Progress in the modern world does not necessarily entail a lengthy traineeship in a large organisation followed by years of steady promotion. Just look at Eileen Mulligan. She saw a business opportunity and pursued it. As a result, at 31, she is a director of a company that has grown by 80 per cent a year since it was founded in 1992.
A former nurse and nanny, she last year won the Gucci Business Age Award and the Cosmopolitan Achievement Award for Entrepreneurship.
A turnover of around pounds 4m is on the cards this year the for London-based CACI International. The initials stand for Computer Aided Cosmetology Instrument, a device that offers a face-lift without surgery. Ms Mulligan's flawless features provide a useful advertisement for its benefits.
The fact that the instrument is available in the UK and beyond is largely down to Eileen Mulligan's intuition and persistence. Her big break came after she had moved on from nannying into beauty salons and then to running a Harley Street skin clinic. "I had a knack of making money for other people," she recalls. A client who had just returned from the United States brought in a press cutting one day about a machine which, it was claimed, had a remarkable toning effect.
Its microcurrent stimulation was being used by physiotherapists to treat sports injuries as well as by beauty therapists to tighten the facial muscles and reduce wrinkles.
Here was a chance, she thought, to make some money for herself. "It was intuition, I suppose. Somehow I knew this had to be good," Ms Mulligan says. "The newspaper clipping mentioned a town in America but not the state. I made about 20 calls to international directory inquiries to get the number."
"Then, because I'd forgotten about the time difference, I phoned too early in the day. The therapist featured in the piece nearly bit my head off," she recalls.
Unperturbed, Ms Mulligan rang again at a more civilised hour and discovered that the machine was made by Modmode Medical of Daytona, Florida. This time she hit the jackpot first time.
Her call was put straight through to the company president, John Milovich. "It must have been my English accent," she smiles. "He said later that I had asked the right questions."
The key question was: did he have a distributor in the UK? To which the answer was no. She caught a plane to Florida. "When I saw the equipment in use, I thought it was fabulous," she says. "What impressed me was that their research had strong credibility. There were 20 years of independent tests behind it."
So she believed in the product and Mr Milovich seemed to believe in her. All she needed was financial backing. When she returned to London, she talked to Dean Nathanson, a friend with a background in law and commercial property who was looking for a new venture. He had the financial expertise she needed.
They became partners and brought in a third, Paul Myers, who had the advantage of having run a successful distribution business. They pooled their resources and came up with a total of pounds 23,000, without recourse to a bank loan. It was 1992, the economy was deep in recession and they were out to sell a product that required customers with disposable income, treatments start from pounds 40. "If we'd taken any advice, we'd never have done it," says Mr Nathanson. For the first six months they wondered why they had.
After making their first order and opening an office, they had little left to spend on advertising. They concentrated instead on trying to entice editorial coverage - a lengthy process, despite the endorsements freely given by the better known clients of Ms Mulligan's talents as a beauty therapist. The breakthrough came via a newspaper interview with the Princess of Wales's therapist, Chrissie Fitzgerald. Suddenly, there was considerable media interest in CACI.
Ms Mulligan began dashing around the country, giving demonstrations. The company's machines are now installed in some 600 salons in this country and many more worldwide. So pleased were Modmode Medical with their success in the UK that Mr Milovich granted CACI the right to set up distributors anywhere outside the United States.
It is now selling in Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, Italy and Greece. Singapore is launching this month. France and Germany are key targets for the future.
"We have to be very selective about who represents us abroad," says Mr Nathanson. "Having the right image is so important. But now the overseas market is beginning to snowball, there's so much potential."
The company, which has 22 employees in the UK, recently set up a training school in Coventry, only 10 miles or so from where Eileen Mulligan was brought up. "We needed a Midlands base and it's such an easy city to get in and out of," she says.
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