On September 11th 2001 I was working on the 32nd floor of an office block in downtown Boston when the planes that had left Boston earlier that morning flew into the World Trade Centre. I was mercifully far away from any danger of the atrocity that took so many lives, but it did stop to make me think about what I wanted to do with my life and career and that I should make the most out of it. To help decide whether I really wanted to go back to the world of banking (I had started my career in economics research while still at university at JP Morgan in Frankfurt) or management consultancy, I had a two-year Masters course in economics and politics ahead of me in Paris.
It wasn’t long after starting my course at the Institute of Political Studies ‘Sciences-Po’ in Paris that I became rather disillusioned with studying again. Aged 25 - slightly older than the average student age - and thinking that I’d already experienced a bit of the world, I wasn’t particularly impressed with the approach of some of the French lecturers. It was more like being at secondary school than graduate school!
The skin problems I’d experienced while living in the USA had also given me a burning itch (if you’ll pardon the pun) to research the possibility of commercialising Mum’s natural skin care range. So my attendance at lectures started to falter; I did the absolute minimum sessions required to pass the modules that I didn’t care for and instead spent the time scouring the internet to ‘benchmark’ competitors, as well as modelling business plans in Excel spreadsheets. One day I was so stuck in with my research I was horribly late for an important presentation. “My washing machine broke” I lied, as I burst breathless into the classroom, “l’eau était partout. Je suis navrée.” I had become a terrible student.
What I did enjoy at Sciences-Po were the courses in developing country economics which fuelled my already strong interest in Fairtrade as well as very fun French lessons with other international students that made me lust after having a global business one day (I’ve always loved an eclectic environment and mixing with other nationalities). I took a course in marketing enabling me to work on the business plan while adding to the requisite course credits and I was grateful for help from my friends Delphine and Thuy Tien who joined me and helped with the research.
I scraped through to obtain my Masters degree, but never actually bothered collecting my diploma.
But I didn’t really need to.
By the time I had finished Sciences-Po in spring of 2004, Essential Care was 9 months old with growing online sales on a website that I’d built. With Margaret and my Dad Colin (who I’d teased out of retirement to become our finance director) we had formed Essential Care as a partnership in the summer of 2003. And with the moral and financial support from my partner, Matthias, at the end of my degree I decided not to go back into regular employment, setting out on the journey of an entrepreneur.
It was a rocky road, but one of the key findings from my research in Paris stood us in good stead for the next few years. That is the subject of the next blog.