Last week you may recall that we caught up with the four finalists for this year’s Veuve Clicquot Business Woman of the Year award. Impressive candidates all – but there could be only one winner, and it was Laura Tenison, the entrepreneur behind babywear company JoJo Maman Bébé. As a big believer in the benefits of positive female role models, Tenison is obviously delighted to join an illustrious list of past winners. Although to be fair, she seems to have managed perfectly well without a role model herself…
Tenison is already heavily involved in mentoring and role model programmes in her native Wales – including one for the Welsh Assembly – and with women’s business groups, which she thinks are ‘a great way of giving people that little bit of encouragement or confidence to get back into the workplace or start a business’. She also talks to a lot of university students, not least because she thinks many of them need a reality check about the value of their degree. ‘Students come in with this attitude that they’re better than other people, but the reality is that everyone has a degree these days!’ She says she often prefers to hire someone who’s spent a year in industry instead – while any grads will be expected to pitch in alongside everyone else.
You’d think that someone so keen on role models would be able to reel off quickly her biggest influences as a fledgling entrepreneur. But in fact, she finds it hard to name anyone specific. Tenison tells MT that she once got a lift to London with Bernard Ashley, husband of the famous entrepreneur Laura – but when she went to interview at the company (at his behest), she felt it had rather lost its way and didn’t take the job.
Presumably this is partly why Tenison is so keen to keep a small company feel at JoJo, and her staff policies certainly went down well with the Veuve judges (although she suggests that most are just a natural consequence of starting small and trying desperately to hang on to staff). Then there are her wider CSR efforts – JoJo’s actively involved in a charity that builds schools in Mozambique (which, characteristically, she got involved with when she was supposed to be on holiday). She says she gets frustrated when big companies make great play of their ethical credentials, when in fact all they do is allocate a tiny proportion of profits to offsetting, or even employ all their staff on an agency basis with zero benefits – in her eyes, a major no-no. ‘These are the sort of things that actually do make a difference,’ she insists.
Tenison's the kind of entrepreneur who's always bursting with enthusiasm and ideas. For instance, she thinks that given the link between entrepreneurs and criminals (‘We’re both imaginative people who find a way to achieve what we want’) we can do a better job of harnessing the energies of difficult children in a more constructive way. And she insists on the need for ‘a blame-free environment’ to encourage creativity. We suspect there aren’t enough hours in the day for her to do all the stuff she’d really like to do. But as role models go, we think Veuve Clicquot has made a pretty good choice this year.
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MT meets the Veuve Clicquot Business Woman of the Year