A love of sports liberated entrepreneur Lara Morgan and acted as a source of energy and mental resilience in her businesses and personal life.
Before she ever became a successful entrepreneur, Lara Morgan’s first passion was sport. She played lacrosse for Scotland, swam, skied, ran, “a good all-rounder” she says. Since selling Pacific Direct in 2008, the business she founded, her focus has been on backing companies with an immediate impact for health and well-being.
“I didn’t always win but I really tried my hardest”. This was Lara’s philosophy on the sports pitch, but also informed her business career. She started her first business in 1991, aged just 23. It took her nine months to get her first order and she had to battle through rejection after rejection: “I had to take it on the chin and then go and do it again.”
Her background – expat parents, a boarding school in Scotland – had equipped her well. Eventually, she started to reap the benefits of her hard work. Turnover at Pacific Direct rocketed – from £108,000 in the first year, to £360,000 in the second to £880,000 in the third. Strong cashflow meant they didn’t need external financing. Lara kept full ownership throughout.
Sport helped give her the energy to run a successful company: “When I worked for Pacific Direct, I didn’t take a single sick day in 17 years. It took sweat! I always believed that running, or sport in general, would fill my emotional bank account. It was a time for clearing my mind. I felt that if I looked after my health, everything would come after that.”
She eventually sold for £20 million. While this was ostensibly a fine reward for her years of hard work, it also sent her into a darker place. For years, she had poured her heart and soul into the business and now she wasn’t involved any more. Sport once again came to the rescue, cementing her view of its importance as a source of mental resilience.
“I decided to give myself a year to pick up a sporting challenge. I’d always had a sense that if I’d had time to focus on it, I might have been half-decent at multi-sports.” She committed to doing a triathlon, challenging fellow entrepreneur Martyn Dawes, founder of Coffee Nation. She was proved right: without too much trouble, she came third in her age group and ignited a new passion. She trained for 18+ hours a week and it gave her a new outlet while she considered what she would do next. “I got a coach, who told me that if I did three decent races, I could qualify for the Great Britain team for my age group. I did the three qualifiers and earned a place in the 2011 World Triathlon Championships in Beijing.” She finished 10th.
From there, it was clear that her path lay in health and well-being. She has found plenty of projects that make her tick. For example, she is currently a major shareholder in Yogi Bare, whose founder Kat Pither has developed a range of eco-sensitive yoga products. This plays to another passion of Lara’s – sustainability. Across all her current projects she is trying to ensure that sustainability is built into products from the start.
She also works with The C List. Founder Helen Addis creates curated care packages for women going through cancer treatment, including makeup, skincare, hair and gifts. “I don’t invest in anything that doesn’t have an immediate impact,” she says. “Many people who are having radiotherapy and chemotherapy don’t use anything and their doctors don’t recommend anything.”
For most companies she acts as chairman, or an involved investor, but with Scentered, she is now general manager. The group sells a range of natural essential oil-based aromatherapy balms, candles, hair care and body care products. These are designed to help people “be happy, sleep well, destress,” she says. “We encourage people to stop, inhale and reset.”
Again, the products have been created with sustainability in mind, refillable and recyclable. The roll-out is ambitious. The products are now in CVS pharmacies across the US, but also available on Amazon and are being rolled into specific offers. She believes the possibilities are significant, giving people the confidence to ask for a raise, or helping children function properly in school or simply helping tackle the looming mental health crisis in the UK.
Sport is still a significant part of her life. She is involved with Ride 25, a project that started in June 2012 with a group of friends deciding that it would be fun to see the world on a bike and raise money for charity on the way. The group raises money for 1moreChild, a small charity that helps children off the streets in Uganda and enables them to go to school. It’s helped 280 children so far. For Lara, one epic cycle ride saw her pedal 400 miles with 100 other people in Turkey. A previous year she did 40,000 foot of climb in four days in 40 degree heat: “It gave me enormous joy and was a fantastic physical challenge.”
She believes sports people tend to make good leaders: “I wouldn’t employ a sales person that didn’t do some kind of competitive sport. It implies good discipline, being able to communicate and be organised. These are important qualities that cross over.”
What does she still have to achieve? “I have a full life – I travel and cycle. I’d like to swim in cool places. You’ve only got one engine, the one we’re born with. I find it sad that our government and education don’t do more to promote wellbeing. It is critical to look after that engine. It makes so much more possible.”