These guys would want to stretch their definitions somehow to include Lara Morgan because she started her business with nothing and ended by selling for $20 million. But on day one, they would have cut her out of their sights. Why?
She never went to university, but is entirely self-taught. No MBA. When she started her business, she was just trying to make a living, not cash out big. Her products were the same kind of low-cost Chinese manufactures that crop up all over the world: small courtesy items like sewing kits to be placed in a hotel room for the guests. (This “not that kind of business” is always the criterion that stumps me. Some of the biggest success stories of the last few decades have been simple businesses that have been done a million times before, but now with a different spin. Coffee shops – Starbucks. Ice cream – Ben & Jerry’s. Household cleaners – method. Fruit juice – Innocent. Fashion – a long list from Bobbie Brown to Zara.)
Lara not only admitted she didn’t know what she was doing, but made it her first principle to let it be known that she was operating with limited knowledge. “Treat me like an idiot” she would say, to be sure she got an explanation that started from basics. She afforded the same charity even to her employees–because no one knows everything and everyone makes mistakes.
In fact, the thing I like best about her retelling of the Pacific Direct story is that she is constantly advising you to treat the people in your business well. Customers, yes, but especially employees. She offers all kinds of simple little tips that are implicitly based on kindness. (Always deliver bad news on a Friday so people have a chance to absorb it, get used to it, think of another plan. Always deliver good news on a Monday. Make sure everyone is physically comfortable. Share your progress and plans with everyone. Remember that even your best employees are not as driven by the business as you are.)
Morgan repeatedly emphasizes the need to be humble, pointing out the common truth that most people will be happy to help if you don’t act like you are too big for your britches. They should offer a whole class to teach that skill in business schools.
Throughout her book, you get the sense of an ordinary woman with extraordinary energy, who is really afraid of ending up poor but who is equally intent on being a nice person. There is no jargon, no posturing here. Just the very accessible story of a very accessible person.
I am pleased that Lara Morgan will be speaking at the Oxford Forum for Women in the World Economy. I am only jealous I didn’t publish a book with this title before she got to it.