Motivational speaker and self-made multi-millionaire Lara Morgan flatly denies both women and start-ups in Derry the excuse that the odds are stacked against them when it comes to developing successful businesses.
During a visit to Derry on International Women’s Day, when she was keynote speaker at a North West Regional College (NWRC) Enterprise Week event, Ms. Morgan’s message was clear: forget Brexit, forget borders, even forget glass ceilings, if you want to succeed in business you’re going to have to get over those hurdles.
She has some experience. Ms. Morgan established Pacific Direct Ltd. in 1991, when she was just 23.
Under her stewardship it made and sold shampoo and soap to hotels internationally until she checked out her stake for £20m 17 years later.
“I made a job as opposed to taking a job and that’s what we need to do in Northern Ireland, particularly in places like Derry, where people can be more creative and they can have the freedom to innovate,” she said.
“They don’t need to see the world as a small place.”
But what about the unique challenges present in peripheral economies like Derry? Substandard road and rail infrastructure? Patchy communications?
“You may not like the answer that I don’t think there are any unique challenges anywhere in the world and, frankly, today you could start a business in a war zone...as long as you have the internet and technology and a desire to learn and grow.
“I just think any organisation that thinks it can use the excuse of where it is is very small minded and, frankly, if people keep talking about the challenges, I think they are wrong for enterprise, because they wouldn’t see that as a challenge, that shouldn’t be a restrictor.”
“If your attitude is pack up and go home or be paralysed by, ‘I don’t know what’s going to happen’, is that going to bring you any value? Versus: ‘I can’t control the fact that we’re going to have a break-up in Europe. I can’t control new tax laws. I can’t control import/export regulations, so why don’t I just control the stuff that I can control and be the number one that I can be, the best that I can be, and let somebody else worry about that Brexit stuff, because that’s not making me money, it’s not giving me security’?”
On the day that was in it, Ms. Morgan also issued a rallying call to women who may be contemplating setting up businesses in Derry.
She accepts structural inequality persists within business culture and society in general but she wants women to take the matter into their own hands.
“There are still massive issues with diversity on boards, there are massive issues with unequal pay and, actually, I think partly my ambition is to get more women to step up.
“But, you know, I’m not biased, I think women need to shout out and be more demanding and demand more and, frankly, maybe blag it like the boys a bit, because that served me well.
“Maybe it was having an older brother that helped give me that bravery but, actually, hear my story, I’m not a miracle maker. I’ve worked hard, created luck by going into uncomfortable places and we need to encourage young people of whatever flavour to get out there and have a go.”
Patricia Green, Chairperson of Women in Enterprise said: “We are delighted to be collaborating with North West Regional College and Derry City and Strabane District Council for this event on International Women’s Day – a day that celebrates the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. We are thrilled to have Lara Morgan, a very high profile speaker, to inspire and motivate local women especially.”
Following the session with Ms. Morgan, attendees were also given the opportunity to take part in break out workshops with Social Media Trainer Louise Brogan, Career Coach Dearbhla Kelly and Business Advisor with Bank of Ireland, Roisin O’Reilly.
Ms. Morgan spent her afternoon at the college taking part in workshops with students.