Meet the high-flying entrepreneur jetting between Sydney and Singapore

Grit and grace: High-flying entrepreneur Gemma Manning shares her business growth story

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There aren’t many entrepreneurs prepared to give a raw and honest account of what their business journey has entailed. The risks they’ve taken. The pain they’ve felt when business deals have fallen apart.

But then again, there aren’t many entrepreneurs quite like Gemma Manning. The straight-talking marketeer tells it like it is, adamant that sharing the sheer grit and grace under pressure is the antidote other business owners need to get through their own respective journey.

She begins her story when she was flying high in a corporate marketing career in her early twenties. She had the world at her feet. In those heady days, big marketing budgets and international travel were her norm.

Her boss at the time gave her opportunities to earn her way up the corporate ladder, which saw her rise through the ranks from a young age. She went on to work for global brands but was quick to point out that she earned her roles with hard work.

“I wasn’t given these opportunities on a silver platter. It was my own doing. I made it happen. I delivered in those roles and my career was accelerated,” Gemma recalls.

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A pivotal moment

Starting a family was a lightbulb moment in her career, prompting her to realign her values, start a business on her own terms so she could focus on what really important in life: family.

She launched full service strategy marketing consultancy Manning & Co in Sydney. She admits that running a business is a mammoth undertaking, pointing out that you give up your annual leave and sick leave.

A career highlight has been being shortlisted for the Young Telstra Business Woman of the Year Award, which buoyed her to push on in those early days.

International expansion

When a client asked her to help them expand their business into Asia, she saw an opportunity to grow her own business alongside theirs, launching her office there in 2015.

It was a huge risk, but she was determined to make it work, refinancing her home and moving to Singapore as a single mother with her two daughters.

Upon arriving, she realised she couldn’t afford the international school fees, which would be $80,000 a year for her two children. “I was a business woman on my own, not the trailing spouse of a man on a big corporate package.”

Unperturbed, Gemma moved anyway and home-schooled her daughters for the first nine months in Singapore. It wasn’t easy. She felt like a fish out of water, admitting she didn’t fit the typical expat mould and to add to it, nothing went right initially.

“It felt bold and scary because initially when I moved to Singapore, nothing went right. I had five clients on board initially, which was going to cover my costs, but for different reasons, each of those clients ended up pulling out.”

Again, this experience was a blessing because it led her to write a book about her experience, About This Girl. It details her business journey, which she describes as a rollercoaster of ups and downs, courage and bravery.

Gemma admits that sharing her journey in the book was a scary proposition. “The tall poppy syndrome is alive and well in Australia, and I didn’t want to be beating my own chest or doing it for any other reason than I hope it inspires others and teaches my daughters to have a voice.”

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“Too often, we don’t talk about a difficult journey. So I hope the book is motivating and that people can see that behind the scenes, it’s difficult and risky, but rewarding.”

Early on in her business journey, Gemma knew that a financial lifeline was going to be an important part of her success, securing the American Express Qantas Business Rewards Card, which she admits has opened countless doors for her in her business journey.

The Card enables her to receive Qantas Points when she spends on eligible purchases1, making some work trips free.

In fact, the points the business earns when flying are tripled when eligible flights are booked with the American Express Qantas Business Rewards Card.2 This has been a major bonus as her business has grown and more travel has been required. “Being able to reduce costs where you can through rewards is essential for anyone in business,” Gemma says.

This year, Gemma is celebrating 15 years in her own business, which has seen her expand into Singapore. She also helps companies navigate the process of tapping into new markets, particularly in South East Asia, adding that Indonesia is a huge market for Australian businesses. Being able to duck into a Qantas lounge when travelling for work to take a moment to herself and check in with her team has been particularly useful, she says. The American Express Qantas Business Rewards Card unlocks two complimentary domestic Qantas Club lounge passes each year.3

While holding an Amex Card may help with the ups and downs of running a business, Gemma is the first to admit that going into business in the first place wasn’t an easy decision.

When she was young, Gemma watched her mother lose everything in her own business after a financially messy divorce, which she admits coloured her outlook on life and financial security growing up.

Who knows, she may even get an opportunity to collaborate with her teenage daughters when they start their own career journey in the future.

Gemma shares her top tips for business success:

Be vulnerable: Don’t be afraid to bring human emotions into the workplace. All too often we try and separate business and home life but being honest about who you are as a person at work is important.

Be passionate: The importance of passion, purpose and problem solving isn’t well understood. Bringing these three elements to the table when building a business will bring success. “We need more heart in business. I don’t think it exists, but it should, she says.

Take the opportunity: Sometimes, life presents incredible opportunities, which may seem big and scary at the time, but if you don’t take them when they come along, you can regret it years later.

Save where you can: A card like the American Express Qantas Business Rewards Cardcan unlock points on business spend. Depending on how you choose to redeem them, points earned can help to reduce the cost of doing business.

Know your strength: Building a sustainable business with authenticity takes strength, so look for ways to deal with stress in business and make sure you get enough sleep.

Consider the big picture: Small wins are great, but don’t lose sight of the prospect of building a business with longevity when making decisions in your business.

Find your calm: Learning to stay calm in a crisis and manage your own stress levels so you can think clearly with a level head.

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