Speaker Spotlight: Jo Fairley
Nothing says work ethic quite like the life story of Jo Fairley, a journalist and luxury chocolate tycoon. A self-confessed “naughty child” at school, Jo knew she was destined for bigger things from a young age. This came to be when Jo was just 23 years old, and she became the youngest magazine editor in the UK.
“Businesses are born by putting one foot in front of the other. You just roll up your sleeves and do it.”
Having built up a skillset of secretarial duties, Jo took on a full-time role at one of her favourite magazines, Woman’s World. She confesses that she did not think she could write – a viewpoint underpinned by scathing remarks from her schoolteachers. After being tasked with one simple paragraph, it was not long before she would go on to interview stars such as Charlton Heston and Bette Davis.
Building an empire
Today, Jo is known for being a business magnate. Heading up a bakery, health centre and perfume subscription business, Jo has developed her skills across multiple industries. But perhaps her biggest success story is Green and Black’s.
“In the 90s, eco-friendly products were simply not in fashion. People thought it was all lentils,” says Jo. She would soon prove them wrong with the launch of Green and Black’s: the UK’s first luxury, all-organic chocolate brand.
Jo launched the business in 1991 with her then boyfriend and now husband Craig Sams. Jo recalls sampling a small piece of the chocolate and being blown away by the taste. While Craig had neither the experience nor the funds to launch a product, Jo took a gamble.
In the midst of a recession, Jo spent her life savings acquiring two tonnes of chocolate. Today, the brand has amassed a $100 million-per-year fortune, having been bought out by Cadbury’s in 2005.
Sticking to her values
Launching a business in a recession is no mean feat. Launching a product that challenged the perceptions of modern society is even more admirable. Jo has been described as “making doing good cool”, and is proud to front the first organic, luxury Fairtrade chocolate brand.
While the company is now owned by Cadbury’s, Jo’s keen to stress it has stuck to its roots. Cadbury’s now has its own projects focusing on fairer chocolate trade in West Africa. She says: “I think big business is trying to learn from small business about how to do things. I’m proud to have transferred the brand to a big company, because a big company can make a big difference.”
Today, Jo spends her time imparting her business knowledge to other entrepreneurs. She is modest at heart, joking that she landed her editor role by accident. In truth, she is a shrewd businesswoman who never passes up an opportunity.
“I am my own customer. If I have a problem that I’ve not seen anybody trying to solve, I see a gap in the market.” She has applied this thinking to several businesses, including her perfume subscription service.
At 65 years of age, Jo has no intentions of slowing down. She describes herself as “generative” and always curious to know what’s going to happen next. This may mean she’s incapable of sitting down, but she’s always keen to help.
Jo shared her thoughts on Spring Fair, discussing brand and customer values, and surviving through adversity.