Book Review: Jo Malone My Story

One sentence in Jo Malone My Story could be the synopsis of her life success: ‘you seize the moment by learning to tune in to and trust your gut, way more than you do the mind because the mind wasn’t designed to make decisions, the gut was-and that’s instinct‘. Offered as business advice, it is an equally profound life instruction. In Jo’s case the word ‘gut’ could be replaced with ‘nose’.  That nose and her instincts have produced a life and a story that is unbelievably amazing and utterly entrancing.  One can only hope to have guts and instincts honed so well for success.

I have been a fan of the Jo Malone fragrance brand for years, but admittedly I did not know much about the woman behind my favorite alcove of Neiman Marcus.  402 pages later,  I admire the woman and her journey as much as I’ve always admired the top and base notes of those beautiful streamlined perfume flacons paired with a simple black ribbon.

Jo breaks her life into 3 acts.  The beginning is her rough and tumble childhood as the eldest daughter of two stylish, yet slightly rakish and irresponsible parents.  Not irresponsible as in neglectful or abusive, but they were two people who loved the high life, but seemed to always live on a low budget.  Her father was charming and handsome, but with a proclivity to spend their income on grand gambling speculations.  Her mother, just as beautiful and charming, was forced to live a half life-trying to support the family financially when Dad could not be relied upon.  Jo was the dutiful daughter, the little adult in the middle, making sure the house was cleaned and dinner was on the table. In spite of their financial status, their house was full of love and whimsy, but in the educational format of work. She became Jo Malone, ace saleswoman while spending time with her father and learned to recognize her natural gifting while helping her mother in the beauty trade.  Their lives were not ideal, but Jo is never bitter or accusatory, she stands as a sentry simply reporting the facts with a child’s accepting love for her parents, warts and all.  Beneath that childlike acceptance, brewed a determination that her life could and would be different. The teacher that once said she would amount to nothing had no idea how that determination would outrank any academics.

Act 2 shares how she begins to make a life and a business for herself separate from the family she loves, but directed toward a dream that is slowing beginning to take shape.  Not consciously using the well-worn adage of using what you know, Jo takes baby steps in the direction of her most prominent gifts, building a small skincare service business one client at a time.  As serendipity lends a hand, a simple decision to offer scented bath oils and lotions to her clients become the foundation of an entrepreneurial success story and the Jo Malone legend.

Each act took me through a series of emotions.  I wanted to help the younger Jo, I wanted their circumstances to get better, I wanted her life to be easier.  I rooted for the young Jo as she made each tentative step into what I already knew was an exciting future.  I was shattered when at the height of her success, she was diagnosed with breast cancer.  Her honesty with her feelings and the days when she was emotionally empty and floundering made me cry.  My best friend valiantly fought breast cancer and reading Jo Malone My Story made me wonder if she had experienced similar intensely insecure thoughts about her mortality, even as she was putting on a brave face for us.  As I was wiping my tears and attempting to dry my wet pages, I literally laughed out loud with Jo’s hilarious encounter with a rude salesperson (the book is worth that story alone, anytime I see a display of sweaters from now on, I will laugh).  The feisty Jo was back from the brink and I couldn’t have been more happy.  The rest of the book was sit-on-the-edge of your seat anticipation as she attempted to retire, quickly realizing she was no shrinking violet, and stepped back into business with the assets that had always served her best-her gut and that nose.

Jo Malone My Story is honest and raw, but always nice, humble and extremely grateful.  The improbability of her destination never seems lost on her and she acknowledges the struggle of reconciling that little impoverished girl with the mega entrepreneur and brand ambassador she has become.  Her inability to ‘get the big head’ is refreshing in the memoir of a person that attains great financial success.  She always seems grounded, maintaining a unskewed perspective of life’s fortune.  She remains approachable and kind-hearted, always nice to those along her path, even to those family and friends that don’t wish her well.  She is in every way, an everyday entrepreneur, someone who found what they love and no amount of money derived from it, alters her soul.  She’s an everyman that you can root for as she encounters challenges, but she keeps plugging away with a tenacious grit fortified with optimism.

I’m glad Jo chose to tell her story and I hope we are allowed to share her next acts in later editions.  Her story made me think of another legendary entrepreneur and her life library.  Like Jo,  Diane von Furstenberg experienced early success, but the ensuing second act is what solidified her legacy.  The DVF library gives us a life in many acts and the woman at the beginning is different from the woman on the other side of a sustained comeback.  I hope Jo comes back to us again with her life and evolving perspective as she builds her next fragrance empire Jo Loves.  Global success the second, third or even fourth time around-I’m on board for each and every recap. (No one at Simon and Schuster asked my opinion, but we all know it’s a good idea).

An apt business woman, at heart she is an artist that was able to leverage a product into financial success, but never loses her artistic soul or her footing in the trappings of success.  She is a testament that nice people can finish first  in business and this is definitely a book for entrepreneurs.  It is not a preachy, line list of business to-dos, but a conversation of a journey, with pebbles of priceless and well-earned business advice dropped along the way.  If you keep a highlighter handy (like I do), you will find yourself attending a stellar marketing and entrepreneurial masterclass. Jo is very in tune with the millennial generation and the way business is flourishing as a full life mosaic, not the work life vs. personal life balance/perspective that was once the de rigeur philosophy.   Jo Malone is a fully informed and fully competent professor.  We as students of life and/or business, should pay full attention.

 

Disclaimer:  I was granted a pre-release copy by the publisher, however, all opinions are solely my own.  Thanks to Simon and Schuster for their generosity.