Michelle Mone may be a self-made millionaire with a net worth of £20 million ($US29.8 million) but she says “many more doors opened” once she lost lots of weight.
It’s not often that a prominent business woman would openly attribute part of her success to improved looks. But Mone is adamant that slimming down helped her to grow her businesses, (which include lingerie group Ultimo and self-tanning products UTan), earn more money, and get into the inner influential circles from politics to Hollywood.
“How I look reflects on my brand,” Mone told Business Insider in an interview at her London penthouse apartment, which overlooks the Thames, Tower Bridge, and the Tower of London.
“I can’t go out there with greasy hair, spots, no makeup, and [as a] size 22. A brand can’t sing from the rooftops if the owner is walking around looking horrendous,” Mone said. “Society is full of gossip and celebrity magazines and that’s the world we live in. Will that change? I don’t think so. When I mentor people, I say, you don’t have to go around looking like a supermodel but you have got to feel your best, look your best and feel good about yourself.”
Since 2010, Mone has lost eight stone in weight (112 pounds), and has gone from a UK size 22 to a UK size 10/12. She runs between 3-8 kilometres a day. Her Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter accounts are usually peppered with pictures of her daily runs and gym sessions.
“When I was eight stone overweight, I got tired more easily, I would get exhausted and I wasn’t always positive,” she said. “When I started to lose weight and look more glamourous, doors started to open, it sounds horrible but it’s true.”
“Yes, some people will say you get successful obese business people. But are they happy? Probably not,” she added.
The entrepreneur told Business Insider that her physical and inner health transformation has helped her garner £1 billion ($US1.5 billion) worth of press coverage during Ultimo’s 17-year history.
The number seems large, and it’s not clear how the PR value of that exposure is calculated, but if you live in Britain you can see that it’s entirely possible: She is in the media all the time.
She features in glossy magazines like Hello regularly, and she fronted a national campaign from British Airways. She was also featured on reality shows “The Apprentice,” “Masterchef,” and “71 Degrees North,” as well as being on political panel shows like “The Agenda,” alongside UK Prime Minister David Cameron.
Mone may attribute her weight loss in 2010 and glamourous appearance to the flood of new opportunities, but she achieved enviable entrepreneurial success over a decade before her transformation.
Her rise to the top
Hailing from the impoverished East End of Glasgow, Scotland, Mone built up her lingerie company Ultimo, as a teenage mother, into a £50 million ($US74.7 million) empire.
In Mone’s new autobiography, “My Fight to the Top,” she detailed how she left school at 15 with no qualifications to help her family out financially.
Her father was diagnosed with a degenerative muscular disorder, which confined him to a wheelchair and therefore unable to work at the time.
She said she “never wanted to be a model or actress,” but she found promotional work after she ditched school. However, after meeting her husband Michael at age 17 through a modelling job, she got pregnant with her first child Rebecca at 18 and she became a housewife.
In her book, Mone detailed how the family lived off Michael’s £13,000 (£19,427) wage, but she still “wanted to make something of [her] life.” She writes: “I was really hungry.”
She ended up “inventing” a handful of qualifications and got a marketing job at brewer Labatt. Within two years she became the head of marketing in Scotland but in the first major test of her career, she was made redundant by 24 years old as the company cut back on staff.
By then, she had her second child Dylan and she was out of work. But in 1993, after attending a dinner dance with her husband, she was inspired to create her own cleavage enhancing bra because one she was wearing was so uncomfortable.
After patenting a type of flexible silicon to use in bras, the parent company of Ultimo, MJM International, was born in 1996. Her husband, Michael, joined the board three years later. The rest was history.
Over two decades, she racked up an impressive array of accolades, including an OBE for her contribution to business by the Queen in 2010.
She also had her third child Bethany.
“I’ve been offered 20 company board positions”
Mone’s physical transformation converged with another life-changing event.
On Christmas day 2011, Mone’s husband walked out on her. He was having an affair with her designer, Samantha Bunn.
The couple divorced in 2013 after an acrimonious battle, during which time Mone says she was driven to “drinking around two bottles of wine a night,” while fighting to save the company.
“I suppose one of my biggest mistakes was letting my husband join the business (three years after it started). I think if we had ground rules from the start then it would have been fine but, you know, when you go into business with family or friends, it won’t work unless you have those rules,” she said.
Mone ended up buying her ex-husband out of the business, which initially lost her fortune. Fortunately, at the same time, she was starting to get a bunch of new media opportunities because of her image makeover. The money started rolling in again.
Mone’s ex-husband has since set up his own lingerie and swimwear business with Bunn. The company is called Pendulum Apparel.
But Mone said that she has moved on and she has let a lot of the “bitterness” go.
“Michael and Samantha are now getting married and I wish them all the best. I am on a completely different journey. I am also different,” said Mone. “Maybe this all happened for a reason as my life is very different to before.”
Despite her growing wealth and fame, Mone has no intention of taking her millions and retiring on a beach somewhere.
“No! I will do that when I am six foot under,” she said, when Business Insider asked if she would ever retire and live a quieter life. “I’ve just been offered 20 company board positions, I won’t take them all of course, but I want to do exciting things and I love a challenge.
“I have delivered £1 billion press for Ultimo, which I now only sit on the board and do meetings with only 4 days a month, Ultimo opening 40 more shops this year, I’ve had offers to write five more books and UTan is doing really well. I want to develop more skincare products and I am going around the world doing speaking events and mentoring. Never say never but there are not enough hours in the day!”