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Authors: Michelle Mone

My Fight to the Top (9 page)

BOOK: My Fight to the Top
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‘No, we are not interested,’ he told her flatly. I felt like our lives had turned into a movie, only I didn’t recognise the woman playing me. I suppose I couldn’t believe it was real because it was so far from where I started. I couldn’t quite believe I deserved it. Some evenings, when Michael was cooking for the family, I would go upstairs and have a moment. I remember sitting on my bed and crying as I hugged my pillow – just like I used to do when I was eight years old, sleeping in my parent’s cupboard. I felt alone and lacking in confidence.

I felt guilty for being successful.
I’m not meant to be where I am because I’m supposed to be in the East End, struggling. I was born to struggle
, I sobbed. I woke up every morning with the fear of failure knotted in my stomach. But that’s what kept me going.

When it came to the first Christmas after Ultimo launched, I splashed out on Michael and the kids and I had a thought. Christmas should always be a happy time and it was never a happy time for me growing up. We didn’t have money for presents and then my dad got sick and we spent the festive period around his hospital bed or across the road in the Chinese. It’s a time that should be happy but it’s often a worrying time for a lot of people. They don’t get to enjoy it because they have to think about money for presents and food.

I got in my car and I drove to the Costco and the Cash and Carry and I filled my boot up with toys and stuff. I then drove to the East End and delivered as much of it as I could. I didn’t tell anyone I was coming, not even my family. I knocked on the first door with a bag full of presents. A guy answered. He thought I was doing door-to-door sales at first. ‘We don’t have money to buy all that,’ he said, closing the door on me.

‘No, you don’t understand, I’m just leaving it with you,’ I explained.


‘Because I just want to,’ I said handing him the bag. I could hear children in the background and it made me smile.

A few people recognised me, some of them were shocked and some people just closed the door in my face. But I came home feeling like I’d made a bit of a difference. Me giving them presents wasn’t going to change the world but I believe you should try and do something every day that helps someone out. I don’t think successful people should be successful if they don’t give back.

When I got home I walked into each of my kids’ bedrooms in turn.

‘Night, darling,’ I said kissing each on the forehead. I would never ever go to bed without kissing my kids goodnight. I’d check all their plugs were off, check the window was securely closed and check whether they were too hot or too cold. I would do that every night because that was what was driving me – my love for my family.

I may have missed out on so many things with my kids because I’ve been working, but it’s because I wanted a life for them that I never had.


Keep on fighting.

hat are you doing?’ I screamed.

Michael picked up the plate full of spaghetti bolognese and hurled it across the room.


There was pasta and sauce dripping down the wall.

‘Calm down,’ I cried. He stormed out of the room. ‘Michael, Michael,’ I yelled. I broke down in tears. He’d left me to clean up his mess. Again.

The arguments had become horrendous after Michael joined the business full-time. We were invited to every event and every dinner-dance. I smiled my way down the red carpet but inside I was dying. The problem was supply and demand. Half a year or so after we launched in Selfridges, we started to get major stock problems. Nothing was happening in time. We would get the publicity, sell out, but then we couldn’t deliver for months because there wasn’t enough stock. The phone rang off the hook – ‘Where can I get my size? Why can’t I get my size?’

With hindsight, it was obvious that problems were going to arise with the company. Michael had never run a business before; he’d always worked for someone else – in pensions, for example. He’d never had any manufacturing experience, and I was just the creative side of the business. Everything that could go wrong did go wrong. We had fabric issues and cup size issues and there wasn’t enough space in the factory machine rooms. Ultimately, the factories weren’t being managed properly. Lingerie is one of the most complex manufacturing products. It takes approximately 26 components, of which the fabric is just one, to make one bra. So all 26 components have to come in at the same time to start the production line.

Business is not just about launching a good idea. That’s the easy part. The difficult part is keeping up with the demand. Not having enough stock is a problem. Too much stock is also a problem because it ties up money and cash is king. So you have to get a right balance. No one ever gets it right, no one can be Mystic Meg all the time, but we got it so badly wrong. We then got into bed with a production guy who left Elle to become a consultant for us. It didn’t work out. There was problem after problem – it felt like two steps forward, a hundred back.

Tom and Ian were left wondering, What the hell is going on?

We were delivering only half of what we should have been. We could have sold ten times more if it wasn’t for the problems. We had customers complaining and we were getting negative press. Suppliers warned, ‘If this was any other brand you wouldn’t still be in our store’. Debenhams said, ‘Do you realise, we have never had any other brand let us down like this? Get your act together.’

Stores phoned Tom and it was causing him a lot of grief. Tom and Ian were silent partners at the end of the day but Tom was getting hassle like he’d never had in his life before. It got to the point where Tom and Ian said, ‘Enough. Enough of this nonsense. We are now taking control of this.’

Tom and Ian brought in Richard Caring, a multi-millionaire, who had made his money in fashion and retail and would later buy into restaurants and nightclubs. He had factories in the Far East supplying M&S and British Home Stores. They needed his help because Caring was the top expert in manufacturing in the country. It wasn’t about money for Tom and Ian because what Ultimo was making was a few Mars Bars’ worth as far as they were concerned. It was about respect, because we were embarrassing them.

‘I’m sending over my man, tomorrow,’ Richard Caring told Tom. They were very close because they had both worked in the same industry – Richard was the best and most successful manufacturing guy in the country.

A guy called Balu, from Hong Kong, arrived the next day. He was Richard’s business partner. ‘So what the hell is going on here?’ said Balu. ‘You’re manufacturing in Portugal? Are you off your head? No one ever goes to Portugal.’ He threw his hands up. Michael and I looked at each other like school kids being told off. ‘Let me take it to Hong Kong,’ Balu insisted.

Tom proposed a deal with Ian. They would give Balu 15 per cent commission to take on the whole production side of things. Michael wasn’t happy being pushed to the side. ‘I’m doing this. This is my bag,’ he shouted.

‘Okay.’ Tom tried to calm him down. ‘You can still be in charge of manufacturing in Hong Kong.’

Michael was taught a lot by Balu, but it took a while for him to get the hang of things. There is so much to a bra: you come up with an idea, then you make a pattern and then you have to grade all the sizes, it’s a massive job. By the time another year went by we still had issues. The brand was getting bigger and bigger as we continued to launch all over the world.

I went into a board meeting with Tom and Ian when Tom turned to Michael and said they felt he shouldn’t be doing the job. It was the truth. They had given him a chance to prove himself. The PR, the marketing, the photo shoots, the fashion shows, everything is incredible but the delivery is awful, they explained.

Michael tried to shift the blame. They pulled me aside after the meeting and Tom said the same thing to me. ‘Your husband shouldn’t be doing this job,’ he warned me. ‘If you want this business to grow, he’s got to leave.’

It was a gun to my head and I had no choice. Deep down I knew he was right, but I had to protect my husband. ‘How dare you?’ I stuck up for Michael. ‘How can you ask my husband to leave? He’s my husband.’

‘This is business,’ Tom retaliated. ‘And you are letting so many people down.’

I thought about it for a moment. Michael and I were having lots of fights and I knew Tom and Ian were right, but I came from a place where you live your background. How could I sack my husband? ‘I’m not getting rid of him,’ I said.

‘Well, we don’t want to come to your boardroom meetings any more.’ Tom drew the line in the sand. We kind of lost them after that. And things turned from bad to worse. I wasn’t expecting an actual ‘thank you’ from Michael for sticking up for him, but I didn’t get anything nice in return. Instead, our marriage started to crumble.

I’d tell Michael he had to listen to Tom and Ian: ‘You need to get a proper production person in. You have to listen to them,’ I stressed.

‘No, I know what I’m doing,’ he snapped. ‘What do they know?’

‘Well, actually, they’ve just sold their business for millions. I think they know quite a lot,’ I retaliated.

‘They don’t know about manufacturing, I know about manufacturing.’

‘No, you don’t,’ I snapped.

‘It’s my business…’ he said.

The whole situation was starting to have a massive emotional effect on me. I felt like I was taking a battering. The arguments became horrendous. That’s when he threw the spaghetti across the room.

But at the end of the day you’ve got to do what the business needs – it’s not a charity. If it was me sitting in that boardroom and if I wasn’t delivering PR, if I wasn’t delivering the designs and if I wasn’t delivering everything else needed of me, and Tom and Ian had said I wasn’t good enough, I would have left. Michael was too proud.

I didn’t know how to fix our marriage so I concentrated on fixing the company.
Planning, planning.
What are we going to do? How are we going to get out of this mess? I didn’t have the confidence of Tom and Ian any more. They wanted rid of Michael. It was a Libra thing, you know – the scales. How do I keep everyone happy? It was a question of survival. I wouldn’t go to bed until 4.30 am, and then I’d be up again at 7.30 am with the kids. I’d get them ready for school, then head into the office.

I started to binge eat to beat the stress and the exhaustion. I’d drop the kids at school, I’d drive to McDonald’s and I’d have a full breakfast. I’d then go into the office. I’d eat five packets of crisps and drink ten cans of Irn-Bru and Coca Cola. I needed the sugar and energy to keep me going. I’d drive out to McDonald’s again at lunchtime. ‘Big Mac, large fries. Large coke please.’ Drive back to the office. Have more crisps, more biscuits and more juice. Drive home at night, go past McDonald’s: ‘McChicken Nuggets Meal and make that a “large”.’ I would make the dinner or Michael would have made the dinner. I would then eat my dinner and what the kids had left over.

Because I was staying up late doing emails and planning, I’d have another meal at midnight. I grew bigger and bigger. I ballooned from a size 10 to a size 18. Michael would call me names; he’d wake up beside me in the morning and tell me I scared him.

Sometimes I used to fight back, ‘Look in the mirror yourself, you tosser!’ But then I’d cry as well when he left the room. I lost all my confidence and I totally went off any sort of affection. Our sex life died. It was only sometimes, when Michael was really in the mood, that we’d do it. I’d lie there, he’d roll on top and then that was it, over.

I would simply feel ugly and want to eat more. It was a vicious circle. I started hiding the food. I’d hide doughnuts under the towels in the linen cupboard because I knew Michael wouldn’t look there. I put juice under my bed. I stashed sweets in my wardrobe so I could munch away whilst I was getting ready. I was dying inside. I felt so lonely. I would often go downstairs with my pillow and a quilt and sleep in the TV room.

I made sure the kids weren’t affected. They didn’t hear most of the arguments. Rebecca had just started school but she went to bed early. She had no idea that mummy was sleeping downstairs on the sofa. Michael would never come and find me.

To be fair, when he married me I was a size 8. I was becoming a different person, so I can understand that he was getting frustrated with me.

Sometimes when we’d fight and I felt exhausted, I’d say, ‘I promise to lose weight.’

There was one argument in the office, I’ll never forget. I’d just had a McDonald’s – my second of the day. I dumped the BBQ sauce in the bin and Michael and I went on to have a massive fight. ‘Where’s the stock? Why do we have all these complaints about no sizes?’ I yelled at him. I was so frustrated that people were still screaming for the product but he wasn’t handling the supply. Michael picked up the bin and, in front of Angela, put it over my head. The BBQ sauce dripped down my face. I felt so humiliated.

God, it is horrible just thinking back to it now. I suppose what made it even harder was that I kept all of my hurt locked up. I now had a public reputation. What about my name out there? You know, who was this star in business? I was in fear of the press finding out. I was in fear of my friends finding out. I was in fear of being a failure. And I couldn’t have it.

So I kept on fighting.


The brick walls aren’t there to keep us out; the brick walls are there to give us the chance to show how badly we want something.

had a bad feeling about them.

We were standing outside the W New York, a hotel in the American city. We’d just had a meeting with a Canadian couple who wanted to look after the distribution of Ultimo in America. The Saks department store chain had told us we needed a warehouse in America, we needed people on the ground and we needed a distributor.

This husband and wife team from Quebec, Lydia and Paulo, came highly recommended by the editor of an industry magazine called
. They were so charming. Very smartly dressed, they knew all the right things to say. But something was burning inside. I was using the intuition I’d developed while growing up in the East End. I’d scanned them and I didn’t trust them. The couple wanted us to send them all our stock and they wanted to get paid by Saks and then they would hand our earnings over to us. I wanted it the other way around. Their way was high risk for us. My way was to pay them after they sold the stock.

BOOK: My Fight to the Top
11.68Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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