Get a head for business, tune into Madonna

SHE started out as a pop ingenue more than 20 years ago and has since transformed herself into a religious mystic, but Madonna’s best known incarnation is as a "Material Girl".

Since arriving in New York with a few dollars in her pocket, Detroit-born Madonna Louise Veronica Ciccone has amassed an estimated 300 million fortune.

And the secret of the 46-year-old’s success, according to a new book by a leading business guru, should be regarded as a blueprint of how to create a successful company.

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Colin Barrow, a visiting professor at the Cranfield School of Management, describes Madonna as "an organisation unto herself" and a model entrepreneur in a new self-help guide, called Business Plans for Dummies.

"Don’t laugh - this ambitious and complex entertainer has so completely mastered the world of show business that she has been called America’s smartest businesswoman," Professor Barrow says in the book.

"Using what can only be described as mediocre talent and competent performance skills, she has managed to move to the top of her industry and stay there by continually reinventing herself."

Her business skills include "planning, personal discipline and constant attention to detail", he said.

When Madonna first bounced into the pop world singing Holiday in 1983, it only reached number six in the UK charts and 16 in the US.

But in 1984 came the album Like a Virgin, and the single of the same name went to number one in the United States.

A part in the film Desperately Seeking Susan and a stormy marriage to actor Sean Penn propelled her into the headlines and it was soon obvious that Madonna was about more than simply music.

Her looks, views on sex and religion and ability to shock struck a chord with many teenage rebels.

The power of shocking imagery is something that Madonna has long understood. And her consistent themes - sex and religion - have provided ample scope to cause outrage.

The Blonde Ambition tour in 1990 was the biggest events in the pop world that year. The video for the hit song Like a Prayer included a kissing scene with a cross-burning black Jesus which angered the Catholic Church.

In 1992, she produced a coffee table book - called Sex - featuring hundreds of soft-core porn pictures. But just as some critics began to write her off as a dominatrix on a power trip, she released an album of ballads as she took the title role in the film Evita.

Her relationship and subsequent marriage to the British film producer Guy Ritchie saw Madonna project more "wholesome" images, such as a cow-girl, a mother, and a devotee of yoga and more recently Kabbalah, a branch of Jewish mysticism, which inspired her to adopt the name Esther.

But throughout it all, she remained the same no- nonsense business woman.

Bert Padell, her manager for 15 years described how she paid attention to the minutest detail. "We had to fax her every cheque we wrote on a daily basis and she would call us to say if it was OK before we could send it out." Mr Padell and Madonna parted company amid acrimony in 1996 and she sued his firm for more than 1.5 million in a row over her tax bill.

While most of her fortune comes from her music, she has also shrewdly cashed in on the sale of tour merchandise, videos and books as well as having a carefully-managed business portfolio.

She tends to invest in safe companies, property and art - the latter her one "sin", although she has missed out on several works because she has refused to pay over the odds.

Jimmy Albright, her former bodyguard and lover, once said: "I used to tell her that she was so tight she squeaked. She thinks that because people know she has a lot of money they will try and take advantage of her. But she is on top of everything."

Sir Tom Farmer, the founder of Kwik-Fit, is another entrepreneur admired by Professor Barrow. According to Professor Barrow, dressing his mechanics in uniforms was a key part of the firm’s success as it provided a trustworthy image.

Sir Tom told The Scotsman: "I’m not qualified to speak about the quality of Madonna’s music, but there’s no doubt that she’s been a terrific marketing success.

"The use of tremendous publicity has created an image in people’s minds and that’s appealed to a large part of the market. The hardest thing is to maintain the delivery, maintain what the image is portraying."

Whatever the experts think, Madonna knew the secret of her phenomenal popularity all along but just kept quiet.

She once reportedly admitted: "Part of the reason I’m successful is because I’m a good businesswoman, but I don’t think it necessary for people to know that."


• LEGO became one of the top ten biggest toy companies in the world after a Danish carpenter called Kirk Christiansen hit on the idea of interlocking bricks in 1932.

The name comes from "leg godt" or "play well" and the simplicity and versatility had international appeal.

There are now 52 pieces of Lego for every person on the planet.

The Christiansen family still owns the firm, which has net sales of between 780 million and 1 billion.

The initial bricks have been adapted to allow cars and other vehicles to be built and there are now even Lego robots.

But this updating is complemented by the customers’ ability to continually re-invent the toy by building new things.

• MANCHESTER United, founded in 1878 as "Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway Newton Heath", has become one of the biggest football clubs in the world. Arguably only Juventus and Real Madrid are so well known internationally.

The company is now worth 623 million and while many English football clubs have begun to feel the pinch financially, it has still been able to secure the services of stars such as Wayne Rooney, signed for 20 million from Everton.

Professor Colin Barrow argues that its success has been down to an organisational culture based on winning in everything it does. This culture is now so widespread within the club and its businesses that winning is "simply expected" now. Early footballing success in the 1960s established the club on the world stage and this continued partly because of an early realisation of the importance of effective merchandising.

• ENTREPRENEUR Stelios Haji-Ioannou hit on a simple idea that produced a fortune.

It was that air passengers had no loyalty to airlines and would fly with whoever took them from A to B for the cheapest price, Prof Barrow said. And so in November 1995, EasyJet was born and budget airlines revolutionised international travel. It has developed into a company worth nearly 600 million .