9 minute read

10 Minutes with Deb Farnworth-Wood by Louise May

Serial entrepreneur and the founder of the world-leading medi-aesthetic franchise Australian Skin Clinics. Born in Kenya and raised in the UK, Deb’s remarkable story is one of moving to the other side of the world to retire - only to build a $70m business which she sold in 2019.

Having spotted an opportunity to build a successful franchise model, Deb moved her family to the Gold Coast in 2007 and got down to work. She launched the franchise in 2011 and five years later, she had grown the business to 60 clinics across Australia and New Zealand and reshaped an ailing skincare brand, scooping up multiple awards in the process. She was named Gold Coast Woman in Business of the Year 2017, and was a finalist in the EY Entrepreneur of the Year awards in 2016.

Deb’s career has been punctuated by ‘firsts’. She was the first non-doctor to become a partner in a UK medical practice, and her group were the first non-pharmacist to own a UK pharmacy. She also opened England’s first drive-thru pharmacy. It’s a testament to her incredible vision and passion for the aesthetics industry that she continues to push the boundaries of business to this day. In 2020, in the middle of the COVID pandemic, Deb purchased Issada Cosmetics an Australian mineral makeup company. In December 2020 she launched Issada Clinical Formula skincare range - a clean cosmeceutical range which had been in development for two years.

Beauty Biz Editor, Louise May, spent time with Deb recently to find out more about how the journey with beauty and aesthetics all began.

Can you tell us how you got started in the industry?

My interest in beauty and aesthetics started in the UK. At the time, I co-owned several health businesses with my eight business partners, who were doctors. At the time, laser hair removal was relatively new, and Botox was still something only movie stars did. I was keen to add a cosmetic clinic to our portfolio, and we started a fledgling clinic in our multidisciplinary centre. However, my husband Shaun decided it was time for both he and I to “retire”. I was only 43, and him 39, but he wanted us to retire to Australia! Almost by chance, I discovered a cosmetic clinic for sale on the Gold Coast and also that the easiest way to get an Australian visa was to buy an established business. We purchased what was the original Australian Skin Clinic in Ashmore, and I planned to spend my days on the beach while running the clinic under management. I didn’t anticipate falling in love with the industry and building a franchise of 60 clinics that I eventually sold in 2019.

What drew you to aesthetics in the first place?

After nearly 18 years working in various health businesses, I’d become weary of the UK health system, and I was attracted to the idea that therapy/aesthetics could have an uplifting effect on people at a psychological level. At the time (and still), there were so many new advances in technologies, new cosmetic ingredients and, of course, injectables. I realised that beauty therapy would not remain a predominantly home-based industry forever and that there were many more opportunities to explore. I was drawn to the belief that, eventually, high-end treatments such as laser resurfacing, Botox and fillers would eventually be just as common as having a hair colour - and I wanted to be part of that growth.

How did your business Issada come to be?

Although I sold the ASC franchise, I did keep the original Ashmore clinic (now called Ultimate Skin and Body) and set about reinventing the business and changing the model again. Initially, the clinic had offered a diverse range of treatments, but to franchise it, we scaled this down to just 7. The rebrand was an opportunity to return to a more complex range of treatments. I no longer wanted to stock the ASC skincare range, so I started developing a new skincare system. By then, I’d worked with around a dozen ranges, and I had a clear idea about what I needed for my business. I had been friends with Fiona Neale, the founder of Issada Cosmetics, for around 10- 12 years and during that time came to know the business well. I was also a dedicated and loyal user of Issada mineral makeup, having become hooked on it when Fiona gave me a bottle of CC8 years ago. During the time I was developing my new skincare range, Fiona asked if I would be interested in buying the Issada business and I saw the opportunity to launch the new skincare under the already well established Issada branding. By the time the purchase of Issada took place, we had 22 formulas ready to launch.

What inspired you to move into the world of Skincare products?

My first venture into owning a skincare brand was in my ASC days when I bought the majority shareholding of an existing small range of just four products. I then specified another 12 products and launched into the clinics with 16 products.

What do you consider your own top 3 pillars of success to be?

Being able to spot and act on opportunities that present themselves is probably one of my key talents. However, life is full of people who will discourage you and tell you something is a bad idea and can’t be done or is not worthwhile, so having the courage to follow your own convictions is essential, surrounding yourself with people who support and cheer for you is also important. Finally, a strong work ethic, combined with lashings of tenacity and resilience, is required to get yourself out of bed on days when things are not going so well! None of what I’ve done has been “luck” or “easy”, but it is a successful formula that I have followed multiple times now.

How do you juggle a work-life balance?

Probably not very well, although I am getting better! Honestly, I love what I do, so although I work hard and I work long hours, I never feel resentful about it because I love my life. Luckily, I have a patient husband and forgiving children. I also like to travel, and I try and balance work with lots of short trips with the family - so, as you can imagine, I can’t wait for COVID to be over!

What are your top 3 tips for managing people?

I enjoy seeing people develop and grow in their roles, and every day I try to impart my skills and knowledge to my team members for their development. I can be a hard taskmaster but always comes from a good place. My top tips would be to set the right standards, be a good role model, keep the work interesting, challenge everyone to be better versions of themselves and wish them well when they learn enough to move on. Managing people really is the hardest part of any business.

In what ways do you like to unwind and get out of “work mode”?

I have very simple needs. I like to relax with friends and family over a drink or dinner. My sons are now grown up, but I still love to spend time with them. I have two cats that I cuddle every night, and there’s nothing like a good film to help me zone out from real life!

Are there any must-haves that you love to start your day with?

For over 20 years, I’ve had the same morning routine - a hot shower, a protein shake and half an hour of quality time chatting with my husband!

What’s given your business strength over the years?

Business is not easy - it is unpredictable, demanding, and forever changing. More than anything, a business owner must be tenacious, adaptable, and flexible. I long ago adopted a certain mindset not only about business but about life and people that involves acknowledging certain fundamentals. These include Nothing is forever, so don’t expect forever; Everything changes, so be ready to accept change; Perpetual learning is essential to keep pace with the world around you; and finally, slavery was abolished, so you can’t make people stay if they want to leave.

How do you stay strong but agile during these times?

I have a terrific team, and we keep each other focused. We are working hard to help our stockists through this difficult trading period, and our goal is always to go above and beyond to help. We know that some of our stockists have had to endure much worse hardship than we have - especially those in the extended lockdown areas such as Melbourne and in Lismore and regions of Brisbane that flooded - so we are always mindful of this and help where we can.

Any tips for staying motivated when pivoting takes its toll?

To be honest I love change and I love new things, so pivoting is probably second nature to me. The biggest challenge in any business is ensuring that all team members adapt with the same urgency that a business owner relies on, and for that reason, in both of my businesses, I am implementing an Employee Ownership Trust (EOT) scheme. The Employee Ownership Trust concept is new to Australia (although well established in UK). At Issada, I have chosen to pair this with in-house training and mentorship to assist the whole team to “think like an owner” and benefit financially from our business success.

What is on the agenda for the future?

Shaun has surrendered to the idea that I may never fully retire, but now that travel is becoming easier again, we are planning some bucket list trips. Issada will continue to be my main focus for some years to come. However, I’m also on the board of directors of Aurora Medical and the advisory board of AirPhysio, which are both interesting roles.

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