Page last updated at 12:53 GMT, Wednesday, 24 March 2010

JoJo Maman Bebe boss wins top businesswoman award

Laura Tenison
The mother of two set up her business with a single sewing machine

The owner of a nursery retail firm who urges her staff not to be "jobsworths" has won a top business award.

Laura Tenison, founder of Newport-based JoJo Maman Bebe, has been named Veuve Clicquot Business Woman of The Year.

She came up with the idea in hospital after a car accident, when a fellow patient complained about the range of mail order children's clothes around.

From its mail order origins in 1993 the firm now has a website and 27 shops and a turnover of £19.5m in 2009.

Winning the award was "a real privilege and an honour", Ms Tenison said.

Jojo Maman Bebe specialises in selling quality, ethically-produced clothing that is practical for mums-to-be and young children which has a nautical Breton twist.

But as well as honouring inspiring women, this year the judging panel for the awards - which included dotcom pioneer Martha Lane Fox - also looked to social and ethical initiatives taken on by the shortlisted businesses.

Role model

"Laura has set a benchmark for other UK businesses and demonstrated that it is indeed possible to successfully lead a company to commercial success, as well as embrace wider ethical and environmental initiatives," said Veuve Clicquot marketing director Sally Warmington.

As well as the company's links to African charity Nema - which aims to reduce infant mortality in Mozambique - the company prides itself on the treatment and involvement of its staff and third party workers.

Thanks to flexible working practices, a company education programme and profit-sharing scheme JoJo Maman Bebe has high levels of staff retention, with the majority of the founding members still part of the 280-strong team.

Ms Tenison prides herself in being a role model for her staff and others, and in wanting people to enjoy their job.

"You spend a lot of time in work so it's important staff aim to achieve something and come away at the end of the day with a sense of satisfaction rather than having a jobsworth attitude," the 43-year-old said.

"What matters to us is to run the company on a moral and ethical basis which means we reinvest, we look after our staff and we really offer good value for money," Ms Tenison added.

Money worries

Ms Tenison has also taken a slow and cautious approach to the business, refusing many venture capital and private investment offers.

But while she has found it tough in the recent downturn, she refused to put her expansion plans on hold - even pumping her own money into the business.

When the recession hit in 2008, the company's bank withdrew its funding putting Ms Tenison's three-year expansion plans at risk and with it plans to open new stores.

But despite worries about the economy and funding the firm managed to expand by 10% in 2008 and 12% the following year - with cutbacks such as salary freezes, stationery bans and even buying teapots to save on teabags helping to reduce spending.

The mother-of-two set up her business - described as the UK's foremost niche market specialist in the pregnancy, baby and nursery market - with a single sewing machine, renting a disused carpentry workshop near Pontypool in Torfaen.

The Veuve Clicquot award was first presented in 1972 and recognises the role played by successful businesswomen in Britain.

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