The Visionaries: Jo Malone, CBE

Jo’s journey into the world of fragrance began as a means to get by. She dropped out of school at just 15-years-old and began to help her mother mix creams and fragrances for a skincare clinic, before creating her own fragrances in 1988, not realising this would be the first step into building the most renowned fragrance companies in the world.

Jo confessed, “I started out to survive like a lot of entrepreneurs do and a lot of businesses. When you build a business, it’s about every single day. Today, I’m going to put 10 steps in front of each other in order to get to where I want to get to.”

She added, “It’s all very well to have those big dreams and those big aspirations which are important but the reality is you have to stick at it and you have to make it happen. I sometimes stand in places and think ‘How did I get here?’ It is hard work. It is luck. I look back and I’m grateful for every opportunity that has been and that will come.”

After 32 years of creating fragrance, Jo still has a huge love for her craft. She smiled and said, “Creating fragrance for me is so much more than just business and a job, it’s how I see life. Yesterday I bought a really beautiful raspberry pink trouser suit and immediately my mind started to create because of the vibrancy of the colour – I’m immediately thinking and locking notes in. I’m very lucky to have that gift and be able to do what I do every single day.”

After a successful decade of Jo Malone London, becoming one of the most iconic British brands, Jo made one of the biggest decisions of her career and sold the company to Estee Lauder for ‘undisclosed millions’.

Jo divulged, “It wasn’t a difficult decision because I wasn’t selling to exit. I was selling because businesses often get to a point where they’re looking to expand and that costs money. It’s all very well being a small team but when you go global, you have to have people on the ground who understands those different markets and partnerships.”

She continued, ““It was a very happy moment and to this day, it is not a decision I regret, which I think is a very important thing in business, you either learn from a bad business decision or you relish in the fact that you made the right one. It was a very happy transition and I was supposed to stay there for the rest of my life but life doesn’t always give you what you plan.”

Jo refers to the heartbreaking moment that changed her life forever. She disclosed, “I’d been diagnosed with cancer and I’d fought it for a year. I had very intensive chemotherapy and it had taken my sense of smell. I could have carried on but I felt detached from the business that I had built. For the first time in my life, it felt like a job and I wasn’t happy, so I made the decision to walk away. Six weeks after leaving, my sense of smell came back one morning and very powerfully.”

Jo’s entire identity had been shattered, she revealed, “I felt lost, like I’d made a huge mistake. Who was I? What was I doing? I’d also signed the five-year non-compete and thought I would never want to return to that industry, but I realised within that six weeks that fragrance was not a business or career.

She continued, “It was part of who I was, it was part of my language of life and I’d severed it. I then started to feel very, very sad and very downhearted. I’d never been one of those people who sit and brood, so I got up and I tried to find other things to do but nothing hit that creative spot like creating fragrance.”

After five years of soul searching, it ultimately brought Jo back to her passions and incredible skill with Jo Loves and revealed what it was like to start from scratch again.

She said, “When you build something for the first time, no one knows who you are. A lot of those mistakes that you made, nobody knows, nobody sees them. Once you’re out on that global stage, it was a very different experience. Looking back, I do think ‘God, you were brave, Jo.’ I was not a young woman in her 20’s, I was about 42 to take back that battle again and fight.”

She continued, “The first two years were so tough, I wanted to quit every single day. I’d put my own money into it and I knew that I had to carry on but there was one morning where I’d just had enough. As I was sitting there, one of the members of the team came in and she said, “I just have to tell you how much love working for you Jo.” She had no idea and I just knew that I couldn’t do it, I couldn’t let them down.”

Today, Jo has done it again with a beautiful Jo Loves flagship store in the heart of Belgravia, an incredible long-term partnership with high street heavyweight, Zara, bringing luxury fragrance to every Zara store worldwide and a brand new product, the innovative fragrance paintbrush, proving her critics wrong.

Jo laughed and said, “My husband and I were the only two people that believed in that product and everyone kept saying ‘Oh it’s so gimmicky and no one is ever going to paint themselves with fragrance.’ How wrong were they?”

When asked what advice she would give to other budding entrepreneurs, she replied, “I have this saying ‘never quit on a bad day’ because the landscape of life will often change and if you quit, you can rob yourself.”