In this series, we will be reviewing books across a wide range of genres, all related in some form to championing women.
I have to be honest, ‘My Fight to the Top’ is a book I did not find as inspiring and likeable as I had expected. I think this was partly due to the underlying tone of hatred and resentment throughout the book between Michelle and her husband, whom she claims she was trapped in a “loveless marriage” with. I respect the honesty and appreciate that this was a big factor in her life and to leave it out would have been dishonest. Equally, as a businesswoman myself, I would have loved to hear more about the business side of her life than the turbulent relationship.
There were chapters in which I felt that I was rooting for Michelle, but by reading the anecdotes in some other chapters I grew to dislike her too for some of her actions. She mentions, for instance, Bill Clinton being her “dream man” and telling him she wished she was Monica Lewinsky – a remark that didn’t ring as appropriate, or at least not for someone I am supposed to look up to.
I also resented the sly comments she used during interviews to create an unnecessary media war between two former models for Ultimo: Rachel and Penny (both were also married at one point to Rod Stewart.) The idea of pitting women against each other goes against my values as a feminist.
The open wife/husband arguing in front of staff and team is also something I strongly disagree with. It is something that my husband and I (who are are business partners) make a conscious effort to avoid in our office, as private arguments obviously create a very unpleasant working environment for people. These instances just didn’t sit well with me.
Despite all this, there is no disputing the fact that Michelle is a role model for women in a business sense. With women only accounting for 17% of business owners, we need more people like Michelle to ‘rock the boat’ and change these statistics. Her ability to think creatively and always look for new opportunities to channel her entrepreneurial spirit is inspiring. She is the definition of a successful hard worker, but equally, is the definition of how to get the work/life balance wrong and jeopardise one’s health in the process.
“Above all I want my story to be inspirational. I want to show you that you can be a success, no matter where you came from.”
If you are looking for a business book with advice or more practical information which you can apply to your own career, then this is not a book I would recommend. If you are looking for a good ‘rags to riches’ story, filled with salacious stories mixed with aspirational advice, then I would highly recommend this book.
Time it took me to read it: 4 hours, 50 minutes
Why I picked up the book in the first place: My sister’s boyfriend – who knows my tastes very well – gave it to me as a Christmas gift this year.
Don’t judge a book by its cover: This is not just a book about business in the fashion world, instead, this is a book that lays bare the variety of life’s challenges that can befall you on your climb to the top. From divorce, to broken friendships, to near-bankruptcy, to dealing with the media, to binge-eating, to bullying, to heavy drinking, to family illness, to messy politics, to heartbreak. I finished the book feeling slightly exhausted from hearing such a story with constant drama from both business and personal points of view. Hats off to Michelle for coming out the other side in one piece!
Rating out of 5: 1
Where to get it cheapest: (hardcopy, not including delivery): £3.44 from Amazon.
The woman behind the book
Michelle’s story is a unique one. Growing up in an impoverished area in Glasgow, by the time she became a teenager, she was already a mother and had left school with no qualifications. It takes a special kind of person to turn such circumstances on their head, but that’s exactly what Michelle managed to do. In 1996, she founded her underwear company ‘Ultimo’, which went onto to grow into a £50 million empire, and also garnered her an O.B.E from the Queen. She attributes her success to where she grew up, as her drive came from wanting more from life. She was the kind of girl who aimed high and questioned the protocol from the beginning, but – as is so often the case in these ‘rags to riches’ stories – she came from a place where people usually told her what she couldn’t do. When her career guidance teacher at school asked her what she wanted to be, she responded she wanted to become an “entrepreneur”, to which the teacher told Michelle that she was not academic enough, adding that “the supermarket down the road” would be more suited to her.
Business is not the only thing she has turned her eye to though. She was invited by the former Prime Minister David Cameron’s special advisor to join the ‘Better Together Campaign’ before Scotland’s referendum. Michelle is certainly a straight talker and her brutal words to Cameron at the time are a good example of this. “I was listening to them all thinking: You arse-lickers. Tell him how it really is.” And she did.
Since the autobiography was published in 2016, she has taken a step back from the day-to-day operations of Ultimo, focusing on ways in which she can help other people. Her career has instead switched into becoming a successful international speaker and a serial entrepreneur with UTAN, ‘Ultimo Beauty’, and more. She is now considered to be one of the most respected businesswomen in the world and is a highly sought-after speaker for business and women’s issues.
“If you’re a man in business and you’re tough and direct, then you’re a hero. If you’re a woman and you’re tough and direct, then you’re a bitch.”
Written by Rebecca Gache-Ford, Founder of Fanny Pack
Have you read this book? We would love to hear your thoughts on it in the comments section below!
Please take note of Fanny Pack’s Comments Policy before commenting on this article.