Transforming Entrepreneurial Growth and Support
Lara Morgan is a British entrepreneur, the founder and former CEO of Pacific Direct and the Founder and current CEO of Company Shortcuts, a source of practical advice and frameworks to enable businesses leaders to achieve accelerated growth.
Born in Germany, Lara lived and worked in Hong Kong, the Gulf and New Zealand before moving to the UK in 1991 where she started Pacific Direct as a sole trader. The company grew into a manufacturer and supplier of luxury branded toiletries and guest amenities to hotels, cruise lines and airlines. Pacific Direct now has customers in more than 110 countries worldwide.
Lara is a founder member of the Young Entrepreneurs Organisation, was a finalist in the Veuve Clicquot Businesswoman of the Year Award, and has also been a finalist three times in the Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year Awards. In 1999, Lara completed Cranfield’s Business Growth and Development Programme, the UK’s leading programme for ambitious owner managers. She was named Cranfield Entrepreneur Alumnus of the Year in 2009.
Having sold Pacific Direct, Lara is now focusing Company Shortcuts.
We spoke to Lara about her early journey into entrepreneurship, the elusive work/life balance and her top tips for success.
TNW: You set up Pacific Direct at the tender age of 23. How did you come up with the idea and then arrive at the decision to turn your idea into a reality?
LM: I was gifted an opportunity to sell on behalf of a company manufacturing sewing kits and shower caps in China. No vision, no plan, just needed a sales job – and always had tried to do the best I could at anything.
TNW: Pacific Direct absolutely revolutionised the hotel amenities industry. What were the key drivers for this success?
LM: Listening to the customers; constantly reviewing the hotels marketplace trends and the activities of the competition whilst always innovating to be the most original; not to mention my Chinese sourcing competency which was a massive advantage.
TNW: When did you first think about selling Pacific Direct?
LM: Established in 1991 – I was first approached in 1995, then 1997 and pretty much constantly until I first failed to sell when I really wanted to in 2004. Much of the time I dipped in and out of a belief that I was under-qualified and not competent enough to lead the growth in such a global marketplace.
TNW: How did you manage the exit process?
LM: Initially badly and I deluded myself about being a good leader, really thinking I had engaged a solid management team – then I failed to sell. There was at that point too much dependency on my own skills and not enough trust and delegation in others; sales results depended on my ability. I learnt very good lessons in failing to sell, then studied, went to courses, attended a negotiating course, and did all I could to understand the exit process and all the best possible ways to maximise exit value and preparation which does take years not months.
TNW: You have previously said that you’ve 'learnt numerous lessons from trying and failing to establish a work-life balance'. Can you share some of those lessons?
LM: Unhappiness in life is not good for anyone. I took a long time to appreciate the value of what some refer to as “quality time.” I think I was undoubtedly lucky to start building Pacific young, free and single; getting the business really growing without other distractions and responsibilities.
I also have had the benefit of other people forewarning me of mistakes they had made in missing too much of their children’s early years and making errors over prioritising work over important family events.
If I had to start at 4.20am to ensure I could attend a school play I would. I have travelled half the way round the world to watch sports events and made birthday cakes in the middle of the night – all effort worth making.
Although Pacific took a great deal of hard work, dedicated time and effort I trained myself to sleep less and to always prioritise memorable events in the growth of my children. I learnt to be more self-aware and became a better leader of people as I matured. I have madly tried to achieve too much, been utterly knackered – my body literally has a twitch warning mechanism that lets me know when I have exceeded my boundaries.
The fact is, irrespective of the effort, you will make sacrifices; I was so knackered once I nearly forgot my own child’s birthday date.
TNW: Tell us about your new venture: CompanyShortcuts.com.
LM: Our Mission: to transform the way entrepreneurs and growth leaders are educated and supported so they accelerate their business growth through the improvement of their business sales engine.
Company Shortcuts is wholly dedicated to excellence in sales and leadership, with a range of products, services and events to enable ambitious business leaders to achieve accelerated growth.
We work primarily with medium to large SME’s (typically 10-150 staff ) who attend our conferences and use our consultancy and bespoke training services to implement our 4-step Sales Secrets Formula© into their businesses.
TNW: When you are building a team, what are the key qualities you look for to ensure success?
LM: I can spot a good egg (person) a mile away. In fact the world is full of them. When building a team the skill set mix is vital. We all bring different expertise to a team and hence, detailing the roles required is the first and most important step.
I think as one gains recruitment experience we gain better abilities at employing the right people in the right roles; people who can be team players. Qualities such as a sense of humor, experience of hard work, enjoyment in breaking rules, (innovation) and an ability to understand commerciality from whichever seat one occupies are all important and value adding qualities.
Being able to make mistakes and bounce back is important too; strength comes from knowledge, but so does being flexible, open minded and able to look for the positive.
Stuff happens; it is how we deal with it that counts. I like working with the curious. I need to also work with those good at detail – the only thing I can do is sell and I hope share lessons – I find it very rewarding seeing others grow.
TNW: Can you tell us about two or three exciting startups that you’ve come across recently? What is it about them that appeals to you?
LM: Gate8-luggage.com – genius British designed money and time saving garment bag for short trips (3 nights). The design of the bag is brilliant; never again am I late into a taxi queue and I save about 45 minutes per trip never checking in luggage or experiencing the frustration or stress of waiting at baggage arrival…
www.Scaramouche and Fandango.com – wickedly lovely sensibly formulated toiletries for the traveller above!
www.Sopost.com - a very clever way of sampling mates by recommendation; the best kind of sales growth method.
TNW: If you could get on a soap box and get something off your chest about the world of entrepreneurship, something you’d like to change, what would it be?
LM: Our education system is pathetically inadequate for the current world.
We should teach sales; learn more useful commercial maths; apply better rigour in getting people to learn work-place skills such as presentation and communication skills. The lack of competitive sports helps no-one.
I definitely can go on…
TNW: You are a renowned public speaker. What's next on your agenda?
LM: Most important in our agenda for the New Year is sense checking that any company I am involved in has a very clear vision and set of goals for the year ahead.
Every business must have clarity around expectations and growth ambition - quantified smartly, and shared widely - understood by all the players in achieving a year aheads success.
Achievable targets, entertaining and rewarding objectives and celebrations to look forward to.
TNW: Is there anything we haven’t asked you, but which you’d like to share with our readers?
LM: I dare anyone who has read this to trial a few simple things; all of them pay dividends over and over again.
- Always ask for help to accelerate your own potential – the sooner the better.
- Always sell for a higher price than you initially think something might be worth; a product is worth what someone will pay for it.
- Be very clear about your own skill sets and admit often your lack of competency – employ those around you that will make you successful and ensure you work hard to ensure everyone enjoys the ride.
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