• Ezlyn Olivia Barends

Heart-Centred Leadership: An Interview with Marise Mackay

Updated: Jun 10, 2019

Marise Mackay - Marketing Manager L'Oreal Paris & Co-Founder of DreamGirls Academy

Hello Purpose People! Welcome to my new blog that's focused on inspiring individuals to live a rich life filled with intention and meaning. I had the honour of tapping into my very good friend and business partner's head, heart and mind as she shared her journey to living a purpose-filled life. Marise Mackay is a Group Product Manager at L'Oreal Paris South Africa as well as a fellow founding director of the DreamGirls Academy AND certified yoga teacher :). Marise is pure Peace, Love & Fire. Here's what she had to share;

EOB: Please can you share with our readers a little bit of your personal background and story. Where did you come from and what inspired you to be the person you are today?

MM: Born into a rather large and close-knit family as the youngest of 7, I grew up in the predominantly Coloured community of Eldorado Park, south of Johannesburg. I attended ‘Our Lady of Mercy’ Primary School, also known as Mayfair Convent, followed by 5 years of schooling in the north of Johannesburg where I attended Parktown High School for Girls’. When my dad passed away in my final year of high school, my mum and I agreed that I should take a gap year to work abroad after Matric, granted financial constraints of studying further. After spending 2 years in the United States in the state of New Jersey as an au pair, I returned to South Africa to pursue my tertiary education. I attended the AAA School of Advertising, with much thanks to bursary funding, and after graduating cum laude, I took on the role of Junior Strategic Planner at a global advertising agency, Publicis. Inspired by a desire to build “love” brands with purpose and support women in their journey toward self-love, I entered the Beauty Industry as a “pepiniere” for leading global beauty brand, L’Oreal. Prior to my current role as Marketing Manager on L’Oreal Paris, I worked on various brands and categories across the L’Oreal organisation in South Africa.

EOB: How and when did you discover your purpose?

MM: It was through my exposure to two completely different worlds; that being the township community of Eldorado Park, and its contrast to the northern suburbs of Parktown, that the seeds of purpose began to bud. As soon as I returned back from the United States, I became involved in youth leadership in Eldorado Park. Often challenged by insults as having a “silver-spoon upbringing”, my desire to expose teenage girls from my community to life beyond the township was far greater than the challenges that came with it. I was conflicted by the number of girls who felt trapped by their circumstances, and even more so, by the number of girls settling for mediocrity from disillusionment, fear and insecurity. During my time at Publicis, I met a free-spirited, polished and ambitious Ezlyn Barends who came to know about my involvement in youth leadership and my desire to bring about change in the lives of girls from my community. When Ezlyn invited me to start DreamGirls Academy with herself and other like-minded women, almost 8 years ago, I initially saw it as an opportunity to “pay it forward”. It has since become my second home; the greatest synchronicity to my purpose.

With the DreamGirls Academy board members in October 2018

EOB: What is your purpose and key passions in life?

MM: First and foremost, I believe that my purpose is to be a source of love and motivation in every area of my life; as a yoga teacher who holds space for others to feel safe in their practice; as a colleague; a manager; as a sister; a friend; a lover…as a mentor; whatever hat I’m wearing. I believe that love is the driving force behind purpose. Until you believe you’re capable of achieving greatness and being a light for others; which for many is unfathomable, your purpose will remain out of reach. This belief stems from a confidence rooted in self-love and self-awareness. It’s this love that fuels my need to make others aware of their authentic power to thrive, not merely survive. Not enough people believe in their own power. It is my purpose to leave people better than I found them, and aware of their contribution to the world. The Nigerian proverb, “One cannot sit down alone to plan for prosperity”, feeds in me a sense of commitment to support others in pursuit of their dreams. Whether their dream is to be promoted within the context of L’Oreal; to get an A+ for Mathematics; to master a pose in yoga; or to embark on a journey of Entrepreneurship.

EOB: How does one start embracing a life that is more intentional and driven from the inside out?

MM: I think it starts with having a vision. Many people don’t believe in the power of vision; but I think vision coupled with character is a recipe for success. It’s often vision that forces our character to catch up with our heart’s desire. Once the vision has been identified, the answer lies mostly in self-mastery. There’s power in your daily routine.

Intentionality can be further supported by someone with a vested interest in your success, who holds you accountable to your aspirations. More often than not, this person is a mentor.

And finally, I believe that intentionality becomes a default setting when you’ve identified your purpose, your reason for being. Synchronicity will find you when you’re living out your purpose; and you will find it. You will know what it feels like. You can’t be intentional when you don’t have a vision…a place you’re trying to get to.

Founding Directors of DreamGirls Academy - Mmabatho Mokiti, Ezlyn Barends & Marise Mackay (left to right)

EOB: What past experiences and people have helped shape who you are today?

MM: Becoming acquainted with the experience of making mistakes and failing has been my personal source of resilience, grace and gratitude. It’s really what feeds my humility and reminds me to show up in excellence and love. Women in the workplace who I have previously been led by from a place of fear, not only revealed the type of manager that I absolutely did not want to be, but also, strangely enough, shone a light on qualities that I was oblivious to as my strengths, and in turn that was viewed as a threat. I am a rare case I believe, of someone so supported by the most incredible network of people who have, and continue to see greatness in me beyond my own imagination. Synchronicity to my purpose is reinforced through my every encounter.

I come from a family that keeps me grounded; a family of workers, visionaries and self-starters. This type of exposure alone keeps me out of trouble and committed to my life’s purpose. When my dad was boarded from work after his first stroke, I remember him making our lunches every morning and preparing dinner every night while my mom worked as a designer and dressmaker. It was sitting crossed-legged on my mum’s industrial sewing machine watching her work through the night on a wedding dress or a banquet dress that I was first exposed to discipline and passion.

I’ve always been exposed to informal mentoring; but it was my first structured form of mentorship that introduced commitment, intentionality and accountability into my vision for success. My mentor Lillian and the inspiring women who serve alongside me as Founding Directors of DreamGirls Academy are the warrior women I believe who have an unspoken commitment to see me live out my purpose. It really is what I describe as an unapologetically fierce sisterhood.

EOB: What are your top three habits that contribute to your success?

MM: Waking up at 5am; sometimes 4:30am.

Prayer and silent meditation.

A disciplined yoga practice.

EOB: Have you ever felt down and out in life and how did you get back up and get your inspiration and motivation back?

MM: Absolutely! Generally if I feel I’m slipping into a slump, it’s because I haven’t remained committed to the habits mentioned above. The last time that I was however faced with a real overwhelming case of ‘down-and-out’, I met with a life coach who I continue to see on a regular basis, or as the need arises when I encounter major milestones along my journey, professionally or personally.

EOB: Please can you recommend three books or podcast episodes that were gamechanges for you?

MM: It’s very difficult to mention just 3;


· Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott

· The Leader Who Had No Title by Robin Sharma

· The Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes

· The Culture Code by Daniel Coyle


· The GaryVee Audio Experience: “Put In The WORK!” and “The Human Pursuit of Happiness”

· Oprah’s Super Soul Conversations: “A New Earth”

EOB: If you could describe yourself in one word, what would that be?

MM: Layered

EOB: What’s your one piece of wisdom that you would like to share with the world?

MM: Know Thyself. Self- mastery is only possible with self-awareness. By having a clear understanding of yourself (and this is a lifelong journey in itself), your purpose becomes more apparent. The things that move you makes more sense; how you respond to life makes more sense; how you plan and show up makes more sense; your worth makes more sense.

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