The Women of Monaco Life, A Series: Margaret Hepburn

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Margaret Hepburn, CEO & Owner of Hepburn Bio Care

ML: You’ve been living here for 25 years. How would you say Monaco has changed?
MH: In my opinion, Monaco has definitely changed for the better, and one of the biggest drivers for change has been HSH Prince Albert.

Prince Albert succeeded in bringing Monaco into the modern world, where women’s roles were evolving, where concerns about the environment and sustainability were becoming priorities.

The challenge now, however, is to continue to look after the needs of those families who have lived here for generations, who may not have the same earning potential as the influx of wealthy expats and who are unable to compete, for example, for real estate.

What I appreciate also is that it’s safe here for a woman living alone.

ML: Where’s favourite place for a coffee in Monaco?
MH: Il Calcio on boulevard des Moulins or Hotel Metropole, depending on my mood.

ML: How do you see the role of women changing in society?
MH: Women have changed from the well-defined role as homemaker to trying to become superwomen, and to compete with men. When I arrived in Monaco, the image of the trophy wife following her husband was common. This was pretty much my situation. I was married to an older man, and even though I had my own very successful business in the UK, I settled into a traditional role of mother and wife when we moved to Monaco. Women at that time were not encouraged – nor were there any opportunities – to do anything but look after the home and family. I was content to do that. Today, women’s limits are often self-imposed rather than imposed from society, but not necessarily encouraged either, as male power would be destabilised by women.

I admit that being a woman in business may help to open doors initially, as people are curious and so may give my products a try, but in general, I’m not taken as seriously. Men seem nervous about doing business with a woman because of what their colleagues or other companies would think, that they could be influenced by appearances rather than good business.

I admit I find it more comfortable doing business with European men than American. American men don’t know how to deal with a successful businesswoman, whether she dresses sexily or in a more masculine way. Either way, they are lost.

ML: How did you become this successful businesswoman?
MH: I had exceptionally forward thinking parents, who were very concerned about the environment at a time when it wasn’t trendy to do so. My father was a doctor and would receive fresh, home-grown produce in exchange for his services. Home cooking was always wholesome and organic. We never ate processed foods.

I received my university education in Psychology and English and, encouraged by mother to be financially independent, after graduating I started my first business in London in interior design. I have a love for beautiful things.

ML: But in 2006 you launched Hepburn Bio Care & Hepburn Bio Yacht Care. Eco-friendly industrial products are a long way away from interior decorating.
MH: When my husband passed away in 2002, I was left in a financially precarious situation. Rather than returning to interior design, a business that I knew, I decided to reinvent myself. I had two great passions, children and the environment. Realising that the environment, and in particular wastewater, while not being a particularly sexy topic at the time, was something of a niche market, I drew up a list of criteria for a business that could be viable without me being its focal point, as was the case with interior design.

I hit on the idea of environmentally-friendly cleaning products for use by corporations in the marine industry, like cruise lines. I was shocked that many of the chemical products routinely being sold and used in the cruise industry were toxic to aquatic life, carcinogenic, corrosive, inflammable, and hazardous to transport and handle. It appeared to be standard practice that nobody had questioned over the years.

I realised that to change such practices, I needed to offer an effective alternative solution, and one that would offer savings. Surrounding myself with the right team of chemists and biologists, I set about developing a small range of cleaning products that were completely biodegradable, non toxic, non-corrosive and safe to transport and handle, and above all effective.

My first product was a biodegradable toilet cleaner that not only cleaned the toilet but also kept the pipes and drains free from deposits and so reduced the cost of maintenance and repairs to the system.

ML: What’s your business approach?
MH: Hepburn Bio Care has no shareholders and works B2B. We do not advertise, and promote our products only through trade fairs.

We promise complete integrity. We don’t compromise on the quality of our products – and they do what they say they do. We have a limited range of products, compared to our competitors, who may sell the same product with a range of perfumes, or colours so the client thinks it’s a different product.

ML: So can I go La Vie Claire and buy your products?
MH: No, my clients are corporations in the marine industry, who are having to comply with more stringent environmental standards. For example, a cruise line with 24 ships uses around half a million litres of toxic toilet cleaning products a year. Changing to a biodegradable product reduces chemical use to only 50,000 to 60,000 litres a year while protecting the pipes in the process.

ML: Why don’t all companies switch over to these products then?
MH: Purchasing managers are often motivated to cut costs in return for bonuses. The fact that the chemical cleaning products they buy may be corroding the pipes, or have higher handling and storage cost, is not taken into consideration as any pipe maintenance or repair work and transport comes out of a different budget, so doesn’t affect bonuses. There may also be a comfortable arrangement between all the different parts of the purchasing, transport, storage and repairs chain. My products upset all this.

Sometimes, though, the failure to change to eco-products is due to ignorance. Some corporations buy products that they believe are eco-friendly, but in fact they are not. When I point this out to them, they are shocked.

In this case, I see one of my roles as educating, to show people that it is possible to be sustainable and have a successful business.

ML: What qualities do you look for when hiring people?
MH: Honestly, I’m somewhat worried by today young people’s lack of self-discipline and feeling of entitlement. The lack of spirituality is damaging for society as it is spirituality which helps to provide principles, and act as a moral compass. My own success has been due to commitment and hard work and I look for these qualities when I recruit.

ML: What is the best piece of advice another woman gave you?
MH:  The Duchess of Bedford once told me, “Never explain and never complain”.

ML: What is the best and most difficult part of getting older as a woman?
MH: The best part is being comfortable in my own skin and in control of my life but the challenge is that my brain tells me I’m only 40 but my body does not support my brain …”

Article first published October 30, 2016.

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