The Power Of Persistence

Good morning friends

Generally, this letter’s open rates exceed the industry average by >40%. Last week’s letter on good leadership exceeded even that.

On Tuesday morning I sent out a mail asking whether you’d like more social media engagement from me.

Two valuable things happened.

First, I learnt that you’re not interested in doing that. Second, digital marketer extraordinaire Dave Duarte shared the story of his little league soccer coach Fred Miller. You can read it here.

That story formed the kernel of this week’s letter about the power of persistence. Thanks Dave!

If you’ve been forwarded this newsletter, you can subscribe here.

/ Strategy

This Guy Raz interview with Jo Malone, founder of the wildly successful perfume brand, is wonderful. If you feel spending an hour with a founder who warm, authentic, and thoroughly charming, pour yourself a tea, settle into your chair and click on the link.

Jo Malone was raised on a council estate in London. If you’re not from England, you might think that’s fancy. It’s not. It is the opposite of that. She didn’t finish school. Indeed, throughout school she was told that she was lazy and stupid. She had undiagnosed dyslexia. By her early teens she was caring for her mother who had had a nervous breakdown following Jo’s father leaving them.

She got married at 21, and for four years her and her husband slept on a foam mattress in a small one-bedroom apartment. Each morning, they would roll up the mattress, put it in the broom cupboard and convert the apartment into a skin care clinic where Jo would work with clients, using creams that she had mixed herself in the kitchen.

This ‘build a business in a kitchen’ story, reminded me of how Lisa Price built Carol’s Daughter. Her story was in the letter, The $27mn business that started in a Brooklyn Kitchen.

As a young child, Malone helped her mother in the beauty clinic where she worked. She worked alongside the owner learning how to mix creams and face masks. For a while, in her late teens, she worked in a florist. It was there that she became fully conscious of how acute her sense of smell was. She would reject flowers from suppliers when she could smell that they’d been in a fridge for too long.

In starting her business, she had no grand vision. She was working with what she had, with who she was, with what she cared about.

When she started to create her products, people established in the industry told her that she was putting too much scent in the lotions. She loved the smell and persisted with what felt true to her.

Whilst we may see expensive lotions, for Malone this was an expression of her creativity. She says, “I would smell them in my head and then I’d create it in a little jar and test it to see if it worked, if it worked I’d get it out there.”

Imagination, test, action – a simple, powerful formula.

She reflects “It’s an art for me. I’m telling you stories, or I’m writing poetry to you…and then I’m allowing you to have your own memory with that fragrance.”
Around the 44th minute, there’s a beautiful anecdote of what happened when they hit their first million pounds in revenue.

She built the business. Sold a part to Estee Lauder, and together they took it global. Then in her late 30s, she was hit by breast cancer. She fought it and won but lost her sense of smell. She decided to sell out completely. She didn’t want to damage what she’d built.

After she’d exited, her sense of smell came back. She was overwhelmed with loss. She describes leaving the business as having lost her best friend. She loved creating fragrances but had a 5-year restraint. Although she was wealthy and had no need to work, she was unhappy. Simply, she was not doing what she was meant to do.

What is it that you are meant to be doing?

Eventually, she was able to launch a new business – Jo Loves. The first two years were unsuccessful. She says “it was ludicrous when I think how I sprinted in, thinking that I had the right to go back in where I’d left. That was the biggest lesson for me.”

It is a mistake so often made. We don’t pay attention to changed circumstances. We assume we can act as we always did. That error always has a cost.

Slow down. Pay attention.

/ Self

This year Venezuelan artist Luchita Hurtado turns 100. I have thought for hours about her statement that, “I’ve been many persons, but each day, I’m completely different.”

What possibilities would this week hold if you embraced this?

You have many pasts and yet your future can hold the possibility of a different world. If you knew this to be true, what would you do differently today?

In 2019, one of her works sold at Art Basel: Hong Kong for $220,000 and London’s Serpentine Gallery hosted a solo exhibition of her work. Yet, for most of her career as an artist, it hasn’t been like this. She occasionally participated in group shows but never really grabbed the spotlight, not in fame nor in wealth.

In this New York Times interview, she reflects that “I never stopped drawing, looking, living. It’s all the same thing, all solving your own life.”

In many respects, she echoes Malone. Not all our passions may translate into global acclaim. It is simply not possible, but certainly persistence in a place of passion, with commitment to excellence, yields a life of meaning and connection. Hurtado has never stopped creating.

/ Soul

This week’s soul piece came to me from the CEO of the Southern African Music Rights Organisation, Mark Rosin.

Go to the 37th minute of this Moth Radio Hour podcast entitled ‘Heroes, Icons & Superstars’, and listen for 10 minutes to jazz bassist Christian McBride describe his first big breakthrough. I won’t tell you any more than that, but I guarantee you that it’ll make you smile.

He too had a vision. He too had a strategy. He too persisted with intentional excellence.

In the words of someone dear to me “keep on, keeping on”, you’ll be amazed by what unfolds.


PS: If you’d like to know a bit more about my leadership coaching practice, click here or email me and let’s make time to meet.

(This letter was first published on July 19 2020)

Strategy, Soul and Self

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