UAE business community more 'forward-thinking' than UK, says lingerie tycoon Michelle Mone

“I think enterprise in the UAE is very different from the doom and gloom of the UK,” says Baroness Michelle Mone of Mayfair, the founder of the Ultimo lingerie brand.

“In the UAE, business is booming and there is a positive attitude towards commerce,” she says. “There is clear confidence in the economy and people are looking for opportunities to do things bigger and better.”

Ms Mone, a 44-year-old mother to three adult children, has become well known as a businesswoman and entrepreneur at home in the UK, where she has recently been made a business “tsar” to the government and appointed to the House of Lords. She has also been awarded a life peerage and an OBE for her contribution to business.

But despite her high-profile role in the UK, she thinks the business community here in the UAE is more “forward-thinking” than her home country.

“The general culture in the UK is very negative, which has a knock-on effect on business. I blame the bad weather,” she adds.

She’ll have a chance to enjoy some better weather this November when she will be a keynote speaker at the National Achievers Congress in Dubai. Previous speakers have included Bill Clinton, Tony Blair and Sir Richard Branson.

Her invitation to speak at the event is easy to understand.

Growing up dyslexic and in near-poverty in Glasgow, Scotland, Ms Mone left school at 15 to look after her wheelchair-bound father, before becoming a housewife and mother at 18. But by 24 she had invented the first gel-lined, push-up bra and created the women’s brand Ultimo.

She has since helped to innovate 15 patented inventions and brands, including a range of tanning products called UTan. Ultimo was sold to a Sri Lankan group in 2014 after Ms Mone separated from her husband and business partner, Michael. Last year she wrote a book, My Fight To The Top, and today she is thought to be worth about US$30 million.

The lingerie tycoon also runs a mentoring business, one of the ways she can share her journey of achievement with other entrepreneurs. Sessions cost a reputed Dh48,000 – although she gives away a place or scholarship via the UK’s Prince’s Trust charity for every place booked.

“I specialise in empowerment,” she says, “helping people to believe in themselves and their business”. “All of my mentoring clients change dramatically from the people who first walk into my sessions.

“One client was very successful already but could not break through the ‘glass ceiling’ of accomplishment. After six months with me, she had set up two brand-new – and very profitable – revenue streams.”

Entrepreneurs considering a mentor should look to their budget first, Ms Mone warns. “Cash flow is what will ultimately decide whether the business succeeds or fails. We are there to support and help the individual and their business, not weigh a financial burden.”

If an entrepreneur cannot afford “the best” mentor, she advises, they should “start small”. “Any good mentor will be worth the investment,” she says, adding that it is always worth seeing potential mentors speak to an audience to decide if they are the right person to learn from.

Generally, she says, “the less money you have, the more creative you become. Everyone treats money as the only object, when actually it is just a means to an end. The smallest amount of money well spent can prove to be more effective than throwing endless sums at projects that do not work. Think outside the box and think as big as you can.”

When it comes to marketing, everyone is at it, she says, so “observe what works and what doesn’t, then do it differently and better”: identify your market, your competitors and your product’s strengths.

Children, she thinks, should be encouraged to “allow their entrepreneurial spirit to flourish”.

“All kids have instincts for business and want to run pretend shops – and they are certainly very good at negotiating the best deals for themselves.”

But university is not a must, Ms Mone believes. “I rely hugely on my instincts and I knew university wasn’t for me,” she says. “I am sure the skills learnt at university would be very valuable but so, too, are the skills you learn from taking the leap into the world of business and filling in the blanks yourself.”

As to her dyslexia, she says it has never held her back – and may actually have helped her in business by allowing her to take a “hands-on approach”.

“Too much is done these days in writing, over text and email. Nothing beats a face-to-face meeting. That is where most things happen.”

Established in 1992, the National Achievers Congress Festival will take place at Arena Al Badia in Dubai on November 18 and 19. Tickets cost from $395.

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Suzanne Locke

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