Jo Malone: When it comes to business, I don't see 'men' and 'women'

The woman behind some of the world's best-loved fragrances, entrepreneur Jo Malone CBE is an esteemed business leader who has worked in her industry for over 20 years. This year she is back on the panel for 2019's The Pitch — a groundbreaking business competition where changemakers can win a career-changing prize worth up to €100,000.


Jo Malone started out mixing homemade perfumes in her apartment. Word spread of her exceptional scents and she quickly launched her own business, which gained cult status around the world. She eventually sold it to Estée Lauder in 1999 and stayed on as creative director until 2006.

In 2013, she launched Jo Loves, a new fragrance brand with a store in Belgravia in London.

This year, she is back on the panel of The Pitch, powered by Samsung Ireland, a business competition seeking to find Ireland's business changemakers. The competition winner has the opportunity to win up to €100,000 in business support.

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Here, she talks to us about business, stories and what advice she would give to this year's applicants.

Why are you supporting The Pitch this year?

I've supported the Pitch for the last two years because I am a total believer in SMEs and small businesses and helping them get to the next level. Often when you start a business and you're building it up, often the most difficult thing is to get to stage two and three, and the Pitch is such a perfect place to find your voice.

"You never know who might like your business and what collaborations could come from that."

Even if you don't win, you're still exposing yourself to a global market in business, especially when we're partnering with people like IMAGE and Samsung.

It also gives young new businesses the opportunity to tell their story and hear their story be told — in that room, you never know who might like your business and what collaborations could come from that. That's why I'm always thrilled to be part of that process.

Why is The Pitch an important opportunity for small business owners? Would you have entered a competition like the Pitch when you were starting out?

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I don't remember anything like this when we started out — I'm sure there must have been events to help small businesses but they weren't on our radar. I think the mindset 25 or 30 years ago was that small businesses were 'the poor cousin' — they were the ones that sat on the sidelines, and it wasn't until you hit a certain level that you were noticed.

So when I started out with with Jo Malone all those years ago, I had to work really hard at making my voice be heard. In today's market, having your voice be heard is a really important part of growing your business.

Telling your story such an important part of getting people on board with your business, because people emotionally identify with that.

That's why The Pitch is so exciting for me — hearing business owners share their stories about how and why they started.

In its second year, The Pitch is now open to both men and women — do you think that's an important development?

For me, I'm really happy because I think that for anybody, whether you're a man or whether you're a woman, it is important to have your voice heard.

When it comes to business, I don't see 'men and women', I never have looked at it like that.

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I'm just open to seeing great businesses and great stories, and that's what interests me the most, not gender.

What impressed you the most last year?

I couldn't narrow it down to any one final winner when we were deliberating, I had a few that I thought were deserving, and that really impressed me. I felt this an unbelievable sense of passion from the entrants for their business, and really believing in what they were doing. We eventually came to the decision to crown Jennifer Rock, who was a very worthy winner. She really knew her business inside and out, and ticked all the boxes.

Related: The Pitch is now open — apply here

It's not always the biggest business that impresses you — it's more about a snippet of their presentation, or looking at their product and thinking "that's a world changer".

The entrants that impress me the most balance all their attributes; they have a business head, a creative head, a visionary head, and more.

Every single one of those people that will come and present their story is a winner in their own right — but the competition between everyone drives entrants to do their best and fight for their place, which I'll be looking for.

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What are the most successful attributes a business leader needs for success?

When I wrote my book, the three words that I started and ended with are the factors I think are most important.

Whatever it is that your business offers, whether it be a service, retail, food, music, anything — that passion to be able to tell a story authentically is what causes people to identify with you. You've got to feel somebody loves their business, and if they don't, I would question while they're there.

I'm looking for resilience — I'm looking for somebody that can give me their best moment and their worst moment.

How did you get from being down on your knees to where you are now?

And then the third thing I'm looking for is the investment in creativity. Where do you see your future? How will you get there? Because it's not just about one product — this is about where can you go and new territories you can bring it to.

What advice would you give this year's entrants?

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You need to know your business back to front, left to right. Practice your presentation — don't worry about getting nervous, just be truthful, be real.

Let us see the moments that you struggled, because when you feel a struggle, and you feel the rise of somebody building, that's where respect comes in.

You've got a very small amount of time, so make sure your pitch hits the points you need to hit. Create mental checkboxes and make sure you tick them all off throughout your presentation.

Be prepared for the financial questions — if you can't answer them, you have to rethink your presentation. Make sure you know your business's figures inside out.

Don't worry if something goes wrong — nobody else will know. You know your story better than anybody, so just stay focused and keep clear on what you're about.

Involve us in the presentation — if it's a fragrance, let us smell it; if it's music, let us listen. We want to be engaged with as judges, and involving our senses is a good way to do that.

And finally, do not read from a piece of paper.

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Look me in the eye and be confident.


So, what are you waiting for? Get pitching!

Visit image.ie/thepitch to make your case to be included in the final shortlist.

Terms and conditions apply. See image.ie/terms-and-conditions for details.

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