The Heat Group CEO

Image: Gillian Franklin
Interview with Gillian Franklin The Heat Group.

“It wasn’t about wanting to be a general manager it was more basic than that, I’d witnessed first-hand the challenges women have trying to work and have a family and I really have enormous empathy and respect for the women who cope with childcare challenges so from a young age I said, “I want to have children but I don’t want to do child care.” Gillian Franklin.


Gillian Franklin is managing director of her own company, The Heat Group which distributes personal care brands including Max Factor, COVERGIRL, Bourjois and her own Ulta3.

Its annual turnover is $130 million in retail sales. She’s on multiple boards and plays an active role in supporting women.

But what really impressed me is her wealth of ‘life’ experience outside the boardroom and the way she has chosen to cope.

As you’ll read her journey hasn’t been without heartbreak – it never is – yet she proves we really can be the architects of our own success.


Martine Harte: Gillian you have built the Heat Group into one of this nation’s most successful companies can you take us back to beginning?


Gillian Franklin: That was a very long time ago probably before most of your readers were even born unfortunately (laughs) Yes I started with Revlon in South Africa and then married an Australian and joined them again, that was really pivotal to my career because at the very young age of 24 I was given a promotion as general manager for one of the divisions of Revlon which meant I had to go to New York and present the Australian budget to the Revlon board.

I really learnt about financials and was given incredible learning opportunities in a branded consumer environment and Revlon in those days was number one in the world so it was just fantastic.


Understand you’re a big fan of finding mentors from an early age, why did that work for you?


Gillian Franklin: I think in business a good learning is that there are people out there who are much smarter and more experienced than you and if you can minimise mistakes by learning from others then it really puts you a step ahead.

So that was my strategy to always surround myself with people that could teach me things and help me expedite success and minimise failures.


You set a firm path to be a GM before you were 30, how were you able to be so determined?


Gillian Franklin: I think being very practical. It wasn’t about wanting to be a general manager it was more basic than that, I’d witnessed first-hand the challenges women have trying to work and have a family and I really have enormous empathy and respect for the women who cope with childcare challenges so from a young age I said, “I want to have children but I don’t want to do child care.”

That meant I needed to be able to afford a nanny and afford a house that could accommodate a nanny. So it was more about that. I wanted to have my first child before I was thirty so I needed to be in a financial position and a senior enough position that I could have flexibility so I could have children.


How did you and your husband navigate the care of your three daughters? (now young women).


Gillian Franklin: Well first of all we were both travelling a lot so we had these basic rules:

1/ I couldn’t plan a trip if Wayne was going to be away and vice versa, so we could always ensure a parent was there.

We did have a live-in nanny for ten years while the girls were younger and that was really key because it meant early morning and late in the day the children’s lives were not being disrupted; I think pulling kids out of bed into childcare is incredibly hard on everyone.

I also noticed in (in my own business) the women who do have the child care pick up at five o’clock  are clearly disengaged in the meeting and they’re watching their clock for pick up thinking, ‘oh my god this is costing me a dollar a minute I need to get out of here.’

I just realised I didn’t want to do that so a huge change for me was having a nanny compared to some of the struggles the other women have had.

2/ We just had schedules, our children had one or the other parent attend almost every single function or event in their lives. We had the flexibility in the workplace to say this is our priority, so if they were running in a race or doing a concert one of us would always be there and our children knew they were priority.


I hear you have extraordinary energy reserves..


Gillian Franklin: I do, I have capacity for work that people say they’ve never seen before.


What’s the secret to this stamina?


Gillian Franklin: I think it’s part mental, part physical. I just have a can-do attitude and I never let anything stop me, so I just keep going. But I love it! You can’t do things that you don’t enjoy, you can’t get that whole energy and focus.

When I went through cancer I wrote a piece in The Age newspaper about the ten good things about having cancer. One of them was I reflected back and thought, ‘I don’t want to change my life.’ I’m really happy. Most people who are confronted with that think I want to work less, travel more or get fitter and I thought I’m really happy with what I’ve got.

Do you have those days when you just don’t want to get out of bed?


Gillian Franklin: I don’t have them, I seriously don’t have them. I think because I’ve been through so much in my life with all the challenges I’ve had, I’m very grateful for what I have. There are days when I get tired, then I just take time out. Usually my children energise me, they are such inspiring young women and often it’s just having a nice long call or coffee with them or talking to my husband.


When you mention challenges do you mean cancer?


Gillian Franklin: That was one of them but I arrived here as a new bride not knowing anybody. My parents never knew my husband because he was Australian, I met him and three weeks later he asked me to marry him so we immigrated within five months.

We didn’t have a lot of money. A year later my father died, a few years later my brother was murdered, it took me 20 years to organise for my mother to come to Australia because she was then on her own in Sth Africa with little support, she arrived here and the next day she had a stroke and she died. I mean I’ve been through really, really big hurdles in my life and when you’ve had to cope with that..

I often say to people, the most important gift that a parent can give a child is self-esteem and resilience because that’s what makes you a person of quality and allows you to cope with life. I look back and I think I’ve achieved both of those; I’ve had to build resilience because I’ve had lots of challenges, I’ve been sued twice, won both cases and they were horrific. So it just keeps everything in context.


How did you teach this skill of resilience in your kids?


Gillian Franklin: Made them walk to school with heavy school bags in the rain! (laughs)


From what age?


Gillian Franklin: Seriously, don’t turn them into princesses because there has circumstances where life isn’t that pleasant.

You’ve got to learn life’s not a bed of roses. I’ve always said the result equals the effort, the harder you work the better results you get and so if you can get them to understand and respect that concept and make them feel like they’re in control.

Don’t come crying about something that happened, try to find the solution.


What is life too short to tolerate?


Poor quality people and I’ve paid dearly in my business where I’ve had people who haven’t shared my values and I’ve kept them for too long. Your business is only as good as the people you have working with you.

HOOK UP with Gillian Franklin and The Heat Group here