AIB Featured Business Leader – Lisa Messenger
Lisa Messenger, owner and creative director of The Messenger Group, describes herself as being a “complete failure” at school. Far from letting that inauspicious start drag her down, she’s made something of a strength out of it. Her motto for success, she says, is ‘Fail Fast’ – throw out your ideas, try everything and see what works so you can move on if you have to.
Something has certainly worked for Messenger. She’s authored and co-authored 17 books, and with the Messenger Group, has published over 400 books. In February 2013, growing against the grain of falling magazine sales, she launched the new glossy The Collective – two years on, it’s sold in 37 countries. She’s sat on a number of boards including the Australian Businesswomen’s Network and Publishers Australia, and is a three-time finalist in the Telstra Businesswoman of the Year awards. She’s played as hard as she’s worked, trekking across India for charity, riding camels in the Sahara and exploring personal development in the Costa Rican jungle.
It’s a long way from the ambitions of her youth. Messenger grew up in country NSW, on a property in the south-west town of Coolah. She remembers her childhood riding horses, and planned to make her career looking after them. Like many country children though, she was sent off to boarding school as a young adolescent. There, she was frequently called out for disruptive behaviour. As hard as boarding school life was, Messenger hasn’t been daunted by the criticism she received from teachers: her most recent book, a memoir-style guide for entrepreneurs, is called Daring and Disruptive.
After leaving school, Messenger started her professional life in sponsorship and events, having taken a business degree with a tourism major. She says of herself that she wasn’t cut out to work for other people, and in 2001 she founded the Messenger Group. She chose not to borrow any cash, starting with just $4,000 of her own money. ‘I just thought big’, she says, pitching hard for clients and winning every pitch. Within six weeks she had an office and a full-time staff member, and the business was off and running. For the next two years, she spread herself very thinly, doing everything from PR to events management and integrated management. Once she stepped back and channeled that energy into a more focused approach, things became easier. Never one to rest on her laurels, Messenger released her first book, Happiness Is…, and received her first nomination for Telstra Business Woman of the Year in 2005.
That willingness to try something new characterises Messenger’s career. When she started The Collective, for example, she had never even worked for a magazine. “I’m the queen of ‘just jump in’” she says of herself now. It has its upsides. Her business model has repeatedly been called game-changing, with Messenger attributing much of her success to a willingness to do things differently. It also means hard work and plenty of anxiety. In 2014, when The Collective had been on the stands for around eight months, Messenger was diagnosed with adrenal fatigue as a result of her workaholic ways, and had to learn techniques to manage stress and prioritise work-life balance.
Looking at Messenger now, you’d be forgiven for thinking that she’s led a charmed life. But in her franker interviews, she’s made it clear that this wasn’t always the case. “I went through hell for 20 years”, she toldthe ABC. “Too much drinking, alienating my family, bad relationships”. Today she’s sober and happily engaged to Jack Delosa, a member of the BRW Rich List. She writes regularly for the Huffington Post and Sydney Morning Herald, exercises regularly to avoid burnout, and enjoys a rich, creative life. So what’s her advice to other entrepreneurs? – Love what you do. Don’t fear failure. And just start.
This article was written by Tanya Ashworth-Keppel on behalf of the Australian Institute of Business. All opinions are that of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of AIB.