This week saw the world celebrating International Woman’s Day on March 8th, International Woman’s Day is a day that commemorates the social, political, economic and cultural achievements of women.
Women in different parts of the world use this day to come together to celebrate one another.
Recently our Director Mary, sat down with Ming Zao, of Authority Magazine in the US to talk “How to Successfully Navigate Work, Love and Life as a Powerful Woman”
How does a successful, strong, and powerful woman navigate work, employee relationships, love, and life in a world that still feels uncomfortable with strong women? In this interview series, called “Power Women” we are talking to accomplished women leaders who share their stories and experiences navigating work, love and life as a powerful woman.
As a part of this series I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Mary Centofanti — Owner and Director of Davroe.
Davroe Director Mary Centofanti has a real passion for the brand and commitment to delivering premium quality hair care products that have been at the forefront of the brand for over 35 years. As part of Mary’s 100% Australian made and owned product, her focus on bringing gentle and trusted products to you is as focused today as it was when she started on her journey.
From humble beginnings, Mary Centofanti began her career with Dresslier as a fledgling receptionist in 1984. 23 years later, in 2007, Mary and her husband John acquired the then struggling business motivated to turn things around. Armed with a strong vision and a set of guiding principles that are steeped in passion, determination, integrity and community, they embarked on a decade long journey that has led them to where they are today: one of Australia’s leading hair care manufacturers.
Upon acquisition of Dresslier, the parent company that was established in 1930, Mary decided to reformulate the entire Davroe salon professional range. At the time the move was seen as extremely bold and somewhat risky, yet Mary’s innovation and progressive vision has now led to Davroe being widely regarded as the first professional hair care range to be sulphate, paraben and petrochemical free, completely cruelty-free, 100% vegan, and to use pure Australian native extract.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood “backstory?”
I was raised in Adelaide, South Australia by my parents, who were both born in Greece. Both had a very good work ethic and instilled that in both myself and my two younger siblings. We did go without many things, but we had a roof over our heads, food on the table, and the love of our parents and family, a wonderful foundation.
Can you tell us the story about what led you to this particular career path?
I was still in high school, doing accounting, business, and typing as well as math and English. A company called Dresslier was looking for a new receptionist with accounting and typing knowledge. I was top of the class so my teacher asked If I would be interested in attending an interview. I was offered the position at my interview. Of course, my school asked my parents to keep me at school, but my parents, who incidentally were very strict, still gave me the choice. I left school and took the position.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
I guess the most interesting story is that I now own the company (Dresslier).
You are a successful business leader. Which three-character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
- Self-awareness — Understanding my own strengths and weakness, this enabled me to take a leap of faith and take over Dresslier at a time when it wasn’t doing so well.
- Integrity — This is so very important to me, and for my employees, clients, and suppliers.
- Gratitude — We have gone through many ups and downs, like many businesses, so being grateful and showing that gratitude is of the utmost importance to me. Giving back to the community and supporting charities is an important part of our business. We support many groups but our main one is The Little Heroes Foundation, whose primary focus is looking after seriously ill children, helping with mental health issues, and programs for young children and teenagers affected by domestic abuse/violence.
Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. The premise of this series assumes that our society still feels uncomfortable with strong women. Why do you think this is so?
Maybe much of that stems from the genuine belief (totally misguided) that women can’t be strong; can’t lead due to our nurturing nature and compassion. Of course, there is probably a portion of people who believe that men can do a better job (again, misguided). In all honesty I cannot believe that we are still having to talk about and discuss such issues. There have been so many female trailblazers in the past that have suffered and have fought for education, the right to vote, and more. I mean, come on!
Without saying any names, can you share a story from your own experience that illustrates this idea?
I have been very fortunate with my time at Dresslier, I have never had to deal with many of these issues. I always had male bosses and I never saw anything like what happens in other companies, they were always supportive of all the women in the company and the positions they held. However, there was an instance where an opposition company referred to me as the wife of the owner of Dresslier (insert rolled eyes here), this coming from males from another company in the same industry who was and has always been completely run by men.
Dresslier was always a great place to work and it is something that I pride myself on now. When we hire for a vacant position it is open to everyone, and I’m very proud of the fact that we employ a close to 50/50 split female and male across the board, but with male and female in all departments. It should always be about the best person for the job.
What should a powerful woman do in a context where she feels that people are uneasy around her?
She needs to stay strong and on topic (depending on the scenario) and back herself, she is there for a reason! A strong ,powerful woman will know how to put everyone at ease, she has been through a lot worse!
What do we need to do as a society to change the unease around powerful women?
Understanding and acceptance is key, not ignorance. There should be nothing but admiration for all women, not adversity.
In my own experience, I have observed that often women have to endure ridiculous or uncomfortable situations to achieve success that men don’t have to endure. Do you have a story like this from your own experience? Can you share it with us?
For my own part, other brands calling me the wife of the owner was just plain stupid, however, it also gave me the opportunity to work hard, under the radar and get on with growing my brand. I wasn’t perceived as a threat to other brands while they thought I was nothing but a wife (just plain ignorance). Now, in saying that, don’t get me wrong, being a wife and mother are one of the most important things in my life.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women leaders that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
Equality, whether it be pay, conditions, and unreal expectations.
Let’s now shift our discussion to a slightly different direction. This is a question that nearly everyone with a job has to contend with. Was it difficult to fit your personal and family life into your business and career? For the benefit of our readers, can you articulate precisely what the struggle was? What was a tipping point that helped you achieve a greater balance or greater equilibrium between your work life and personal life?
Work life and personal life are always hard, especially when you work with your husband/partner. We were having dinner one night (John, our eight-year-old daughter Sophia, and six-year-old son Michael), and John and I were talking business as we used to all the time at home. My daughter slammed her knife and fork on the table and said “can we stop talking about this stupid business all the time?” We looked at each other and I think we were both so taken aback. It was definitely the turning point for us.
What did you do to reach this equilibrium?
We pretty much made a decision that we would talk business after the kids had gone to bed, but more importantly, we would work to a point where home was home and work was work. No decisions would be made at home for the business, it would need to wait for the office and, likewise, as equally as important was that we would not discuss home life at work.
I work in the beauty tech industry, so I am very interested to hear your philosophy or perspective about beauty. In your role as a powerful woman and leader, how much of an emphasis do you place on your appearance?
Appearance is important, and unfortunately, some people will choose to sum you up in the first instance, so how you present yourself is very important.
Do you see beauty as something that is superficial, or is it something that has inherent value for a leader in a public context? Can you explain what you mean?
Beauty comes in different forms, looks which are superficial and beauty from within. The type of person you are, compassionate, understanding, strong, confident, and knowledgeable, are some things I perceive as beauty. These are important to me as a leader.
How is this similar or different for men?
I still think that these are important for men as well, but in reality, there is probably less pressure on how they look and present.
Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your opinion and experience, what are the “Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Powerful Woman?”
- Endurance — Having been with this company for 38 years and in the industry for the same time.
- Organization — With a growing business/company, organization is key in all departments. Things can quickly go south if procedure and organization are not adhered to.
- Stay Focused and on track to reach goals — The goals we set, short, mid and long term, are key for our growth and expansion. This recently for us has included the release of new products and moving into new markets/countries.
- Keep producing exceptional products that are relevant and on track with our ethos — We have great relationships with our raw ingredient suppliers, and we are always looking at how we can better our products, but more importantly what we can do and how we can reduce our carbon footprint. With the packaging we use, we are in constant, ongoing conversation with our suppliers about this. Looking after our planet and producing good quality products that perform are our key drivers.
- Understanding our industry and the environment at large to be able to move quickly in extraordinary situations — Up until recent times, for our company and for many brands around the world, our industry was perceived primarily as the Salon Market. However, there has been a shift with many brands now making their primary way of business being supply direct to consumer, or at least part of it. We are no different, therefore we need to look at things differently. How we label products and how we talk directly to consumers is very important. In most cases now, there isn’t the referral by a salon professional that can explain the benefits of a product. This has been more relevant since Covid hit. Salons closed for long periods of time which meant that many brands needed to re position themselves and try to get product to the end consumer. For many, that meant setting up e-commerce sites. For us, we already had that in place, (but had never been a major focus for us), so this meant we could get product out to our Davroe consumer but we were also able to capture new customers.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?
This is a very thought-provoking question (or maybe I’m just over thinking it). My husband and I have at times had the conversation about who we would invite for dinner, but there is always a handful of people, narrowing it down is really hard, but I am going to say — Ruth Bader Ginsburg. I just love what she stood for — she championed everyone, she understood first-hand the lack of equality for women and having to balance family and work, but also so much injustice in the world affecting many marginalized groups. She had to fight for everything for herself but that wasn’t enough, she then fought for everyone!
“Real change, enduring change, happens one step at a time.” Unfortunately, we need to be patient, but I believe we will get there. We have to!
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.
Thanks to Push the Envelope PR