Deb Farnworth-Wood is a serial entrepreneur and the founder of the world-leading medi-aesthetic franchise Australian Skin Clinics.
Born in Kenya and raised in the UK, Deb moved to the other side of the world to retire – only to build a $70m business.
She moved her family to the Gold Coast in 2007 and launched the franchise in 2011. 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’s also been an advisor to UK governments on healthcare issues such as drive through pharmacies and contracts for night GPs.
Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role
I’m a board director at Australian Skin Clinics, the medi-aesthetic franchise I founded in 2011 after moving from the UK to Australia. As a serial entrepreneur I am always on the lookout for fresh opportunities. I run several small businesses and I’m currently undertaking due diligence with a view to investing in a major new venture.
In five years I grew Australian Skin Clinics from a single clinic, to a $70 million operation spanning 60 sites across Australia and New Zealand. Back home in Britain, I spent many years in hospitality, department store retail and medicine – I opened the UK’s first drive-thru pharmacy – before making the move to the Gold Coast.
Outside of work I consider myself a fairly ordinary, everyday mum and wife. I have two boys aged 18 and 20, both at university, and a husband of 25 years.
Did you ever sit down and plan your career?
I was very driven from a young age and started saving to leave home when I was 14, with the money I earned working at the local Wimpy in Preston. My teacher found me a catering and hotel management course at a college in Blackpool, and I was determined to go into that industry. But it turned out it wasn’t for me.
Since then, I’ve thrown myself into every opportunity. I love learning and I love a challenge, so throughout my career I just took everything that came my way and focused on being the best I could possibly be in that particular role.
I discovered early on that I am good at business generally and am excited by developing business models. So while I’ve particularly enjoyed franchising, I’ve never had a rigid plan for how my career would develop.
Have you faced any particular challenges along the way and if so, how did you deal with them?
Too many! I have been a manager since I was 20 and in my early career I always seemed to be the youngest, and often the only woman. There have been times when I’ve had to fight my corner to achieve my goals. I was the first non-GP to be a partner in general practice in the UK, and I opened the UK’s first drive through pharmacy. I had to push back against a lot of scepticism to meet those ambitions.
By far the biggest challenge I faced was moving across the world from the UK to Australia to semi-retire at 44. I hadn’t anticipated how hard it would be to start again in a new country where I had no network, no contacts and only my immediate family. You take your networks for granted over the years, and it was only when I had to start from scratch that I realised how exponentially your network grows.
If you could change one thing for women in the workplace, what would it be?
People’s perceptions. When a man is tough and strong and aggressive in business, he is admired for being strong-willed and determined. If women behave in the same way, they’re more often than not considered to be difficult, a ‘bitch’, and overly dominant.
It’s a problem which goes all the way back to school. Boys are expected to behave differently. Excuses are made for boys. We need an entire cultural and societal shift to make that level playing field a reality.
What advice do you have for any budding entrepreneurs?
Firstly, proceed with a business case rather than just an idea. I mentor a number of women in business and I always encourage them to think very early on about the business case, its scalability, and what they practically want to achieve. Building a business takes time, effort and commitment so it’s important to have a detailed route planned out from the get-go.
I’d also encourage people to use embrace scepticism and negativity. Eight of the nine people I confided in about Australian Skin Clinics told me it could never be done. I saw their negativity as a challenge to overcome. But you have to be prepared for that pushback.
How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?
I’ve mentored many women in business, formally and informally, here in Australia and in the UK. I’m currently mentoring a small group of women from a variety of backgrounds and businesses plus I continue to mentor my own clinic managers.
There are many people in my life who I have considered mentors, and they have changed over the years. I’m very inclusive so I’m just as likely to ask someone junior for their perspective as I am another business leader.
What has been your biggest achievement to date?
On a personal level, my two sons have grown into smart, confident and amazing human beings.
Career-wise, it has to be Australian Skin Clinics. Growing it into a $70 million business, and scooping numerous awards along the way, was really special.
What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?
I’m looking to share my expertise and experience in business – good and bad! – with as many entrepreneurs and business owners as possible. I enjoy coaching, as well as speaking to large groups. I get a real buzz from standing up in front of 500 people and inspiring them to focus on their goals. And I’m always on the hunt for new business opportunities, of course.