per cent of her shares to her Sri Lanka business partners MAS Holdings. She also bought a tanning and beauty company, UTan and Beaut.

Why would people want to read her autobiography?

She has picked up awards including UK businesswoman of the year, designer of the year, export brand of the year and gained a spot on the Sunday Times Rich List. She was also an outspoken advocate for the “Better Together” campaign during the Scottish Independence referendum last September.

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Lianne Gutcher

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