Issue 180 - Warriors in business

MARCUS-BLACKMORE

By Natalia Perera 

“The best career advice to give the young is find out what you like doing best and get someone to pay you for doing it."

- Katherine Whilehaen, quoted in Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way

Welcome to the Third Chakra, dear Warrior. Step into the Fire.

There is no sentimentality here. If anything, movements here are sharp, directed, goal oriented, focused around ambition, money and power in all its forms. How disciplined are you? What are you willing to fight for? Every thought, word and deed here is of Pure Passion, driven by a desire so great, inexplicable. An inspiration from beyond, yet so personal, irresistible.

We have a new Warrior to meet today, the Australian media calls him “the medicine man”, Marcus Blackmore is head of Blackmores Ltd, the nutraceutical empire, which is currently performing “too well”, he says, “we cannot make enough, we cannot meet our orders. We have increased our out-put by 60% over the last 6 months.” With an annual turnover of more than $471 million, of which $46.6 million was last year’s profit, Blackmores was originally started by his father, Maurice Black-more (1906 - 1977), the pioneer of Naturopathy in Australia. Marcus remembers his dad working long hours in the week and spending weekends training naturopaths. At home, he was a strict dis-ciplinarian and ‘tough’.

Marcus’ journey started at 5 years of age, when he used to play in his father’s clinic, sticking labels in an exercise book. Then as a young teenager, he and his friend would spend school holidays working in various areas of the business. But his original ambition was to become a ferry driver, he loved boats so much, a passion that has led him to become a ‘champion sailor’. Back then, he would pay the boy next door to do his chore for him, mowing the lawns, so he could spend his weekends away driving boats… until he got caught by ‘the old man’.

At 18, he began working full-time in the family business. But over the years, his father sacked him three times. The last time, was an argument over toothpaste in the bathroom at home. Strong per-sonality Marcus answered back; “if you are not going to listen to me, you may as well get rid of me” and his father did, there and then, threw him out of the house and out of the business too. This was Marcus’ opportunity to find his feet, live on his own and find himself a job, gaining experience in the pharmaceutical industry whilst studying naturopathy at night college. Six months later, his father asked him to come back and he has been there ever since.

One of his most valuable lessons he learned as an air cadet in the Royal Australian Air Force: that the highest form of discipline is self-discipline. “The problem in our society today is the lack of dis-cipline in young people - but that is a parental issue.” This message resonated with him so much so that it has been the underlying motivation behind his long involvement with the Life Education Centres, started by the humanitarian Reverend Ted Noffs. They seek to educate children about the dangers of drugs and to help them develop enough self discipline to say no. After all, prevention is better than cure, a poignant point for a naturopath.

“This was aligned with my naturopathic philosophy and that of the company, a fundamental belief in nature’s healing powers. In nature, there are the answers to our health. And given the right tools, which in our case, is nutritional medicine, nature can do amazing things. The human body itself is amazing.” A very similar statement made decades ago by Maurice Blackmore is still publicly de-clared across the company:

“We believe: That in Nature itself lies the solution to many of life’s problems;
That good health is the result of fresh food, fresh air, exercise, a positive mental attitude and where necessary; drugless dietary supplementation;
That the body is programmed by Nature to heal itself. Given adequate resources to repair the dam-age caused by tissue breakdown;
and That the growing incidence of stress-related problems can be best remedied by adherence to natu-ral laws.”

After 40 years, what still inspires Marcus the most is going to work. He gets very excited by the consumer driven undercurrent of all the naturopathic principles that his father used to tell him 50 years ago. The vision was always much larger than products and supplements and despite ortho-dox medical opposition, the current demand in the market is reinforcing this. Every woman maga-zine has an article on natural health, and the public no longer wants terminology such as “light”, “reduced fat”, “reduced sugar”. Today, people are asking for “natural”, “organic”, “gluten free”, “GMO free” and “whole foods.” There is a movement towards wanting to know how foods are made and what the ingredients are rather than percentages of fats or carbohydrates and names that cannot be pronounced.

This new consciousness has manifest in the establishment of The Blackmores Institute - the pro-fessional and academic knowledge base of the company run by Professor Lesley Braun that is purely focused on research and education in the wider community of healthcare professionals, re-searchers, industry and consumers. Furthermore, Blackmores Institute has just established the Maurice Blackmore Chair of Integrative Medicine at Sydney University Medical school who “wants our doctors to be more holistic, and to have a better understanding of complementary medicine.” The University of Western Sydney also recently received a $2 million grant from the Jacka Foundation - started by the most prominent naturopath from Victoria, the late Alf Jacka, a former director of Blackmores alongside Maurice - for the National Institute of Complementary Medicine.

With all these personal and professional achievements under his belt, what makes Marcus tick? If he had a personal message to the world, it would be: “be tolerant of others.” “This is what leads nations to spend a significant part of their wealth on defence instead of looking after their people”. What enrages him the most is dishonesty. This is a heightened sensitivity as a result of an early high school experience. 13 year olds in an all boys school would have a self study period usually supervised by a master. Without this supervision, one morning, the boys played up and used their fountain pens for ink fights across the room. The master walked in and caught the boys covered with ink and said: “Boys, all those involved in the ink fight, come up to my room at 3 o’clock”. They were going to be caned. “I thought is he kidding us? But of all the 10 boys, I was the only one that didn’t go. And I regret it to this day.”

Within the classroom of life, has this warrior had a mentor? “My father. He taught me my philo-sophical values, he gave me my personal wealth.” With reference to his management style, he has been described as a “benevolent dictator”, to which he replies, “that is not too far from the truth.” In the office, he encourages managers to find people doing something right, rather than people doing something wrong. “A pat on the back can be enormously powerful, I believe people want to feel they are contributing positively.” Maurice Blackmore used to give his staff a week’s bonus each year but Marcus changed that, firstly to 5% of profits, and more recently to 10% of the profits, di-vided amongst all the staff in proportion to their wages, every 6 months, simply to thank them for how well the company is doing. This culture extends to the shareholders too. Out of the top 30 shareholders, 10 are staff or ex-staff. “Bill Cutbush, former Chairman of Blackmores, taught me how to look after them.”

The Blackmores headquarters also reflect the culture of the company; a sustainable building of low-energy lighting systems, temperature-sensitive windows, a low carbon footprint gas-fired gen-eration plant, a garden of medicinal herbs, their very own cafe and retail store and a “Wellness Centre” that incorporates treatment rooms with natural therapists, meditation, a yoga and pilates studio, a gym and a 20-metre lap pool. The atmosphere is nothing less than vibrant. When asked what makes Blackmores so successful, he replies that their success has had 3 critical elements:

1. people - having the right people engaged in the right jobs and being well rewarded
2. product - selling products that contribute to people’s health
3. passion - you need to be passionate about what you do Perhaps passion is the sustenance for the hard work that goes into successful business? Certainly, food for thought for the upcoming generation.

What about his creative process? “I am a great proponent of sitting with other people and brain-storming, engaging them in conversation rather than sitting down with an idea and trying to devel-op it myself.” Yet underneath what appears as very wise leader at the forefront of an industry that is worth an estimated $138 billion on the global market, he has had enough of his fair share of fighting for a cause close to his heart. Could this be the strain behind his high blood pressure? “My greatest challenges in my life have been facing the government, and all the prejudice that exists against natural medicine.”

What are his thoughts on Corporate Social Responsibility? “I don’t think people should be in busi-ness without some form of social or environmental responsibility. Every business needs to consider how to be a good corporate citizen.” The list of causes and communities that Blackmores supports is rather long: from the local Bilgola Surf Club to the Sydney Running Festival - a marathon over the Sydney Harbour Bridge where participants raise money for their charity of their choice and over $1 million in total is raised every year. The company is also a long term supporter of Reverend Bill Crews’ Exodus Foundation that provides 1000 meals a day to disadvantaged people. “They do things that I could not contemplate, we are blessed to have people like that in our society, people who are prepared to give of themselves to help others. They need to be admired and they need to be supported.”

Some of the staff completely rebuilt with their own bare hands the main meeting room in Petrea King’s (long term friend of Marcus) Quest for Life centre at Bundanoon, and recorded the experi-ence not unlike the TV show ‘The Block’. Last month, the sales and marketing team had their con-ference in Fiji, where Marcus and his wife Caroline have been personally supporting a school. The whole team provided so many toys and educational materials for all the children that they needed extra transportation to their village.

He goes on to share another touching story: the Blackmores photographer, Cameron Bloom, was on holidays with his wife Sam and their 3 young boys. His wife had a terrible accident, falling from a balcony and became a paraplegic. The Managing Director, David Fenlon, without even a second thought donated $10,000 to the family, which allowed her to take part in the World Kayaking Championship in Milan, not only helping her gain a little more movement but eventually, she was credited with the 7th fastest time in the world. Her message rings through the work place loud and clear: “Focus on what you can do in life, not on what you can’t do.”

Oh Warrior, is your head spinning yet? Shall we take your pulse? Can you digest all that? We may just have the right remedy for you. All you need do is contact Blackmores’ free Naturopathic Advisory Service by phone, online chat or email and a professional naturopath will look after you. And just when you thought you could catch your breath… Marcus has something to add: “If I was the Prime Minister of this country, I would have the old people, the retirees, run the kin-dergartens, teaching our next generation with their life experience. This is wisdom accumulated over many years. That is not something you can put in a pill. Just like in the East, that is the role of the grandparents, they are given greater respect.” Spoken like a true Warrior of the Sacred…

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