THE posters of Richard Branson on her bedroom wall while her friends gazed at Duran Duran say a lot more about Michelle Mone’s career aspirations than they do of her taste in 80s heart-throbs.
Her entrepreneurial spirit was evident early as she grew up in the east end of Glasgow.
However, at 15 she was forced to find a job and start earning money after her father was struck down with an illness that left him in a wheelchair.
Five years later, Michelle was married with a baby and, following some success as a model, she took an office job with Labatt Breweries.
By the time she was 22, she was running the company’s Scottish sales and marketing team but two years later, when Labatts was taken over by Whitbread, she took redundancy.
The night that would change her life came in October 1996 when, after returning home from a dinner dance feeling dissatisfied with her uncomfortable push-up bra, she sat down at the kitchen table until dawn puzzling over what was wrong with her famous brand name “cleavage-enhancing” underwear.
She came up with an idea for a gel-filled bra and a month later she and husband Michelle set up MJM International Ltd. It took nearly three years to develop the Ultimo bra with its silicone gel-filled pouches. But in August 1999, the product was launched at Selfridges in London, attracting more than 50 photographers and film crews. Selfridges sold six weeks of stock within 24 hours.
As the business grew, MJM moved into a newly-built head office with a showroom, design studio and distribution facilities. It now has a second base in Hong Kong.
In 2000, Ultimo launched at Saks Fifth Avenue in New York while Michelle picked up the World Young Business Achiever Award, the Business Woman of the Year title at the Corporate Elite Awards and the Sunday Mail Great Scot of the Year Business Award.
The accolades continued in 2001 with the Best Newcomer title in the British Apparel Export Awards.
Michelle was also invited by the Prince of Wales to join the board of directors for the Prince’s Scottish Youth Business Trust.
Three years after Ultimo was launched, MJM developed the Ultimo backless body, which became Debenhams’ best selling lingerie garment of 2002; a year later the Ultimo Miracle body was launched.
More accolades followed.
Michelle was awarded an honorary degree by Paisley University and Management Today voted her one of the top 30 women entrepreneurs in the UK in 2003, alongside Martha Lane Fox and Stella McCartney.
In 2006, Girls’ Aloud singer Sarah Harding became the international face and body of Ultimo, taking over from supermodel Helena Christensen, while Gateshead’s Michelle Heaton was announced as the face and body of the Michelle for George range at Asda.
Other partnerships and licensing agreements have taken the brands worldwide – Young Attitude to 45 countries, Per Amore to 130 Dunnes department stores in Ireland and the UK, and Adore Moi for Debenhams.
Two years ago, Michelle joined icons Bill Clinton and Mikhail Gorbachev as a speaker at Leaders in London and presented the BBC’s Mind Your Own Business, advising business owners and suggesting ways to make their businesses better.
In her most recent business, she has collaborated with naturopath Prof Jan de Vries to market TrimSecrets, a five-step slimming plan.
Renowned for her straight-talking and down to earth personal account of how she has sustained success for more than a decade, at 35 Michelle says she still hasn’t “made it”.