Inspiring Woman: Jo Malone, MBE

Jo Lesley Malone was born in 1963, and grew up on a Council Estate in Bexleyheath, Kent.  She is dyslexic, and struggled at school, leaving with no qualifications.  Misunderstood by her teachers, she was once called lazy and stupid.  She knew she was neither of those things and was determined to prove them wrong.

Her father Andy was an artist, magician and gambler; her mother Eileen, a beauty therapist who worked as a facialist under Countess Lubatti, a beautician who mixed her own creams for her wealthy London clientele. As a child, Jo would go to work with her mother on a Saturday and watch, mesmerised as Countess Lubatti created the lotions.  One day, when Jo was aged eight or nine, the Countess asked her to make a face mask.  She couldn’t read the labels on the bottles but through her observations and finely tuned sense of smell, she perfectly recreated the cream, and her passion for creating fragrance was born.

At the age of 15, Jo’s mother became ill, so she left school to take care of her, and took over her facial clients too, building her list from 12 to 2000. These clients became her first customers when she created a range of bath oils in her kitchen.  In 1994, her husband Gary Willcox left his job as a surveyor and together they rented a small shop in Walton Street, Kensington, and opened the first Jo Malone London store.  Because Jo’s products were already known and loved by many, the business boomed as her luxury products became popular among fashionistas, celebrities and royalty.

But at the age of 37, she was diagnosed with cancer and told she only had months to live.

In 1999, Jo and Gary sold their business to Estee Lauder for undisclosed millions, but Jo stayed on as Creative Director. She was incredibly happy at that time; freed from financial worries but still with full creative autonomy.

But in 2003, at the age of just 37, she was diagnosed with a very aggressive form of breast cancer and told she only had months to live.  She underwent surgery and endured chemotherapy for ten months and defied the odds to beat the disease – but when she emerged she felt changed and detached from her old life.  And, devastatingly – she had lost her sense of smell.  And so she decided to leave the business, and invest time in their young son Josh, who was five at the time.

As part of the Estee Lauder exit terms, she was prevented from working in the fragrance industry for five years.  She tried to think of other things to do but every day she would wake up thinking of fragrance.

“You need to fail as well as succeed.  Great business people are not born, they are made.”

She doesn’t regret the time spent with her son and believes the relationship they now have is because of the time spent.  But her creative side was still strong and significantly, after a time, her sense of smell returned.

At the end of the five-year lock-out, unable to leave her love of fragrance creation, Jo developed a new brand, Jo Loves.  To test the market, she initially started selling fragrances and candles online in 2011 and then as sales grew, she and Gary opened a Jo Loves store in Elizabeth Street, Belgravia in 2013.

In 2008, Jo was honoured with an MBE for services to the beauty industry.

Speaking on Radio 4 Desert Island Discs, her advice for other entrepreneurs when the going gets tough:  “Stand still, the storm will pass.  Carry on and you’ll get to your destination.  You need to fail as well as succeed; great business people are not born, they are made.”

What an inspiring woman!

Image used with permission.

Gilly Cross
Gilly Cross

Gilly is a Kiwi in London, a mum of one, and a career-changer – from Forensic Scientist to Business Developer and Social Media Manager at Runneth London.

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