Serial entrepreneur, Lara Morgan, is one of the headline speakers at the Gatwick Diamond Business Speakers Conference in October. At the age of 23, she started her first business, Pacific Direct Ltd, which manufactured and sold brand-licensed toiletries and amenities to the hotel industry. Seventeen years later, she sold the majority share (99%) for the sum of £20million. She is now passionate about mentoring and investing in exciting young companies. Her mantra is ‘never be afraid to ask’ - so we asked her about her successful business career…
By the age of 18, having taught herself the art of selling, Lara Morgan was managing a Yellow Pages sales team in six countries in the Gulf. But Lara was never going to remain in the employ of another company for long. Some of the terms she uses to describe herself include down-to-earth, direct, sometimes bolshy, competitive, and driven. It was these characteristics that led to her turning up, a few years later, unannounced at the doors of The Dorchester with the aim of selling them sewing kits she had created. This approach could be described as naive, but as Lara maintains, “If you don’t ask, you don’t get.”
She was, of course, successful, which leads to our first question:
Do you believe a budding entrepreneur should ignore the perceived rules and act out of instinct?
“Yes, my lack of business training, if you like, and not knowing what was considered to be the protocol or method in the early days, enabled me to make braver calls. I was able to be bolder in my outreach, to be original in my ambition and to grow faster because of not being constrained by following the path of those who had gone before.
“I literally asked the dumbest questions and was never afraid to let people know when I did not know the basics. What I always did was listen, take note and then respond. I wanted to be original, market-leading, and to be better and different than the rest.”
Pacific Direct built a portfolio of leading toiletry brands, which were supplied as miniature versions to the hotel industry. How did you persuade so many brands to come on board?
I watched others in the world develop the global market, companies like Neutrogena in the States, and Molton Brown in UK. I look back on having the cheek to ask Neutrogena and Penhaligon’s to give me the chance, over a period of six or seven years, to market their products. Again, I benefited from not knowing the complete imbalance between my company and theirs, but I will always live by the maxim, ‘If you don’t ask, you don’t get.’”
Can you recall the point when you realised that Pacific Direct had reached a tipping point and was going to become very successful?
“I think winning the brand license for Asprey, who awarded Pacific their first-ever license, was a serious moment in knowing we had a strategy that was world-leading.”
The company grew quickly. Did you have growing pains? What issues did you face when growing the business?
“I could not possibly begin to list the classic list of growth pains I caused for myself by lacking focus, by saying yes far too often, by being unaware of a strategy, by having no real plan, and by not systemising through investment in the business foundations. And then there are the people challenges. I feel very lucky that I have a gift of begging great people to join my company by being very genuinely trustful, by looking for ambitious people who want to learn and grow, and by being aware of my total lack of competence and expertise across most skills sets, (except selling). I have always employed great people, and that has meant I got away with a lot of mistakes.”
Was it a difficult decision to sell the company?
“No. I had always intended to build and sell. I wanted to bag security for my family. I was stupid at the time and did not think I could de-risk and still have controlling shares. I have learnt since that with the right partners, that can be a wholly attractive different way forward for fast growth with even greater expertise.”
Company Shortcuts promotes the development of highly profitable sales engines. Can you be a successful entrepreneur if you can’t sell or don’t understand how to sell?
“Sadly, I come across many companies that neither respect the value of sales nor the critical importance of professionalising the method that people apply to their sales systems and process. Every person in a company plays a part in the oiling of the best possible sales engine. This incorporates customer service, and even the accounts department can drive value and contribute to a sales process. It worries me time and time again that founders continue to under-invest in sales recruitment, sales training and the development of their own sales systems.
“The advice I give time and time again to people thinking of starting up is to do nothing else other than to make sure the product is sellable; everything else is superfluous. Get the sales pipeline planned, focus on a strategically well-considered sales plan and build efficient systems and processes to deliver the product. Then continually improve that process and you will grow.”
What are your short-term and long-term ambitions?
“I am living an exceptional life and I love it. I do not always get the balance of life, family and fitness right. In fact I barely think there is a ‘balance’ as I am happiest when I get time to engage in enterprise.
“I am enormously proud to have been trusted by some great British investors, who I am helping as much as I can to drive their sales growth. My strategy for investment is to invest in things that buy the best commodity of all, indeed the most priceless commodity, which is time.
“I am proud to be involved with:
• Gate8-luggage: Travel kit that avoids baggage check-in anxiety and delay, saving time and money and making travel enjoyable once more.
• Scentered.me: Allows people to have a tool and a mood therapy that improves life and gives back control through stopping, inhaling and resetting.
• Kitbrix: A wicked set of products making training time more efficient and effective.
• Dryrobe.com: The best outdoor ‘get changed and stay warm’ piece of sports kit you could ever invest in, whether for pre-or post-event, or simply to make the most of outdoor time.
- Companyshortcuts: delivers extraordinarily excellent and original sales training and strategy learning for those wishing to deliver a planned and ambitious sales strategy. The results and growth of the companies that attend this priceless course are outstanding.
“In my view, sales should be taught at school. We all have to sell ourselves to make a living, and there are no more jobs for life, unless you make your own.”
Speakers Conference 20th October 2016
Gatwick Diamond Business have brought together three expert speakers to help you focus on what is important to your business.
• Hear about entrepreneurial business success from Lara Morgan
• Find out what the result of the EU Referendum means to you and your business from Geoff Meade
• Learn how developing infrastructure could impact business in the South East and the UK from Rt Hon Lord Andrew Adonis
Sponsored by Gatwick Airport, Reigate & Banstead Borough Council, Santander and University of Brighton, the inaugural gdb Speakers Conference is being held alongside the Target Business Expo at K2, Crawley on Thursday, 20th October, 2016, and will allow you to hear from three outstanding speakers, as well as have the opportunity to meet and discuss your business issues over lunch.
Tickets, including buffet lunch, are: £75 plus VAT: gdb Members or £95 plus VAT: gdb non-members
To book your place(s) at the gdb Speakers Conference, please call us on 01293 440088
Delegates will have free access to the Target Business Expo, also taking place at K2 on the same day. For more information or to book a stand, please contact Natasha Money at Targetin1: firstname.lastname@example.org
To avoid disappointment, don’t delay. Book today!