Meet Our Chair, Marcia Griffin


Marcia Griffin began her professional journey as a Secondary School teacher in Balmoral; armed with a BA Dip Ed, she found herself in one of the smallest towns in country Victoria. From the country herself, Marcia was not entirely shocked to wake up one morning with a cow sticking its head through her window! Her teaching career found her next in Benalla, which quickly led to her passion for skiing - in particular the slopes of Aspen, Colorado.

Following her 3 years of teaching, Marcia took off to see the world, travelling overland from Calcutta to London and back to Australia. Her adventures spanned Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, Iran, Turkey, Greece, Austria, Yugoslavia, Belgium, England and Nepal where she became involved in an Indian movie alongside famous Bollywood actor Dev Anand! Even though some parts of this trip were very "treacherous", it taught her so much about life and business and the need to always be alert, aware and prepared for the unexpected.

Upon returning to Australia, Marcia didn't have any idea what to do next but since her father was a wool grower, it was almost natural for her to pursue the next chapter of her career at the Australian Wool Corporation. At this stage, she also enrolled for her second degree at the University of Melbourne - Commerce. She took her first step into the corporate world when she knocked on the front door of the Head Office on Bourke Street and left her resume. She got a call the next day for an interview and not long after, as a very young employee in her 20s, Marcia was travelling the world, stopping over at every major wool consuming country. 

A decade with the Australian Wool Corporation came to an end when Marcia decided that the bureaucratic environment was not for her. With an entrepreneurial and open mind, Marcia went on to set up a retail business in Armadale, and later sold her share to her partner. When she was looking through the local newspaper one day, an advertisement for a soft furnishing company caught her attention. She went to meet the owner - who had a direct selling company specialising in pottery and soft furnishings but had also just landed a Pola Cosmetics franchise. Pola Cosmetics was one of the two largest cosmetics brands in Japan (the other being Shiseido). With no experience in the cosmetics industry or direct selling and no Google to assist, Marcia had to do her own research. Then she decided to give Pola a big go.

Pola really pushed the business veteran out of her comfort zone, and made her do what she describes as one of the most terrifying things she has ever done in her professional life - a Pola sales presentation. Still a novice in the beauty industry (3 weeks!) clutching a vaguely translated training manual, Marcia performed a facial and makeup demonstration in front of a group of women in Brighton. Her first gig concluded with $330 worth of products sold and two further bookings; the rest was history.

But the hurdles didn't stop there. In Marcia's fifth year with Pola, the franchise owner went broke, and Marcia was left with the Pola baby. It was also a very challenging time in her personal life, going through a divorce and financial setbacks. Instead of giving up, Marcia packed her suitcase and flew to Japan, ready to take over Pola Cosmetics herself. She was motivated to get back on her feet and pull her life together again quickly. Marcia became the CEO of Pola Cosmetics overseeing the business in Australia and New Zealand.

Working with the Japanese wasn't the easiest either. Marcia flew to Japan frequently and continued to learn and understand the Japanese psyche. Her first huge lesson came from budgeting. In her first year as CEO, she failed to meet her own growth target of 30%. When she was over in Tokyo, the Japanese didn't speak to her for several days. Budget figures from then on became less aggressive and Marcia achieved her targets every year. The lesson was learnt.

Despite being a large cosmetics brand, Marcia was the only female at senior executive level, with only one other female employee in middle management. Not only was Marcia managing the entire business in Australia/NZ, she was the top sales person, motivator and a highly skilled sales trainer. Marcia ran a tight ship pretty much on her own. After 3 years of hard work, Marcia successfully negotiated a share in equity of the Australian and New Zealand businesses.

Marcia grew Pola for 16 years and built a sales team of over 5000 consultants in Australia and New Zealand over the time. Marcia ran a very tight business with a minimum number of employees servicing a huge sales team. On reflection, Marcia believes that outsourcing is very important in business.

Her experiences with Pola eventually inspired her to start her own cosmetics line with a friend - griffin&row - all natural products, based on Aboriginal medicinal extracts encased in beautiful packaging. Their venture started out on the shelves of Target. Marcia knew the CEO of Target at the time and learned that Target was heading towards collaborating with higher quality brands, which made griffin& row the perfect candidate. However, the Target ship took a turn when the CEO and direction of the company changed. Customers were disappointed when they couldn't find griffin& row products on the shelves so eventually they pulled out of Target, and went into pharmacies and then online. When her business partner retired 5 years ago, Marcia sold the business.

Marcia has always had an immense interest in learning what motivates people to be successful and reading Viktor Frankl's book Man's Search for Meaning made a significant impact in her life. Marcia was so fascinated by Frankl's story that she completed a short course with a psychologist who taught the beliefs of Frankl. Soon after, the duo decided to write a book together contemporising Viktor Frankl's philosophies called Finding New Meaning in Life. The book is about resilience, responsibility and the values that Marcia was brought up with as a young girl and developed with other people. Their goal was to make a serious subject easier to grasp. This is Marcia's second publication, with her first being High Heeled Success - which was based on her own life story and it was a huge success.

In 1995, Marcia became the first ever Victorian Telstra Business Woman of the year. After winning the award, Marcia was not only in extreme shock, but she was also very much unaware of how her life was going to change. She was on the 2nd and 3rd page of The Age and Herald Sun the next day and all the media outlets wanted to interview her. That year, she was a keynote speaker at the Arthur Andersen Enterprise Best Business Practices Symposium in Chicago. Marcia entered the speakers' circuit, received invitations to join Boards, but the best thing the award gave her was the moment to step back and realise how much she had achieved in her career. It was a time for celebration - "when you're running a business, you forget to celebrate sometimes." 

However, it wasn't the sense of excitement and celebration but the fear of greater expectation that pushed Marcia further as a leader - to become a supportive mentor and share her knowledge. Marcia has a strong passion for supporting entrepreneurs and small business and so after attending a couple of meetings at The CEO Institute, she pursued the idea of becoming a Chair.

"What I really like about The CEO Institute is this situation where you have a group of business owners together who are not competing with each other but prepared to share their ideas very freely and very generously."

Thinking back to the days as Pola CEO, Marcia wished that she had a group like The CEO Institute to turn to for advice, so that she didn't have to manage and carry those burdens alone. "Sometimes CEOs have this sense that they can't go out and ask someone else because they're the CEO, whereas in fact it's such a healthy idea to go and ask other people, to get ideas from outside."

And now, long gone are the days where she would be the only female in an executive or Board meeting. "Back then, travelling around Australia & NZ, the plane would be full of business guys and I'd be the only female. But now you get on a plane and there's more women than men, and I think that's the indication of what's really happening. I so strongly recommend women to join a group, it doesn't matter what the gender base of the group is, what matters is the level of intelligence and the contribution of members in terms of ideas."

Marcia reminds us all that success does not come easily; you have to have a strategy, you have to be able to put all the tactical aspects of business into place, but most importantly, you personally have to decide that you want to be successful, and there is a cost at being successful, you have to work harder, you have to work smarter. 

She gave us a fairly deep and big thought - "Successful people do the things that unsuccessful people are not prepared to do" - you have to really put yourself out if you want to succeed.

The CEO Institute, established over 25 years ago, helps business leaders like you connect with your peers to share skills, insight, and experience. The CEO Institute's leadership programs are available globally. Click here to read our member success stories.