By Mok Fei Fei The Straits Times, Singapore / Asia News Network
SINGAPORE (The Straits Times/ANN) -- British fragrance queen Jo Malone has an unconventional piece of advice for budding entrepreneurs -- remember your first kiss.
Just as a first kiss is unforgettable and involves passion, Ms Malone suggests that companies need to replicate that trust- building exercise with their customers by giving them a fresh and memorable experience with their products.
"Brands need to create their first kiss because you know, with that, comes intimacy, comes a relationship, comes passion and creativity and, with that, comes life and potential."
Ms Malone, 51, also spoke of the important ingredients for success -- passion, resilience and creativity -- when she held court yesterday at a forum organised by HSBC to celebrate International Women's Day tomorrow.
It is a lesson that Ms Malone, who is renowned for creating scents and having a good nose for running businesses, has not only preached but also practised throughout her career.
Starting out as a facial therapist after leaving school early at the age of 15 to support her family, she would go door to door in London to treat clients.
But she would also go above and beyond that, often leaving them a bottle of fragrance or bath oil that she concocted herself so that her customers would remember her.
Her clientele soon grew from 50 to 1,500 as she pounded the streets starting at the crack of dawn at 6am and not calling it a day until 10pm.
Even with the punishing hours, her popularity meant a customer had to book her services a year in advance.
Eventually, with the advice of her husband and business partner, she opened the first Jo Malone retail store in London in 1994, selling skincare products and fragrances.
The business expanded and it racked up its first million in revenue within a year of opening.
Big-name companies soon came knocking and she eventually sold her company to cosmetics giant Estee Lauder in 1999 for an undisclosed sum.
Adversity struck in 2003 when she was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer, but she successfully battled the illness.
With a new lease of life, Ms Malone, who has a teenage son, started a new company, Jo Loves, in 2011. It sells fragrances, bath and body products and candles online and at a London outlet.
While she acknowledges the difficulties involved in women starting businesses or climbing the corporate ladder, she is not in favour of having gender quotas or targets.
"Let's get the best from everyone, whether they are male or female, and I don't want this divide or a token," said Ms Malone.
Other female corporate leaders at the forum, such as Ms Naina Lal Kidwai, chairman of HSBC India, also said quotas would not be helpful.
She said such a move would not benefit women as it would appear as though they are being pushed to fulfil a requirement, and not earning positions on their own merit.
Ms Chew Gek Khim, executive chairman of mainboard-listed investment firm The Straits Trading Company, noted that men and women often move in different social circles, which results in company boards being dominated by men.
"The so-called barrier is, I feel, a function of the circles. We all like to work with people we know -- it's very uncomfortable to invite a stranger in," said Ms Chew.
About 150 HSBC clients, mostly women, attended the forum at the Amara Sanctuary Resort Sentosa, which was organised in conjunction with the HSBC Women's Champions golf tournament.