Béatrice de Montille is the founder of jewellery company called Merci Maman and a masters in management graduate of Edhec Business School in France, where she won the school’s entrepreneur of the year award.
Ms de Montille started her career in sales then trade marketing in Danone’s biscuit division. She also worked for food companies Jacobs and Del Monte in the UK until the birth of her children encouraged her to find a more flexible work-life balance. She identified a gap in the market for trendy personalised gifts and launched her company in 2007.
Over the past eight years, the business has grown from Ms de Montille’s kitchen table into a company that employs 15 people and ships orders worldwide.
1. Who are your business influences?
I admire the creativity and charisma of Holly Tucker and Sophie Cornish, founders of Notonthehighstreet.com. Their founding model was to track the most original items from the best creative small businesses, making it easy for people to browse and buy. However, their biggest achievement was to bring together 5,000 people — mainly female-run small businesses — all in one place to sell their products.
Mum of four Chrissie Rucker is also a true business inspiration model. She founded The White Company over two decades ago and now has 50 stores across the UK. I admire how she built her company from scratch and I share her creative vision when she says: “Think style not fashion, quality not quantity, and an attention to detail that extends through everything”.
2. What are your best and worst business decisions?
My best business decision has been to stay focused on my goal of keeping a good work-life balance. As the business grew, I was “forced” to hire strong team members and to delegate. This enabled me to be active in the daily life of the business and have enough time away from the office to think outside the box and develop new ideas. During each of my pregnancies I hired more people and reorganised the business. This has worked well: I have four healthy children and a business that is growing with them.
My worst decision is probably waiting too long to focus on PR. The business was given a huge boost after the Duchess of Cambridge was spotted wearing one of our necklaces shortly after the birth of Prince George. Within 10 days, 100,000 new visitors had come to our website and we doubled the size of the company in six months, which was great, but it would probably have grown even faster with better PR to increase brand awareness.
3. Why did you choose to study for a masters in management degree?
My dad used to run a small business. I enjoyed helping him and meeting customers. I was only 16 but I already had a strong business acumen. Growing up, my interest in commerce became more and more obvious. My decision to pursue business studies was a natural choice for me. At Edhec, I learnt how to think innovatively, how to juggle diverse projects and how to manage people.
4. What is your favourite memory of business school?
As a member of the Edhec’s Junior Enterprise, a student consultancy, I experienced many different aspects of running a business, from writing quotes to meeting clients, implementing market research to drafting recommendations. It was a great springboard into professional life.
5. What would you do if you were dean for the day?
I would focus more on creativity and innovation. I would have loved to learn more tips and techniques while I was a student, for example how to brainstorm. Business needs people who can start from a blank page and develop new concepts and now many big companies are seeking ‘intrapreneurs’.
6. What advice would you give to women graduating this year from business school?
Establish what you are good at. Be yourself and believe in yourself. Be innovative and fresh. When I recruit new talent, I am not looking for a specific kind of person. I try to see if the candidate has been curious and involved in their past experiences and if I can identify their growth potential. I also have to make sure that the candidate can fit in with the culture of my team.
7. What is your favourite business book?
I recently read Shape Up Your Business by Sophie Cornish and Holly Tucker and found it fascinating how they managed to describe the road to successful entrepreneurship and the essence behind it.
One passage reads: “Not all entrepreneurs are running their businesses — it’s a mindset as much as anything. Entrepreneurs may work for someone else, but it’s their attitude to themselves and the business they’re in that sets them apart from the clock-watchers.”
8. Which website would you recommend for businesswomen?
Business Feminin, an online magazine launched by journalist Veronique Forge three years ago. Their weekly portraits and interviews of women entrepreneurs and business leaders and their useful papers on careers tips, business trips, lifestyle and culture are a great source of information and inspiration.
9. What are your top tips for networking?
A good network is important in business. Family, school, friends, work... all these different social groups are crucial. I found my webmaster, illustrator, graphic designer and first employees thanks to my network.
When my husband Arnaud joined Merci Maman after working 10 years in the City, he joined the French Chamber of Commerce in Great Britain and is now the chairman of the entrepreneur’s club. His involvement in this professional network offers us great support and lots of connections to develop Merci Maman in the UK and abroad.
10. Which three people, living or dead, would you invite to a business meeting?
Victoria Beckham because she is such a successful and multi-faceted person: a businesswoman, fashion designer, model, singer, mum of four and wife.
Christine Lagarde of the International Monetary Fund because I love her determination and how hard she works to reach her goals. She was the first woman to become finance minister of a G8 and is the first woman to head the IMF.
And I can’t leave out Franck Riboud, chairman of the Danone group and my first boss. I have great admiration for his vision of business and social investment.