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As the creator of the bust-boosting Ultimo bra, Michelle is a highly successful entrepreneur and marketeer.
Michelle grew up in the East End of Glasgow. At the age of 10 she decided she wanted to become an entrepreneur, so she recruited 12 teenagers to deliver hot rolls in the morning along with the newspapers. Michelle left school at the age of 15 with no qualifications, as she needed to support her mum and dad. Her father had been struck down with an illness that confined him to a wheelchair and sadly her small brother had passed away.
At just 15 years of age, Michelle was too young to find full-time employment so at 5ft10” tall she got a job as a fashion model. At the age of 20 Michelle got married and gave birth to her first child Rebecca. She then decided that she wanted to gain some business experience, so took a job with Labatt’s Beer Company as an office junior. By the age of 22, Michelle was running Labatt’s Scottish Sales & Marketing team. However, 2 years on, just after Michelle had her second baby Declan, she was made redundant, due to the closure of the UK operation.
In October 1996, Michelle went to a dinner dance with Michael wearing a very uncomfortable cleavage enhancing bra. This was when Michelle decided that she could invent a bra that was more comfortable, better looking, and would create more cleavage. She then had to convince her husband Michael that this was a viable business idea and worth investing her Labatt’s redundancy money in. MJM International Ltd was set up in November 1996.
Michelle took nearly three years to invent the Ultimo Bra, testing many different samples. Eventually she invented the unique silicone gel filled bra, which offers greater cleavage enhancement, without the discomfort normally associated with cleavage enhancing products. The Ultimo bra is now patented worldwide
In August 1999 Michelle had her third child, Bethany, two weeks before the launch of Ultimo in Selfridges, London. This is still known as the biggest bra launch ever in the UK. There were over 50 photographers & camera crews from the UK, Europe and even CNN for the US – Selfridges sold our 6 weeks stock of Ultimo within 24 hours!
May 2000 saw Ultimo launching in the exclusive Saks Fifth Avenue store in New York. Saks had an incredible 6 week waiting list for the Ultimo bra.
The press coverage received by both Michelle and Ultimo was incredible. She now has a huge cupboard in her office packed with newspapers, magazine articles and videos of TV appearances. Michelle’s dream when she started MJM International Ltd was to appear, with Ultimo, in her local evening paper, The Glasgow Evening Times, but her expectations were blown out of all proportion when she appeared in Americas top weekly magazine, PEOPLE that sell over 50 million copies! Michelle was further delighted to discover that actress Julia Roberts wore Ultimo in the film Erin Brockovich.
Areas of Expertise
From 1997 onwards Michelle and Ultimo began to win a host of awards, including:
Business Start Up of the Year 1997
In April 2000, at a ceremony in the Epcot Centre, Florida, Michelle won the coveted “World Young Business Achiever Award” beating off top entrepreneurs from 14 countries.
October 2000 – Winner of “Business Woman of the Year” at the Corporate Elite Awards
25 November 2000 – Michelle won the Sunday Mail “Great Scot of the Year Business Award”
16th May 2001- Michelle won the “Best Newcomer” at the British Apparel Export Award presented by HRH the Princess Royal.
The Ultimo bra & swimwear range has now won over 21 competitions and has beaten Wonderbra every time!
To accommodate the increase in business generated by the Ultimo range, the company invested in a newly built, state of the art, head office which includes a showroom, office, design studio, and distribution facilities - 10 times the size of their previous premises. The Ultimo Range is currently available worldwide including Japan, US, Sweden, Norway, France, Malta, Iceland and Singapore.
Michelle appeared in a BBC documentary, filmed over a two year period, covering all aspects of her business and home life. The programme has been aired not only in the UK, but also Worldwide. Michelle has also appeared extensively on TV, presenting on business & fashion issues. Ultimo is worn by famous celebrities, TV personalities & pop stars all over the world!
In 2001 Prince Charles asked Michelle to join his Board of Directors for the Princes Trust Scotland. Michelle gives up approximately two days a month talking to schools, start-ups etc to encourage potential entrepreneurs and especially woman to succeed in business, even when you have a family to bring up.
In September 2002 Michelle was awarded an Honorary Doctor by Paisley University.
On 10th September 2002, Penny Lancaster, Rod Stewart’s girlfriend, launched Ultimo at Debenhams.
In September 2002, Michelle launched her 2nd invention - the Ultimo backless body - which was Debenhams best selling lingerie garment of 2002.
In May 2003, Management Today voted Michelle as one of the top 30 woman entrepreneurs in the UK. Michelle was listed alongside the likes of Martha Lane Fox and Stella McCartney.
In September 2003 Michelle launched her 3rd invention - the Ultimo Miracle body - which is now patented world wide. Michelle said that she was given a challenge from her celebrity customers to create a backless and frontless bra. Her technical team said it was impossible…12 months later it was achieved which is why she called the product the Miracle Body as, in her words, “it was a miracle to create!”
In February 2004, Michelle signed Super-Model Rachel Hunter to take over from Penny Lancaster as the new International face & body of Ultimo.
In April 2004, Michelle signed a huge deal with ASDA stores to launch a collection exclusively for George which is called ‘Michelle for George’.
In May 2004, Michelle secured the licence to 45 Countries for some of the biggest lingerie brands in the world from New York based Warnaco, a $1 billion company. The brands are Warner’s, Young Attitude and Nancy Ganz. This now means Michelle’s company is now a major player in the Intimate Apparel Industry.
MJM International Ltd has grown from one brand in January 2004 to seven brands – Ultimo Lingerie, Ultimo Swimwear, Michelle for George, Warners, Young Attitude, Nancy Ganz, and Staykups (from July 2004).!
Michelle has achieved a remarkable level of success to date, juggling the demands of her business, together with bringing up 3 young children, but as mentioned at the beginning of this remarkable biography, she doesn’t think she has made it yet!
" Delegate response sheets have been incredibly positive, but we were confident that they would be."
Conference Manager, Scottish Enterprise
"A great speech and considerable interest from businesses and media alike."
Chief Executive, The Prince's Youth Business Trust
"Thank you again for your terrific presentation to our members today"
Chairman, Institute of Directors