LIFESTYLE

Triathlete And Mother, Lara Morgan, Reveals The Importance Of Sport In Building Her £20 Million Business

17/04/2015 10:10 BST | Updated 17/04/2015 10:59 BST

Lara Morgan set up a toiletries business aged 23. Seventeen years later she sold it for a jaw-dropping £20 million.

To add to her impressive business credentials, Morgan has taken part in five triathlons in the past five years. She came tenth in her most recent race, despite never owning a bike before 2010.

But Morgan isn't one to brag. Speaking to HuffPost UK Lifestyle she's modest about her achievements: "You know, I trained hard. I was training 19 hours a week."

"If I want to do something then I will always do it to the best of my ability," she adds.

Morgan has since combined her knowledge of the toiletries industry with her love for sport; and founded skin and body care brand Activbod two years ago, which provides specially-formulated products for those with active lifestyles.

lara morgan

It was 1981 when Morgan set up her first business, Pacific Direct, which manufactured and sold brand licensed toiletries and amenities to the hotel industry.

Surprisingly, the decision to become an entrepreneur wasn't something she'd thought long and hard about or had any exhaustive passion for. It was simply out of necessity.

"There were no other jobs. So it was the situation of... make a job," she reveals.

During this time she was bombarded with challenges, but she simply kept her head down and got stuck in: "I had no money - so I just reinvested everything continually - I also knew nothing."

She adds dryly: "I'm also an idiot."

While she puts much of her success down to luck, it's clear to see that Morgan is far from an idiot.

Despite dealing with a string of challenges during the first stage of her career, she made it to the top and, seventeen years later, sold the majority share (99%) in her business for the modest sum of £20 million.

Why did she choose to sell up? "I had three daughters under the age of ten and I'd been travelling relentlessly," she says. "I travelled 221 days in the last year I owned the business."

Being torn from her children, especially while they were so young, was especially difficult. This was even more evident when she came back to the UK and went to collect her children from school.

"People would ask me if I was picking up Kate's children," she says, referring to her child-carer. "That hurt a lot. And I will never forget it."

But she understands and, to some degree, appreciates that it was the price of building an incredibly successful, international business: "It's unavoidable. If you want to be successful then, quite frankly, you have to be with the customer."

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Morgan is also unique in the fact that she attributes much of her success to being healthy and well - namely through "eating the right stuff" and taking care of her personal fitness.

She puts her team-player ethos and tactful management skills down to her background in sports, and adds: "I don't think enough people realise the value of sports in life."

With a love of sport running through her veins and years of experience in the toiletries industry under her belt, Morgan's most recent venture, Activbod, is by no means a surprising direction for the 47-year-old.

The company, which is the first of its kind in the UK, sells specially-designed skin and body care products for fitness enthusiasts.

And it's not all about business for Morgan, who works closely with the Women's Sports Trust.

When asked why the cause is important to her, she replies: "I genuinely believe that getting more elite women in the media to play sport is a very important part of getting children to be attracted to playing and engaging in sport.

"Personally, I gifted them £100,000. It's completely sensible to me to spend money on this, especially when it has resonance with my brand and with my own children who play sports."

She laughs: "If you like, it's putting your money where your mouth is."

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With a nod to recent research by Sport England which suggests more women are shying away from sport for fear of being judged, Morgan notes that it's "incredibly painful that women suffer from a massive lack of self-confidence both in public and in the workplace".

"Yet we are usually more academically qualified, often more organised, most times more hardworking and always able to juggle better," she says.

"And that's why I say you can build and drive confidence through wellbeing, because when you're fit and healthy - and you know you're looking good and you feel good about your inner and outer self - actually you'll be more able to take chances, put yourself into challenge places and expose yourself to risk. But in a positive and more empowering way."

When it comes to work/life balance, Morgan insists it's something of a mythical creature: "I think it would be dishonest for any entrepreneur or businessperson to claim that it's easy to have a work/life balance. In fact, I simply believe that it doesn't exist."

She likens work and life to a set of weighing scales: "You have to do what's right for you. It's all about balance. Personally, I'm shit at sleeping, I'm appalling at relaxing, family time is my only other priority other than the businesses I enjoy building and the sports that I play."

But while work is high on her list of priorities, she is particularly adamant that family will always come first - something which was instilled from the beginning of her career after being "voraciously" lectured by older, male peers.

And it was the best advice she was ever given: "I've never missed a sports day, I've never missed a nativity play, I always aim to be there for the important dates."

It seems strange to ask such an assertive woman if she's ever faced any obstacles relating to her gender in work or sport, but I do anyway: "In sports, I don't think I've faced anything relating to gender other than the continual annoyance that men are generally stronger and bigger. I have an older brother and it annoys me that he can hit a softball further than me."

On a serious, business-related note, she adds that it will always be uncomfortable for a woman to go into a room of twenty men in business. "But it will become less of a challenge the more women we can put in that room," she says.

"It's important for women to put themselves forward, not arrogantly, not like men, but as themselves. And then we can diminish those moments of discomfort."

"Overall, it's an advantage to be in the minority and to be a woman in business," she says.

"So women should milk it while they can."