Cleaning up: how selling soap can make millions

THE 90s recession didn’t really affect me. Well, apart from the fact I couldn’t find a job – that’s why I created one,” says Lara Morgan casually. She describes that job simply as “selling soap.”

But more accurately, it was a multi-national hotel toiletry supplier called Pacific Direct that grew into a business that supplied 110 countries, employed 476 people and sold for £20.2m in 2008.

Morgan was 23 and new to England when she created that job. She grew up in Hong Kong and missed out on university because her father’s business went bankrupt. “I didn’t have enough money to get back to the UK for uni, so I started working in sales, cold-calling.” Morgan was exceptionally good at it: at 21, she was banking £60-70,000 a year in commission. “I only came to the UK because I fell in love with one of those damn men,” she laughs. “He came to the UK to do an MBA at Cranfield.”

Morgan struggled to be taken seriously at first. “I remember trying to recruit my first employee. I had to go round to her mum’s house to convince her I was serious and that she should let her daughter join me.”

But she admits that being that young had advantages: “All I had to look after was myself, no kids or husband to look after. I just ate and slept and worked on Pacific Direct.”

The business grew rapidly, turning over £180,000 in the first year, £330,000 in the second and £880,000 in the third.

The company quickly needed factories of its own. Pacific Direct ended up with two: one in China and one in the Czech Republic. “Every good English girl should have factories there,” she quips.

What made Morgan so successful? “I’m a nosey bitch,” she smiles. “I wanted to know how every part of my supply chain worked and I wanted to add value to the client at every stage.”

And what advice would she pass on to other entrepreneurs? “Retain equity. You are in a far more powerful position if you do. I owned 99 per cent of my business. My mum had the other one per cent, until I sold.

My mum had to have a share back in those days – you weren’t allowed to keep 100 per cent yourself. The accountant who advised me when I set up Pacific Direct told me to give one per cent to the person I most trusted in the world. Lucky mum made £200,000 off the back of that old rule.”

Morgan is now working on a new online business called Company Shortcuts. The website supports entrepreneurs who manage high-growth businesses by equipping them with templates and plans that increase their effectiveness. “I kind of see it as giving something back and passing on what I’ve learned. It will make a profit eventually, though.”

Morgan is about to release a book, titled More Balls Than Most. It tells the story of Pacific Direct, giving down-to-earth tips on how to juggle family life and a high-growth business.

Company: Pacific Direct
Turnover: £23.5m (2008)
Staff: 476 across 9 countries, supplying 110 countries (2008)
Title: Founder
Age: 40
Born: Munster, Germany
Lives: Pimlico
Studied: “Nothing after school, have scuba diving qualification though”
Talents: “I can sell.”
Drinking: “Rarely – but quality white wine rather than quantity.”
Idol: “Don't think that way, admire many.”
Awards: Veuve Clicquot Finalist, Finalist in Entrepreneur of the Year, Third in London Triathlon 2010
Motto: “If you don't ask you don't get.”