For many entrepreneurs, starting a business is the culmination of a lifelong dream. But for Chantelle Ludski, it turned out to be “completely opportunistic.”
“There was no major strategic thinking,” says Ludski, the founder and CEO of Fresh! Gourmet Organics, a London-based manufacturer and supplier of organic foods. “It was something as trivial as the need for good coffee on campus.”
In 1999, Ludski was a student at London Business School. Originally from South Africa, she had practiced law in the United Kingdom for years before deciding to pursue an MBA degree. “I was doing a lot of commercial work as a lawyer,” she explains. “I realized I wanted to be part of the deals, not advising on them. And I thought an MBA was a really good way of picking up a lot of information quite quickly.”
The London Business School was a great place to pursue an MBA—at the time, however, it was not a place where one could feed a taste for high-quality coffee. Ludski believed that ready access to good coffee would enhance her educational experience. Between her first and second year of business school, she used her own money to start a coffee shop. Based on its success, she was able to attract outside funding and opened several more outposts in relatively short order.
By 2001, Fresh! was supplying coffee and sandwiches to two organic markets in London. “About 18 months after opening the first shop,” says Ludski, “we realized that manufacturing was a much bigger and better opportunity.”
Today, Fresh! is exclusively a manufacturer and supplier. In its early days, the company focused on providing London’s organic grocery retailers with sandwiches, salads and cakes; more recently, they have expanded their distribution to include traditional grocers. Fresh! foods can now be found in select Tesco and Sainsburys stores, providing a welcome alternative to the prawn-and-mayonnaise concoctions that have cluttered British shelves–and arteries–for years.
The company has grown quickly, and Ludski plans to continue on that trajectory over the next 18 months. “So far we’ve been primarily London-based,” she says, “and now we’d like to expand across the UK.”
Having made the transition from successful lawyer to successful entrepreneur, Ludski is a role model for others who are contemplating a similar career change. Her experience shows that the value of an MBA extends beyond the classroom—for example, MBA programs give students access to a large community of like-minded peers.
However, Ludski notes that aspiring entrepreneurs should not be discouraged if they do not have an MBA. “There are a lot of great businesspeople out there who have never been near a university, much less a business school,” she says.
More important than your educational or professional background, according to Ludski, is your dedication to the task at hand. When faced with a challenge, she says, “focus on making it work.”