how she did it

Case Studies // An Interview With Lara Morgan:...

An Interview With Lara Morgan: How To Start a Business From Nothing and Sell it for £20 Million…

Lara Morgan started Pacific Direct when she was 23, 17 years later she sold her majority share for £20 million. Impressive or what?

In her recently published book, “More Balls Than Most: Juggle Your Way to Success With Proven Company Shortcuts.” Lara shares the trials and tribulations of starting a company with nothing and selling it for £20 million. In the first chapter she reveals how Pacific Direct was started on the doorstep of the Dorchester in 1991, when she tried to sell the Purchasing Manager a unique sewing kit. You’ll have to read the book to find out what happened, although I think you’ll be able to guess!

I was blown away, intrigued and fascinated when I read it, but I wanted to find out more… what was a day in life of Lara Morgan like when she was building Pacific Direct? So, I did an interview with her to find out.

Lara has also set up a website called Company Shortcuts, which is a brilliant resource for business owners – it’s definitely worth checking out.

Find out more about the website and about her book at the end of the interview.

I hope you enjoy the interview as much as I have.

You set up Pacific Direct back in 1991 as a sole trader and in 2008 you sold your majority share for £20 million – what made you decide to start the business?

In 1991, the last recession, I needed to eat, therefore a job was required and I had been given an opportunity by a factory owner in China to sell the products he made and was already exporting… it started with a sewing kit.

You started with nothing and did everything – this must have presented some challenges. What was the hardest part about getting started and how did you overcome the challenges?

I am lucky in the sense that I was already a sales person by trade. There is no business operational need without an order. So, I naturally focused on sales and then worked out the rest. Time management was probably the greatest challenges, ensuring you maximise the sales hours of the day – filling the pipeline of potential, whilst learning all the skills and knowledge of a huge variety of different parts of a business service (freight / importing / accounting / packaging and on..) whilst delivering the best service and being a no-one trying to break into big accounts.

What was your average day like during the early years of Pacific Direct?

Long, really very long, but enormously varied and exciting. I used to start very early either by driving to London and delivering goods around 6am to hotels to start at my desk doing boring admin before anyone woke. The discipline was to sell every possible hour of the sales day and to leave the rest of admin and business development stuff to weekends and odd hours when the hours keeper had gone home.  I would take a break after a 12 hour day, play some squash and then be back at my desk often from 8.30 -10.30 or later. I did that for many years and was 23 when I began so managed not to be too distracted.

How did you manage to make the company so successful?

Success is the result of 17 year of relentless determination to be the best that we could be in a highly competitive global marketplace – driven by the desire to first get ahead and then stay ahead in the race of a growing company. Continual improvement, a paranoia that everyone else was working harder and smarter and the real trick, surrounding myself with the best people I could afford and letting them add their magic to our enterprise.  The family first common sense and fun approach we had to the outrageously high standards and targets we set managed to pull us through with a team of highly engaged, really empowered decision makers so the business grew because of the momentum and culture of a “can do” approach founded on celebration and pride.

What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs looking to develop a successful company?

Treat your people and your customer with the utmost respect – you pay your peoples mortgages, but the customer pays the salary of the people you employ. Your people need to understand commercialism of your model and how you make money. Without you embracing their joint brilliance (listen always to the customers needs) you will not grow as fast as you can.

Of all the challenges you faced during your time as CEO of Pacific Direct, what has been the biggest? How did you overcome it?

Selling and letting go has been hard. Nevertheless the greatest challenges were always the people dilemmas and demands. Although in one short period our industry of hospitality took a massive hammering from September 11th, through Sars, Foot and Mouth, Talk of war and then War, and finally being sued in the US, the people stuff is far more draining.

What’s your biggest achievement so far?

Three beautiful, healthy children and a wickedly well selected husband who has the ability to live with my lunacy.

How do you keep yourself motivated through challenging times?

Dale Carneigie has many brilliant sayings but the most powerful one for motivation is, “What’s the worst thing that can happen?”

Who inspires you?

My Mum did a pretty good job on the juggling, determination to succeed piece. My brother simply because we are both hideously competitive and mostly team mini Morgan as I want to set them an example like I tried to set my team at Pacific where with a positive attitude and a bit of focus it is amazing what you might achieve.

You have recently published a book called, More Balls Than Most: Juggle Your Way to Success With Proven Company Shortcuts – what’s the ballsiest thing you have ever done in business?

What a great question.  Asking for a £ 270,000 over draft unguaranteed was scary. Buying a Czech factory from my supplier was dangerous, but ballsy might be when I hired Richard Percival from Reebok as my UK General Manager. I had to pay him £ 126,000 p.a plus executive other stuff, whilst I was taking home £ 24,000.00 without executive other stuff.

You have also launched the website tell us more about this and how it can help business owners.

Companyshortcuts shares and offers some of the brilliant templates, check lists and frameworks which my team produced, borrowed or we revised from others to accelerate both the learning potential, the quality of work and the success of the company as a whole. These documents are sorted in sectors of company development areas – so Money, People, Sales stuff and there is a simple process map for each section guides you what is held within the sections.  Some of the most basic templates are free to download I do have a wish that all companies run better meetings using professionally thought through agenda’s and most important and valuable of all, action capture lists so what gets discussed gets done and followed through.

Additionally we are trailing KUTA my invented daily nudges to help people, through an SMS text to their phone keep thinking daily of the things they must be considering to keep their business ahead, on top and accelerating to success.  We are developing the second version of KUTA suitable for small business message nudges as growth business response has been superb. TRY IT?

Do you have a business philosophy?

Bag loads of old fashioned values work. Look after the pennies, do unto others…, if at first you don’t succeed…, but most of all, employ great people to provide great products to great companies and make profit.

>> Buy Lara’s Book

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