Women who reached the top

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 25 October, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 25 October, 2007, 12:00am

This week Women in Business by David Evans

This book is about five women who became exceptionally rich through business.

You might wonder what's so special about that. The answer is that business, even today, is dominated by men. It's still hard for women to make it to the top, or start a business.

The women in this book have done just that, and are an inspiration to other women. Some achieved that success in the early 20th century when things were even more difficult for women.

We will look at Coco Chanel's life. You can work out the key aspects of her business career and see how they apply to the other women featured in the book.

Humble beginnings

All the women have one thing in common - their humble beginnings. Chanel came from an ordinary family in France. She was not born into a business, nor did she get a lot of money from her family to start one.

She was good at getting to know people and making friends. This was one of Chanel's most important characteristics because those people helped her when she launched her business.

The big idea

A businesswoman needs a big idea, something that gives her a head start over her competitors. It was 1910 and Chanel decided to make clothes that were different from those worn by women at the time.

They preferred long dresses and hats covered in flowers and fruit. Chanel designed simple, stylish hats. Her dresses were shorter and reached just below the knee. This was rather daring and shocking in the early 1900s.

The business grows

Chanel borrowed money from her boyfriend to open her first shop. All businesswomen have to take a risk at some time - and borrowing money is a risk. If your business fails, you may have difficulty repaying your debts.

After the success of her first shop in Paris, Chanel opened another outlet in the French seaside resort of Deauville.

She recognised that there were plenty of rich people on holiday in Deauville, and they would want stylish clothes.


Then the first world war broke out. A lot of women had to work as the men had gone off to fight. They liked Chanel's simple, elegant clothes. Chanel succeeded because she adapted to the changing circumstances.

This approach also worked in Biarritz, in the south of France. The people there were not so much affected by the war.

They still had plenty of money and wanted extravagant clothes. While the rest of the country was engaged in fighting, they still wanted to look good to cheer themselves up.

Once again, Chanel adapted and gave them the sort of clothes they wanted.

Seeing an opportunity

Success in business is often about seeing an opportunity and seizing it. Chanel realised that women did not just want beautiful clothes. They needed jewellery and perfume to go with the clothes.

A lot of the perfume at that time smelled of flowers.

Chanel went into business with a man who owned the biggest perfume factory in France. She created the perfume that bears her name: Chanel No. 5. It went on to become the best-selling perfume of the century.

Business drops

Chanel had to stop production during the second world war when the Germans again invaded France. She went to Switzerland, where she had enough money to lead a luxury lifestyle.

By 1953 she was once again designing clothes. At first they were not well-received. Fashions and tastes had changed.

However, she did not give up and her clothes became popular once more. She was still designing clothes until her death at 87.

That is the final lesson of this story, and you will see it in the other women in the book. They never gave up, and they never stopped expanding their businesses.

You will need the same qualities if you are to be successful, too.




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