“You might leave your passion, but it doesn’t leave you.”
By Carmine Gallo
Jo was fifteen when a teacher told her that she wouldn’t make anything out of her life (Jo had dyslexia, a largely misunderstood condition at the time). She dropped out of school, but was determined to prove the teacher wrong.
Today, Jo Malone is the name behind a fragrance empire. The British perfumer and entrepreneur launched Jo Malone London from her kitchen table and sold it to Estee Lauder for millions. I recently met Jo Malone at a book festival in Dubai, where we both were invited to speak. As we sat on cushions in the desert enjoying a traditional Arabic feast, Malone expanded on the story that she wrote in her autobiography, Jo Malone: My Story.
Finding and following a passion, she said, is critical to success as an entrepreneur or leader. “You might leave your passion, but it doesn’t leave you.” At an early age Malone discovered that she had an acute sense of smell while helping her mother mix creams and fragrances for a skincare clinic. Malone couldn’t read the labels on the jars, but memorized every ingredient by smell.
Malone launched her own fragrance brand in 1988. She began combining ingredients at her kitchen table with four plastic jugs and two saucepans. She started with twelve clients who bought her homemade skin creams. A scent she invented called Lime Basil & Mandarin put her on the map. “Fragrance not only flooded me with ideas but it made me feel complete, fueling an almost obsessive drive of creativity,” Malone writes in her book. “I see smells in colors and memories, and I hear tunes when conjuring a scent.”
When I met Malone, she was no longer associated with the very brand that carries her name. Malone had parted ways with Lauder in 2006 and signed an exit agreement that barred her from the fragrance industry for five years. She soon realized she had made a mistake because “the hunger and spirit” never left her.
In 2011, Malone launched a new brand that sells fragrances in store and online: Jo Loves. Although she was more than 20 years removed from mixing fragrances in her kitchen, she found herself back in a kitchen, doing what she loved — mixing and matching scents to capture the emotions she feels. Malone re-trained herself. “I’d sit for hours with fragrance sticks — one in my left hand, one in my right — wafting them beneath my nose, seeing what the combinations would trigger.”
The secret to success and the secret to reinvention in the second chapter of one’s life is to stay true to the path that your heart puts you on. Malone writes, “I may no longer own my old brand but I remained Jo Malone, the person; that’s who I am, a creator of fragrance…trust in the one thing you’re good at.”
Malone reminds us that all too often, we’re pulled in many directions. A friend gets a job in a hot industry and convinces you to follow his path, a colleague starts a company and wants you to join her, a boss invites you to fill a position that has a more prestigious title, but takes you away from what you enjoy.
Malone says in those situations, the best advice she can give is the one she’s learned from going from kitchen entrepreneur to millionaire: “Follow your heart. If you wake up each morning with a drive rooted in the passion of what you do, rather than a passion for the money you can make, you’re on a wise path.”
Carmine Gallo is a keynote speaker, communication advisor and bestselling author of The Storyteller’s Secret, now available in paperback. Sign up for his newsletter at carminegallo.com.