Eleven months, 23 days and eight hours. That’s how long Anne McKevitt was completely immobile and bedridden, at the age of 19 in 1986 after a truck hit her car at 70mph and caused severe spinal injuries.
“I can remember every hour of it,” says McKevitt, who also didn’t speak for the first four months due to shock.
While doctors had no idea if she’d ever walk again, McKevitt knew deep down that she would. This strong belief, coupled with taking action and finding the right people to help – in her case Paul and Linda McCartney who paid £40,000 towards her treatment over the next couple of years – resulted in McKevitt taking her first steps on the road to recovery.
“Those things play out in life and business,” she says. “If you want something to happen, find a way to make it happen.”
But while she was able to walk again, the injuries made it difficult for McKevitt to resume her career as a hair and fashion stylist that she started at the age of 15 when she ran away from her council house home in remote Scotland due to domestic violence and landed a job at a top London hair salon, John Frieda.
It was here that she first met the McCartneys, along with a host of other A-list celebrities, artists, prime ministers and royalty whose hair she was working on. She accompanied Frieda on photoshoots for leading fashion magazines, as well as the runways at New York and Paris fashion shows, quickly learning the skills that led to her being named as one of the UK’s top stylists.
“It all felt normal to me,” she recalls. “I remember shampooing [theatre producer] Tim Rice, and he told me he was planning to write a musical about a woman from Argentina called Evita. And then not a year later, the show was put on and became very famous. So I learned through osmosis that if you want to do something, it’s a case of having the concept and the idea and then figuring out the steps you need to take to make it happen.”
A major learning curve in business came about for McKevitt when she was asked to help Frieda build his product range. Aged just 16, she took the shampoos home and tested them, worked on a presentation to Boots (the largest pharmacy chain in the UK), worked on product development, packaging, sales, PR, and marketing. “I had a pretty fast track Masters in Business,” she laughs.
Frieda’s brand went on to become the most successful haircare brand at the time, and, according to McKevitt, sold years later for around $675 million.
Becoming an entrepreneur
After the accident, McKevitt got married, bought a home and renovated it. A friend was so impressed by her interior design that they urged her to put it on the market.
Despite being in a recession, several high-profile personalities offered to buy the property above the asking price, including then British Vogue editor Alexandra Schulman, who was outbid by an American businessman. Schulman told McKevitt she wanted her next property, giving McKevitt, the idea for her first business: property development.
Within the first year the business was turning over £17 million and attracting celebrity clients including Elton John and Annie Lennox.
It was through this first enterprise – which included developing 500 of her own properties and 120 client properties – that McKevitt learned one of the major keys to success in business: Delegation.
“I was 23 years old and I had 40 tradespeople working for me and another 80 or so that would come in and do specific jobs,” she says. “I have no idea how to plumb a toilet or lay a floor, so you have to become extremely good at instructing people as to what you want to have done. You have to become an amazing communicator. Get other people who are experts in their field to do the stuff for you. The minute you’re doing stuff yourself to save money, that’s going to lead to failure.”
Over the next decade McKevitt’s star rose and she became a celebrity. She landed her own show on the BBC, sold millions of copies of her interior design books, and launched her own homewares product range featuring more than 1600 sku’s.
By the late 90s she was about to sign a huge deal with a US TV network that would have propelled her to international stardom.
Then a terrifying incident changed everything.
Moving out of the public eye
On 26 April, 1999, renowned UK TV news presenter Jill Dando was shot dead outside her home.
According to McKevitt, the British press ran front-page stories suggesting she would be the shooter’s next target. “For about two years, I was living looking over my shoulder every single day and it wasn’t a pleasant experience,” she says. “I ended up with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder because of it.”
McKevitt made the drastic decision to move out of the public eye and to the other side of the world: Sydney, Australia, refusing to do any media interviews for 20 years. “It still has a big impact on me all these years later,” McKevitt admits. “It was life changing.”
Shortly after arriving in Sydney, McKevitt started to be contacted by entrepreneurs, celebrities and corporations asking for her help in growing their brands. So began her 20-year career as one of the world’s foremost brand-building advisors.
Her many celebrity clients include Beyonce and Jay Z – she consulted with them in the early stages of their plant-based meal delivery business – and Gwyneth Paltrow. “I started working with Gwyneth when her Goop blog had just six staff on it. And now she’s got 350 staff,” says McKevitt.
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Gwyneth Paltrow is one of McKevitt’s many celebrity clients.
Among the many well-known global entities she’s guided are Mercedes, IKEA, Peugeot, Ernst & Young, WalMart, Deloitte, Bloomingdale’s, Saks, Moet et Chandon, Sainsbury’s, Debenhams, Marks & Spencer, Commonwealth Bank, Toyota, Hewlett-Packard and many more.
Her business and philanthropic work has also seen her consult with several heads of state including President George Bush, President Bill Clinton and the Obama administration.
And if all this wasn’t enough, there’s one more thing: McKevitt has been vegan for 47 years.
The vegan world’s best-kept secret – till now
“When I was three years old, I wanted to become vegan, not knowing what the word ‘vegan’ meant,” says McKevitt. “One of my grandfathers was a fisherman and the other was a farmer, so I grew up with the death of animals and fish all around me.”
One Sunday when she was three years old at her grandmother’s house for Sunday lunch, she made the connection between the chicken on her plate and her grandfather’s live chickens in the field, and never wanted to eat animals again.
“Every meal from the age of three until I was seven, I used to cry because I didn’t want to eat meat,” she recalls. “It was so stressful when it was put in front of me. My parents were so sick of me not eating my meals.”
A progressive doctor eventually told her mother that McKevitt simply wanted to be vegetarian and from the age of seven she cooked her own meals.
Ever since, she’s been passionate about animal rights and protecting the planet, quietly influencing global corporations, political figures and high-profile entrepreneurs and personalities on the importance of compassion and sustainability.
Remember her homewares range? Even that was vegan and environmentally-friendly. “No one realised that I was doing mass-market products, but making sure that the cushion pads didn’t have feathers,” says McKevitt. “I made sure there were no shells, the bedding was created with water-based inks, and all my paint range was low VOC.”
And while McKevitt has worked with vegan and plant-based brands over the years, she’s now keen to ramp that up and bring her three decades of experience, knowledge, expertise and connections to fast track the growth of the vegan and plant-based business sector.
To this end, she’s gearing up to launch Plant Future, a business advisory service specific to vegan and plant-based brands. It will feature online courses taught by McKevitt for small business owners; advisory services for corporations and retailers seeking to grow their plant-based offerings; and a connection service bringing brands together with investors and venture capitalists.
“I really want to do something big in the vegan world,” she says. “It’s about the legacy I can leave behind to make sure that as few animals on this planet suffer by making sure we make the change that we all want.”
Watch the full interview of a live webinar hosted by Vegan Business Media and Vegan Women’s Leadership Network below (or listen to it on any of the podcast platforms) to get more of Anne McKevitt’s fascinating journey and business tips.
Find out more about Anne McKevitt’s venture Plant Future.
Katrina Fox is an award-winning vegan journalist, publisher, speaker, PR consultant and media trainer who teaches vegan business owners, entrepreneurs and change makers how to get free publicity by sharing their stories. Katrina was a regular contributor to Forbes for a year, writing about vegan and plant-based business. She is the founder and editor-in-chief of Vegan Business Media, the host of Vegan Business Talk podcast, and the author of Vegan Ventures: Start and Grow an Ethical Business. Katrina is also the creator of Vegans in the Limelight: Online PR course for Vegan Business Owners and Entrepreneurs, the founder of the Vegan Women’s Leadership Network and host of the Conversations with Vegan Women Leaders podcast. For more information and to hire Katrina, email her at katrina [at] veganbusinessmedia [dotcom]