Ep 108 Meet publishing doyenne Marina Go, author of ‘Break Through: 20 Success Strategies For Female Leaders’

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podcast-artwork In Episode 108 of So you want to be a writer: The benefits of writing longhand and famous writers and their first word processor (can you remember yours?). Discover what “peripatetic” means and meet publishing doyenne Marina Go, author of Break Through: 20 Success Strategies For Female Leaders. Check out Litsy, the new social media app for book lovers, find out why you need a decent photo as an author, and more!

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Show Notes

Three Ways That Handwriting With A Pen Positively Affects Your Brain

William Boyd: ‘I can only manage three hours’ writing before fatigue sets in’

Famous writers with their first word processors

Writer in Residence

Marina Go

Marina GoMarina is General Manager of the Bauer/Hearst brands: Harper's Bazaar, ELLE and Cosmopolitan, and the Publisher of Young Women's brands Dolly and Shop. Her career began as a news journalist, before taking on the roles of Editor of Dolly, ELLE, Australian Good Taste and Sunday Life. Most recently Marina has held senior executive roles at a number of media companies.

Her recent release Break Through: 20 Success Strategies for Female Leaders is a deeply personal book. She talks candidly about the challenges and triumphs she has faced over her 30-year career as a leader in the media and publishing industry.

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Interview Transcript


Marina, thanks for joining us today.



Thank you for asking me.



I read your book in one setting, to the point where I — I've only said this about one of the other books, actually, to the point where I had to eat dinner and I had it in front of me and I was eating my dinner as I was turning the pages and there's spaghetti bolognaise on it. I seem to have spaghetti bolognaise a lot, most of our listeners will know.


And I couldn't put it down.


It's called Breakthrough: An Insider's View of the Climb to the Top.


For those readers who haven't read the book yet, can you tell them what it's about?



Well, it's essentially a book about the highs and lows of my career. And, the reason that I thought it was really important to demonstrate some of the lows is that people often come up to me and say, “Oh wow, you've had such a great career, I'll never be able to have a great career like that. You're so lucky.”


And I always say to them, “No, no… I've been around a long time, and I have managed to do the things that I've done.” I've had a career that's been really rewarding and fun. I've enjoyed it. But, it hasn't all been smooth sailing and I think it's important for young people, and it's not just women, but certainly young women, to feel that they can deal with adversity, or they can deal with a road block, and that careers can go on, careers can bounce back. And so that's the reason I wrote it, because the book is aimed at the next generation of female leaders.


I think generationally — every generation deals with adversity in a different way, right? I guess I have two children who are millennials, and my sons — I imagine that their level of resilience might be different to mine because of the factors involved in upbringing and all sorts of things.


That's really what it's about, it's about, you know, I'm trying to make people realize that you can make your own career more than anything.




But, why did you want to write it?



I didn't really want to write it.



Tell me more about that.



I didn't really want to write it. I actually had — I take notes, so I do take a lot of notes. I always kept a diary when I was younger, so I certainly had a background information. And about eight years ago I had this kind of crazy three months of downloading my whole — all of my experience, all of the anecdotes I've talked about, onto a computer.


And then I had been sharing — regaling people at dinner parties and parties, just kind of edge of the soccer field for years with stories about media stories. No one wants to hear a media story. And this particular mother of a son, a boy that was at school with one of my sons, and she used to say to me for eight years, “I publish books and you should write a book.” I go, “No, no, no… I'm not going to write a book.”


And so earlier this year Jane Curry, who owned Ventura Press, the imprint, she approached me and said, “Now I want you to write a book, and before you say no I'm going to tell you that the book is going to be called Breakthrough, it's going to be about how you as a woman who came from basically a working class background, went to state high school, had migrant parents, no inner circle networks, no old-boy networks, old-girl networks, how did you break through into leadership roles in media and sport? Because a lot of people are asking that question and books have been written by people who have come from different backgrounds, who have been able to have great careers. But, this is the missing link.”


And I'm saying, “No, no, I can't write one.” She said, “Oh, but we need to inspire the next generation of female leaders,” and that's my hot button, right? So, she got me at a weak point, because I'm all about bringing on the next generation of female leaders.


And, so she convinced me to — she's clever, she knew that she would by saying that. Oh god, quickly! So, I signed the contract before I had time to think. But, I did have a lot of notes, as I said. I had a lot of information that I could draw on. So, I wasn't really starting from scratch.



And when you signed that contract, because what the book is, it's part memoir and part inspiration and how to, in a sense, right?






And so when you signed the contract did you know that's the way you were going to write the book?



No — no.


I was given a deadline, so January 11th was my deadline, and I got to September, and I suddenly had a panic attack because I thought, “I don't even know how I'm going to get this done.”



But, when did you sign the contract? Like, what was the time period?



In June.





In June. Yep. So, I then took myself off by myself to Hamilton Island for a week with the expressed purpose of coming up with a structure for the book and a chapter. And so it was during that period, and I'm that person who wakes up at three o'clock and has the idea, right? One of the days, I think it was day two, I woke up and thought, “OK, this is it. This is how I'm going to structure it. I'm going to do — because I started writing it I guess… the leadership inspiration and I started throwing in a couple of anecdotes as an example almost. I did an MBA when I was reading management textbooks, that's how they were written. And I was really bored with it. I was getting really bored. And I thought, “God, I can't stand reading things like this. How am I going to keep young woman who are millennials, who are kind of fast, fast, fast, fast, and they want to be entertained, how am I going to keep them entertained?”
I thought, “Really the bit that they'll probably enjoy reading is the tales, the anecdote about my career.” And I did want to kind of disconnect and break them up, and have some management stuff around them.


So, I decided that I would offer them both, so that when they're in this mood they could read this bit, and when they're in the mood to read about the kind of practical inspirational how-to tips that they could read that. And, I think they are different moods.


I wasn't sure if it would work, I have to say. I was a bit uncertain, but the response I got from the publisher was very positive. And so I decided to go with it, and once I was in it there was no turning back.



So what you've done is effectively written one chapter memoir, then one chapter inspiration and how to, then one chapter memoir and one chapter inspiration and how to.


Did you write it in that order?



I did.



Or did you write all of the memoir first and then break it down? Or write all of the management stuff, do you know what I mean?



Yeah. Well, what I did was — because I had some notes, what I did was I came up with the 20 ideas in terms of — because I decided to structure it around the concepts of what are the 20 things that I think made a difference to me getting from where I was as a young girl, hoping to be the editor of Dolly one day to being where I am now in my career? What are those things that are about me that I think, you know, kind of altogether added to become me, right?


And so they're the things that we're calling the 20 success strategies, right? And once I had those I then — I did want the memoir to be relatively in order. There are times when I flip back and forth, but primarily it's in order. And so I think arranged the strategies around the memoir loosish, if you like. I could have started with any, they're not in any particular order. I think number one, the first one is to be feisty, which is obviously my favorite. But, I could have started with a different one is that one was less appropriate to the Dolly-era.


And so I then wrote a leadership guide around that. So, I guess it's a long way of saying I guess I started with the memoir, because that was the — that's really the part of my book that sets the timescale.



Yes. Yes.



Or set the order, if you like, yeah.



It is your memoir, and you've talked about various incidences and conversations and things that have happened in your life. You also talk about various things that have happened in other people's careers because they've been part of your life.


Did you struggle at any point to think, “Oh, should I leave that bit out about myself? That's a bit personal?” Or, “Should I leave that bit out about that person?” Because, you know, that's their story kind of thing. Were you torn at any point on that matter?



Yeah, I did. And believe it or not I did take some stuff out, right? Given how much is in there. I did actually take some things out.


I guess what I tried to do was tell the story without being overly gratuitous with other people's experiences. But, look, I guess there's no way around — unless I operated in a vacuum there were always going to be other people in my world that impacted on my decision-making.


So, I tried to only put in the instances where I felt they added to what I did next, the decisions I might have made next. Or, how my personal growth may have changed as a result.


I look back and I think, “The sort of manager that I am today or the sort of leader I am today is a result of both good and poor leadership over the years.” And so I felt like I needed to show some of that.


And it is hard, like it is tricky because I don't think you can write a book that is anything other than fiction, unless you actually bring in other people's experiences which is difficult. I've tried not to labor too hard. I mean there are a few threads through it, there's obviously my deputy editor, my deputy editor for Dolly and she's in it quite a lot in the Dolly times. Then obviously her kind of life experience.


I took some stuff out about her that I thought was too much. But, I feel and I guess I've had feedback from people who worked with us at the time that they felt that I looked after in terms of that — her life and her experience.


There's own my husband, right? So… my husband is a thread through it. He's near the beginning and he goes through to the end. Maybe he would have preferred not to have his life in there either. I mean I think it's… it is difficult. I think it's really hard to write a real life story without bringing in other people's experiences, if you want to have an authentic book, and I did.


I also toyed with the idea, of course, of changing names. And then I thought, “Well…”



People will know.






People will know. So, people in the industry will know, because they'll work it out, but then people outside of the industry, it's like fiction to them anyway. They don't know who these people are.






So, it doesn't make any difference. I felt I really wanted to have an authentic book that showed who I was as a leader and the sort of real experiences I've had, both good and bad.


I know what you're asking. And I was challenged by it, but in the end I guess I made a decision to go with including other relevant people and their experiences in my book.



You have a very demanding job at the moment, you are the general manager at Bow Wow of the Hearst Publications. You also sit on various boards, including what I imagine is a very time-consuming one, as chair of Wests Tigers, the NRL team, among other responsibilities. How in the world did you find time to write a book? Seriously?



Well, yeah…



On a practical level, when did you do this?



It's a really strange thing and I credit my newspaper training with this. But, I'm a really fast writer. And, so I probably wrote this book in a fraction of the time that someone else might write a book. Once I have an idea I can knock out… as I realized to myself, I could knock out a chapter in a couple of hours. I mean literally when I'm on a roll, I'm seriously on a roll.


So, it didn't… when I think about the amount of hours I spent writing the book, all up, it really wasn't a lot.


And, look, part of that is, too, when you're writing something that's true and personal and you're not having to… you don't have to labor over every word because it's coming out in truth.






Because, you know, you're just basically writing about an event that happened. Literally when you think about it what I've done is I've reported on my own career. I haven't… I know that… I've heard people say that the difference between a journalist writing about their career or writing their memoir is different to a writer, like a true writer, not a journalist, writing about…


So, you know, there's not… I didn't stop and think about kind of embellishing the words in anyway, I just literally reported on my career. And, it flows quickly, which is probably why people are saying to me it's quite entertaining, because the experiences are entertaining rather than necessarily the words, if you like. So, I just knocked… back in the day when I was first a journalist in at the Daily Mirror, I used to have to write the features page, which was a full page of tabloid newspaper, and I would… the editor would come out of conference at like 9:00 in the morning and I'd have to have the whole thing filed by about 11:00/12:00, and I have to fill the whole page, right? So, I became a really fast writer.


And even when I was a magazine writer I'd have two or three articles to write for the month and I would do them in the first couple of days, because that's just how I am. And I think I'm like that as a person anyway. I can get a lot of things done really quickly.


I never felt that I didn't have the time, I guess. Part of it is cathartic, you know? It's just after a hard day you need to kind of change your rhythm a bit. Some people watch trash TV, I've done that too in the past. And this for me was another kind of outlet.



Let's talk about that. Is that something that you actually worked on when you got home every day? On a practical level, when did you do it?



No, I didn't do it every day. I should have. I didn't. I wasn't that organized upfront, I wish I had been.


What I ended up doing — I spent… once a week I would write something, and so when you've got 21 chapters, I tried to knock over part of it, at least. So, I had two-thirds of it done or something done kind of every week, and then I got to Christmas and I had… our business closes down for Christmas, and I worked out that I had to really refine 18 chapters. So, I had two-thirds of 18 chapters done, but I had to refine 18 chapters.


And so I literally did two a day. I got up in the morning and I went for a walk at the beach very early, went and had breakfast, came back, did one chapter, had lunch, did the next chapter, and there was one day when I was on such a high, and such a roll that I did three in one day.


So, as I said, I can get right in the zone, I didn't ever have writer's block or anything like that. Once I have an idea I can really knock it out pretty quickly.


And because I had planned the idea in September… I think the best thing that I did really for my book was go away for a week and plan out the chapters. That was by far the most — the best use of my time in terms of planning this book was then, because after that I knew what I was going to write about.



Did you stick to that chapter plan that you did back in September?



I did. I stuck to it to the letter.





In the book you talk about how one of the things that you wanted to do was become a magazine editor. You knew that from a very young age, and you eventually became editor of Dolly at 23. So, what was it about magazines that appealed to you so much back then that you just knew you wanted… and you really chased after that goal?



When I was a teenager I wasn't sporty, I wasn't into anything like that. I was completely obsessed with Dolly. So, I was that young girl who knew the on-sale date and I was at the newsagent before school to buy it, OK? Almost like the dream reader of a magazine.


I was quite good at math and that sort of thing at school. Teachers try to kind of encourage you in certain ways, and I was thinking I wanted to work — there was this new thing called computers that came out. Obviously I'm 50 now, so back then, 34 years ago, you know those big box computers had just started, and I thought, “OK, well that's something that if you're good at math you could do that.”


And then I thought I wanted to be a pharmacist. And then just one day, I don't know, I was about 16, I was sitting there looking at Dolly and I remember reading a column, I was reading the editor's column, which I did every month. And Lisa Wilkson was the editor of Dolly at the time, and I remember reading her column and she must have written about her job. I think it was one of those times where she had written about what a great job she had.


I thought, “Oh my god, this is the job I want to do.” And it was just like that and after that — once I have made up my mind I'm determined. That was it. I wrote a letter to her, and she or somebody sent me back a letter saying, “If you want to be the editor of Dolly you're going to have to become a journalist.” I thought, “Oh, I haven't thought about that.” So, that's why I became a journalist.



And an amazing career ensued. I think that the story is so good because so much has happened to you as well.


As you say, you've reported on your career, but there was so many things to report on that it just carried it through, because it was absolutely interesting event after interesting event after fascinating machination and so on.


Now you've said that the reason that the publisher got to you was she said that you will be inspiring the next generation of women, kind of thing?






And that was the hot button. Why is that so important to you? I mean it's clear that you're very passionate about it, why are you so proactive about this, and what do you hope that the book will do?



I just think that I'm a person who has always, always been concerned by the concept of justice. For me… the whole kind of thing around… any kind of gender bias, anything like that has always been an issue for me. I wrote a little tiny bit… I think I did a little insight into that with just one little anecdote. At the front of the book when I talk about my family and my upbringing. I don't know why, but I was born resenting the fact that men and women were treated differently or boys and girls were treated differently. So, it always was a problem for me.


And it isn't always for everybody, but for some reason it was for me.


I guess throughout my career some of the feelings… just feeling unjustly dealt with was part of the catalyst for me moving jobs often.


Gender is a really big one for me because it's something you can't control. I can't control — well, there are a lot of things that you can't control, right? You can't control who your parents are, you can't control where you grew up, you can't control what school you went to, you can't control what gender you are. And, so those sorts of things really concern me if people are disadvantaged in any way because of it.


And I have felt, I guess I felt very early… I experienced it very early where I could see… especially in the newspaper world, you know? It was one of the reasons I went in, I thought, “I have to get across to magazines,” because I quite liked… once I became a journalist I quite enjoyed it. But, I could see straightaway that women and men were treated differently.


And I just refused to be treated as an object or… people being treated because of what they look like or what their gender is, it really concerned me. That's kind of where it began with the gender thing.


But, I've always felt grateful that I think through my career men and women, I feel like people have looked out for me. And, I do think it's helped give me the confidence to get where I am. And, I'm quite confident in terms of backing myself. And, I've always said that I think that's one of the key differences between women succeeding and women not succeeding.


Men, I know it's a generalization, but are largely as a group are more confident in their choices and in just going for jobs. So, I feel like if we can inspire young women to back themselves, make decisions, take a risk, that they will get further, and I just want to see a world where there's gender balance. I want to see a world where men and women have the same opportunities to succeed, and we're a long way from that. We're a hell of a long way from that. And so, you know, I feel like if you're in a position to help make that a reality, then you should, you know? Not everybody does, but I feel like I should.


So, it's really important to me. It's one of the reasons why I launched Women's Agenda, because, again, there was no discussion at that time, or very little discussion around female leadership, and I feel like since the launch of Women's Agenda that's exploded, and I'm really proud of that, because I think in many ways we help start that conversation. It's now gone off into websites and publications that are bigger than Women's Agenda, but there was very little in the beginning when we launched it.


So, it's been very personal for me, because I do feel that men of my age of my experience have been given more opportunities. But, I'm going to keep fighting on, that's what you do.



Now you say that you want to inspire the next generation, but I actually think you're mistaken in terms of this book, because it inspires women of all ages.



Thank you.



I don't think that — I didn't actually read it thinking, “This is going to inspire all the millennials.” I think it's inspiring to everyone.


One of the reasons for that is that you have been successful and achieved a lot, against many odds. I mean I was sitting there and I was reading it and I'm saying to my partner, “Oh my god, she's tenacious.” And, like, “Do you know what school she went to?”




That's right, yeah.



And things like that. “Do you know what happened to her father?” Against so many odds that many people actually don't know about.





Or it wouldn't even cross their minds, because you've reached a certain level.


So much hard work has gone into that, and I just almost kind of think, “Gee Marina, don't you ever get just tired?”



Well, yes, I know. I think — I'm 50 now and I am looking at, you know, what the next 30 years will look like and there are things that I still want to do, you know? There are still — I'm hoping that I get to achieve everything that I want to do in the future.



What's on that list?



Well, I have a couple of business ideas, Valerie. But, at least one that's really quite compelling and I've started to kind of plan for. There are lots of things to do.


I really enjoy my board work. I love being the chair of the Wests Tigers. It surprised me how much I love it. And, it's not because I love going along to the games. I mean I do now because I'm invested in the club and the team, but I really like making a difference to an organization at a level where you can actually work on the business rather than in the business. So, I really love that, and I want to do more of it.



On that point, why in the world did you want to become chair of the Wests Tigers?



Well, actually, I didn't want to. I'll tell you the story, I didn't want to. You know, I had been on the board of Netball Australia, I was their appointed director, so the independent director that wasn't voted on, I was appointed by the board. I did my three terms there, six years. And, I knew nothing about Netball to begin with, this is no secret to the netballers, they all realize that.


But, I really grew to love it and it was a fantastically rewarding experience.


After my third term, you have to come off the board, that's the constitution. I then was approached by a board recruiter to say, “Are you interested in another sports board?” And I had thought long and hard about it and I thought, “Well, you know, I'd quite like to be on a male sport's board that needs gender diversity.” So, again, back to my kind of core passion.


About six months later I got a call from the NRL asking me to come along for an interview. I didn't know which club, I knew they were looking for independent directors for some of the clubs, and so I went along. And as it turned out it was the Wests Tigers and they were looking for three independent directors with the proviso that one of them be a woman. One of the three of the three, two were women, which was fantastic, two of three, and obviously I was one of them.


And then just at the first board meeting someone nominated me to be the chair, and that was it. And I was anxious about it, because in the lead up to that first board meeting someone had whispered to me, “Would you consider being the chair?” And I remember having dinner with a friend and saying, “Oh my god, can you believe it? Someone thinks I could be the chair.”


And it was this guy that had said to me, you know, in fact it was Bernard Keane from Crikey. He said to me, “Well, you have to do it. If they decide to nominate you as the chair you have to do it.” I said, “I don't know, I've never chaired a board. I've been on some great boards with great chairs, but I've never chaired a board.” And he just looked at me and said, “I've listened to you for years tell women that they have to take an opportunity and just go with it, and so now you have to do this — you have to do this.”


And I was lying in bed that night and I thought, “How often does a women get an opportunity to chair a board? Really? Never.” Very, very rarely, and particularly a male sports board.


And so I thought, “OK, if it's offered to me I'll take it,” and then there it was at the board meeting. There it was, you know?


I was nominated, nobody else was nominated, and I was elected, unopposed. So, there it was.



Oh my goodness, oh my goodness.


Finally before we wrap up, in terms of the book, what was the most rewarding thing about the process?



I think the fact that I've completed it to be honest. And when I say that I — that actually sounds really strange because I do complete things. It took me seven years to do my MBA, and I only had seven years otherwise I would have had to start again, right? So, I do do things, I'm pretty tenacious. But, I think I surprised myself that I could actually write a book. I mean it was so strange. But, also really cathartic. It's just a great —



Why in the world would it be surprising?



I don't know. I'm not one of those people that you see walking around thinking I had a book in there. I think that's probably why. I know a lot of people do. There are a lot of people and a lot journalists who think I'm going to write a book, and some of them write brilliant books. I never used to walk around thinking, “Oh, I have to write a book.”


Getting to the end and really the process was quite short, actually, I think that surprised me. When you think about the fact that I signed a contract in June, I delivered the book in January, and my book is on sale in May, so it's less than 12 months. I mean I look back and I can barely believe it myself.


And everybody who was part of the process, so friends and family, are still in shock that wasn't I just talking about a book probably driving them crazy only a few months ago? And now there's a book, they're coming to a launch. It's a strange thing.


But, it's also wonderfully cathartic. I'm pretty good of letting go of things. I do actually have very tough skin. I write about that in the book, that I've got a very, very tough hide. I've learnt that over the years to become resilient and that's great, but there's something really wonderful about the release of writing it down and then letting it go, even though unfortunately now it's never going. It's going to sit there forever.



One of the scariest things for me is when I'm about to read the book of a friend.






And I have to say one of the most amazing things for me is when I read it and I just love every bit of it. As I've said, it's not just for young women, it's for any woman, or man for that matter, who is interested in creating a successful career. But, also the lessons that you have in there, they're extremely practical lessons that aren't just how-to. You've got real life examples, which is the best part, of goal-setting. There's so many articles on goal-setting around the place, but the way you've explained it really — it really resonates and really makes so much sense. I just think — I just have to say congratulations. It's a fantastic book.



Thank you. Oh, that's really lovely.



I mean it.


Anyway, that brings us to the end of our interview. What's your advice, final words of advice to people who… when you think about our listeners who are aspiring writers, they might want to become journalists, they might want to become magazine editors, they haven't got that first job at that magazine yet. What's your advice to them, for people who want to break into the industry?



Well, you need to differentiate yourself. I think that's probably the other — hopefully that's the other message that I have left anyone who's read the book is that I worked very hard at making sure that my skillsets, everything that I've put together, every bit of study, every bit of my work history, sets me apart from other people.


So, I think differentiating yourself is really important, because everyone starts — particularly if you come out of university, you start with the same set of skills, which are very limited. Maybe someone did better at uni than others, it's not necessarily the driving factors for why we would choose somebody. So, you need to, I think, start writing, you know?


I've always said to young people who ask my advice, that the great things for them now that we didn't have when I was growing up is the internet and to be able to blog.


So, you actually do have an opportunity to showcase your thinking. And, when you think about a blog, even, think about what you're going to offer a group of people that isn't currently on offer, and make sure you remain true to that and showcase your strategy and your writing as a result of that, so that you actually have something to show.


So, I think potential writers now have an advantage because of that, the disadvantage is there aren't as many jobs as there were when I started out. It was relatively easy for me to move, for example, between the suburbans and the metros. But, even that — there are a lot of people, even starting out in journalism, would have never considered taking a job in a community newspaper like I did.


So, I think you have to take the opportunity, any opportunity you can, take it. That's really the first thing.


Again, I've had young people say to me, “I was offered an opportunity with a free publication and I thought ‘oh, I don't really want to do that, I want to hang out for something better…” And I'm thinking, “God, your best chance at getting something better is if you're working in something else.”


So, you know, take whatever opportunity you can, gain as many experiences as you can, and just keep asking. You have to tell people what you want. I think, again, that's hopefully a message that came through, you have to tell people what you want. I did it all the way through, it's the way that I got my very first opportunity in media, you know? I bored those train travelers stupid every day telling them, “I know I'm working in a bank, but I really want to be a journalist.” And one day one of them cracked and thought, “For Christ's sake, the only way we're going to get this woman to shut up is if I introduce her to the local editor in chief,” and it all went from there.



Wonderful, great advice. Thank you so much for your time today, Marina.



Thank you for having me.


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The Australian Writers’ Centre offers courses in creative writing, freelance writing, business writing, blogging and much more. Our practical and industry-proven courses will help you gain confidence and meet your goals faster!

Contact us

Phone: (02) 9929 0088 Email: courses@writerscentre.com.au Head office: Suite 3,
55 Lavender Street, Milsons Point NSW 2061

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