James Murphy has this year signed a deal that every entrepreneur dreams about – selling a hair care brand for €150 million that he bought ten years ago for €1.2 million.
However, the remarkable deal to sell Viviscal says more about James Murphy’s drive and ambition than it does about the chances of making a ‘quick buck’ in the beauty business.
Viviscal, one of the brands owned by James’ company Lifes2Good, has its origins in Finland where it was developed by a group of academics.
When James bought it in 2007, he repositioned Viviscal as a female hair nourishment product and it has since been endorsed by celebrities such as Gwyneth Paltrow, Jennifer Aniston, Cate Blanchett, Reese Witherspoon and Miley Cyrus.
Lifes2Good has grown from a small distribution company to a global Nutraceutical enterprise. But this success story did not happen overnight for the Galway Tenors singer and son of a veterinarian surgeon from Athenry, Co Galway.
Love usually has a part to play in many great decisions in life and it was no different for James when he decided to leave Ireland in 1986.
He had been working as an accountant in Limerick when his girlfriend – and colleague – decided to move to Brussels. James followed and landed a job at Coopers & Lybrand, now PricewaterhouseCoopers and was soon working on some big client accounts, including Unilever.
When they needed an English-speaker partner for their Luxembourg office, James was the obvious choice.
“I left after six months and went to Milan to work for an Italian company. But by that stage, I had met my lovely Swedish wife, Maria, who has since made such contribution to our home and business; and I couldn’t have any of this without her,” says James.
In 1991 he returned home to Ireland to take up a position in Donegal with fitness firm BMR-Slendertone, where he began building up the company globally.
“The company was almost in administration when I arrived and we needed to bring in investment. I got stuck into the sales and marketing side of things,” says James.
“From my time working in Brussels, I had fluent French so I used that to work with French distributors as well working on marketing,” says James, who was an EY of the Year finalist in 2003.
James believes that working out of Ireland gives people an edge when they come home. Having a second language, he says, is key to that.
“Everyone should have a second language. I would have preferred to have Spanish but French got me to where I am now.
“You can gain tremendous amounts of experience working with people who don’t think the same way as we do and come at things in a different way. The more you travel, the more you realise how small the world is.”
In 1997, James sold out his shares in BMR-Slendertone and moved back to his native Galway where he set up Lifes2Good.
“I was working on a number of things from magnetic therapy with Christy O’Connor Jnr to weight loss and breast enhancement products and the business started to expand.”
In 2007, he bought Viviscal for €1.2 million. He started making it in Galway, repositioned and re-launched it in Ireland, the UK and the US, introducing it to Australia in 2013.
“It took me a couple of years to build up the brand but I did. The team I put together have been amazing; especially in the way they performed with the multi-billion dollar companies who wanted to buy Viviscal. I was truly humbled to see how competent and respected they were by serious top management.”
Viviscal was sold in January 2017 for €150 million and the number of employees in Lifes2Good went from 100 to 35.
James believes Irish business people should not be afraid of mergers and acquisitions.
“My first merger was for €150,000. I borrowed €75,000 from someone I knew and the other €75,000 from AIB in the UK. Working abroad definitely made me a bit more creative and courageous.”
James is now concentrating on selecting his next investments – both personally and for Lifes2Good – mainly in the beauty and health care sectors.
“I have gone into other areas such as the biomass but, as Warren Buffett said, you should stick to your circle of competence.”
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