Carole White is the founder and managing director of Premier Model Management, set up in 1981. The company now has a turnover of £5m, and represents 200 models worldwide, including Naomi Campbell and Claudia Schiffer.

Education and background

My parents were living in Africa and so I was sent to boarding school at the age of five. When I was at school I quite liked the idea of becoming a ballet dancer, but it didn't work out because I became too tall. When I left school I decided I wanted to be a model, and so I did a Lucy Clayton course: how to get in and out of a car; how to balance a book on your head. In the end I wasn't self-confident enough to be a model. I wasn't good in front of the camera and it wasn't for me.

I had done a secretarial course because when my parents moved back to England, my dad said, "If you want to be a model, you must have something to fall back on." With my secretarial skills I became a temp. I worked at Apple for a while, and then at Alfred Marks in their exhibition department, which was placing girls for the Motor Show and the Ideal Home Show. I found my forte. I stayed there for about a year and when I saw an ad in the paper for a booker for Lucy Clayton, I applied and to my surprise I got it. That was it. That is what I was really good at. I moved on to an agency called Bobtons where I became the head booker. I loved it.

The Big Idea

It was almost forced on me. Bobtons had a very bad time during the recession in the Eighties and folded. It was just before Christmas and I was telling my brother how I didn't have a job, he just said, "Well, let's start an agency." So we started an agency in his sitting-room. I started with about 30 girls, which is a great boost - you would normally start with about two and build up. Really I already had an agency from the beginning. We moved to offices in Goodge Street, we employed more staff and then moved to offices in Bond Street. By then we were making little stars.

Elite approached us and asked whether we would be interested in going into partnership with them, but the deal wasn't good enough. We then had a request from George Michael to put together the "Freedom" video, with Linda and Naomi among others. The girls weren't with Premier but because the arrangements could only be made through us, Elite allowed us to book them. The video was a huge success, and Elite approached us again. This time we got the deal we wanted and joined forces to become Elite Premier.

Overnight we had all the supermodels from New York. It was a very successful agency. However, in 1998 we decided that Elite were not really going in the direction that we had wanted. We wanted to be more hands-on management with the models. There is such an awareness of models and people don't want to just see their pretty faces - they want to know about their souls. We latched on to that and this is the route we are taking. It is the models who have got the charisma and are articulate that are the ones who are going to do well. That is how I see our future.

Worst moment

The splitting from Elite wasn't pleasant, it was like a divorce and it was worrying because we had a lot of girls in common. In the end, if you start talking to people in the right way you can achieve what you want. I always knew we could make it on our own, but change is scary. When you sever ties with a company that is known worldwide it was difficult.

I wish I'd known

On a very personal level I wish I'd known how to deal with the death of my parents three years ago. That was the most traumatic time of my life, my parents died within two years of each other. I think no one ever gives you the slightest indication of what will happen. It affected my work and it took up a lot of time.

Greatest achievement

Getting a five-year contract for Naomi Campbell for her own-brand fragrance. We developed it ourselves as an agency, put the concept to the fragrance company and negotiated royalties on the sale. I think that is our greatest achievement.

The secret of my success

I am quite a tough lady but I am very patient, and I can analyse things and make them happen in a very quiet way. I can inspire my team to take a girl to the top of the tree. I am good at conducting people to achieve what I can see.

My top tip

I would say to anyone going into business that the first thing they have to do is have a fantastic lawyer and a fantastic accountant.