One of the insightful things that has been said to me recently came from an independent consultant working at a major FMCG client. He said: “The problem here is that we have some people who are world-class at marketing to the masses, but they haven’t got a clue about how to speak to a customer.”
Gillian Franklin has built the Heat Group into one of Australia’s most successful cosmetics companies off the back of a career in marketing. But it was never her original intention to forge such a marketing path, nor go it alone with her own brand in Australia for that matter.
As a teenager growing up in South Africa, Franklin’s first choice of career had been law. Circumstances conspired, however, to take that option away from her and she was forced to enter straight into the workforce, landing a secretarial role in the marketing department at the global cosmetics company, Revlon.
Even at that early stage in her career, she had ambitions to quickly move up the corporate ladder. Since then, Franklin’s willingness to work hard and learn from others has seen her not only become a highly regarded marketer, but also a highly successful entrepreneur and manager.
“In those days you were called the secretary, but I was like the assistant in the marketing department,” Franklin says. “I was very keen to develop my career, so I worked incredibly hard, read everything I could get my hands on, and was in a very short period of time given a role in the marketing department as a promotions manager across all the Revlon bands.”
Later she would meet and marry an Australian, which saw her relocate across the Indian Ocean. Her managers at Revlon in South Africa were happy to recommend her to their Australian counterparts, and Franklin received two offers of employment within the company.
The first was a role in the marketing department of the core Revlon cosmetics brand. The second was a more senior role within a smaller group within the company, looking after brands such as Ultima II. “I had the option of going in as a marketing manager to that division, because it was a smaller divisions, or as a brand manager in the Revlon division,” Franklin says.
But already she had strong idea of her career path, which made her eventual decision easier. “I wanted to be a general manager before I was 30,” Franklin says. “And I wanted to be a general manager because I knew I wanted to have a child. And I knew to have a child I needed the seniority to have flexibility, and I knew I needed to have a salary that allowed me to afford a nanny.
“So I was always looking five to 10 years out, and thought ‘what’s the shorted pathway to being a general manager?’.”
Franklin took the job with the smaller organisation, which delivered greater seniority. As a result, at the age of 24, and after just four-and-a-half years, she had ascended to the general management position she sought – the first time for anyone in the company under the age of 30, and the first woman to achieve that role within Revlon in Australia.
In the years following, Franklin left Revlon and become managing director at the Smorgon family company, Creative Brands, representing brands including Australia cosmetics. Around this time she also became increasingly involved in mentoring young women and teaching them how to achieve financial independence. After running a series of workshops around Australia for thousands of young women, she became aware of a gap within her own personal credibility.
“I thought I should go out and follow what I’m preaching, and go out and start my own business,” Franklin says.
That new business, the Heat Group, started with her and two colleagues working out of a café. Today Heat Group represents brands including Covergirl, Max Factor and Warner Brothers.
Again, Franklin says strategic career planning decisions made early in her professional life paid dividends when setting up her new business.
“We had to start from scratch,” she recalls.” I had been on a number of boards already, so I had learned the value of having a board, and I was well networked and had a good reputation. So I went out to the community of high net worth individuals and approached them to invest in my company. I was able to raise $3 million, formed a board and the Heart Group was started.”
Franklin attributes much of her success to date to her willingness to seek help, and to build and utilise a network of professional contacts. It was her network that enabled her to bring on former Western Mining chief executive and president of the Business Council of Australia, Hugh Morgan, on as her chairperson.
“It is very lonely when you are the CEO because you don't have colleagues to talk to,” Franklin says. “As the CEO, networks are essential to keep you challenged, and to give you new learnings.”
For other budding CEOs, she advises they follow a similar path. “Even when you are working your way up to be CEO or MD, networks are essential, because there is a direct correlation between wisdom and age. So go and talk to people who have done things before you, and learn from them.”