Founder and Managing Director of Australian cosmetics chain MECCA, Jo Horgan, won the Ernst & Young entrepreneur of the year award on Wednesday night, the first woman to do so in the 17-year history of the program.
The judges, made up of 11 Australian business leaders, cited Horgan’s business savvy and entrepreneurial spirit as key factors in their decision to give her the award.
“She was identified as having established not only a world class business, but also demonstrated that being entrepreneurial is not only for startups,” said Ernst & Young Oceania Growth Markets Leader, Rob Dalton.
As the EY Australian Entrepreneur of the Year, Horgan will go on to compete for the title of World Entrepreneur of the Year in Monaco in June 2019.
Horgan mentioned a number of reasons why a female entrepreneur has only received the award now.
“Statistically, there are less female entrepreneurs who survive and thrive in their own businesses, and there are many reasons for that,” she said. “There seems to be a bias when it comes to funding from classical sources in the market, and there’s less entrenched networks.”
Horgan also said her interest to participate in the awards this year stemmed from a desire to encourage other female entrepreneurs.
“The reason I participated this year was that it was said to me that there needs to be more women who participate, there needs to be that example for other women to spark the idea to also participate and to also encourage future entrepreneurs,” she said. “That was a really motivating force for me.”
The idea for MECCA was born over 20 years ago from Horgan’s dissatisfaction with the department store monopoly on luxury beauty brands, with their kiosks and representatives who would spruik only their brand.
Horgan, a former L’Oréal executive, saw an opportunity to provide a standalone multi-brand cosmetics store where beauty buffs could get what she calls “brand-agnostic advice” and access a range of niche brands that couldn’t be found elsewhere in Australia, including NARS, Too Faced and Urban Decay.
Horgan has come a long way since she launched her first MECCA Cosmetica store on Melbourne’s upmarket Toorak Road in 1997.
While her first day’s takings in 1997 amounted to $1,873, Horgan has since expanded her brand over the course of two decades to run over 83 retail stores nationwide, including the original MECCA Cosmetica concept (a more high-end store with a mix of internationally-renowned beauty brands), MECCA Maxima (aimed at younger “beauty junkies”), department store concessions and the MECCA online store.
Despite facing stiff international competition from the likes of Sephora, which arrived on Australian shores in 2014, and the rise of online shopping, MECCA has nonetheless held its ground as a traditional bricks-and-mortar store, bringing in hundreds of millions of dollars in profits a year. The brand currently holds a 25 per cent share of the Australian luxury cosmetics market.
Although the beauty industry has received its fair share of criticism and praise, Horgan said that her brand was created to help women and men to look and feel good.
“I think you should wear as much or as little makeup as you want,” she said. “The whole point of MECCA is to empower women and to inform and educate them, so when they come in, they’re in charge, they choose what they want, and make decisions for themselves. That was the goal 21 years ago, and that has not changed.”
Jo Horgan’s Six Tips For Entrepreneurs
1. Get informed
“Once you have formed your idea, go and ask anyone and everyone for information, so you can road-test it before you make the big step,” she said. “And it’s great practice – elbows out, cold-calling, meeting people, hustling.”
2. Make sure your idea is robust and has a competitive advantage
3. Create a business plan
4. Build strong relationships
“Surround yourself with really good people from the outset, be that an accountant or manufacturers,” she said. “Attract people who will build you up, not people who will diminish you.”
5. Go with your gut
6. Just do it
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