Laura Tenison, MBE, the founder and Managing Director of JoJo Maman Bébé, was once a pupil at the Haberdashers’ Monmouth School for Girls, until the school tactfully suggested she, ‘might be happier elsewhere.’
She was later asked to go back to give a speech at the sports day and gratefully accepted, and, on Thursday 23rd March at 7pm, returns to Monmouth once again to give a talk, at the Shire Hall, entitled, ‘Doing Well Whilst Doing Good.’
All proceeds from the evening, organised by the Monmouth Women’s Festival, will be donated to Home-Start Monmouthshire, which Laura describes as,‘a fantastic hands on charity which supports so many children and families in our local community.’
When Laura began her company, in 1993 with a start-up capital of only £50K and two members of staff, there were many sleepless nights. Her aim was to offer fashionable maternity wear and a collection of practical and affordable fashion for mothers and babies. She never in her wildest dreams expected it to become so successful. “My aim,’ she recalls, ‘was to pay the next month’s rent on my flat share.”But incredible success, honorary doctorates and many business awards followed, including the Veuve Clicquot Business Woman of the Year award. Today, JoJo employs over 750 people, is forecast to trade at £60M gross in the current financial year, has 80 stores across the UK and Ireland, and exports to over 40 countries worldwide. It’s a company that has a strong belief in sharing good fortune. Many members of staff have stayed since its start up. Tenison is also the trustee of the company charity, called Nema which is based in Mozambique. Since supporting Nema - the name translates to happiness after hardship - the charity has built four schools, funded hundreds of secondary and further education scholarships, and purchased two ambulances, all of which support a community of 24,000 people. The Jo Jo funded charity also supports a team of eight local staff who run numerous health, sanitation, water and enterprise projects. Laura, who divides her time between her London home and headquarters and a small farm underneath the Skirrid, near Abergavenny, is a keen cyclist; “If you see someone puffing on a bike up the hill towards Abergavenny station with files under her arm, it could be me.” She is passionate about sensible environmental practices, and her farm is, ‘furnished with many great skip hunt finds.’
She has also launched a nationwide clothing recycling initiative called, From a Mother to Another which encourages parents to gift outgrown clothing to those in need. Thousands of gift packs are distributed to families in the UK and Ireland each year through local charities.
She works long hours, from 7am until late on the day we talked, and still has sleepless nights: “Running a business is like having a massive family, I lose sleep over so many areas.” But this is a woman with a great zest for life too, who enjoys cooking impromptu meals for her many friends and hanging out with sons, Toby and Ben.
Her advice to budding entrepreneurs: “Don’t start a business if you want an easy life, it’s a 24/7 activity.”
To find out how she does it, get your tickets costing £10 from Rossiter’s books, or online at www.ticketsource.co.uk