SPOTLIGHT ON ROBYN MCBRIDE
MOTHER, PHARMACIST AND BUSINESS OWNER, ROBYN MCBRIDE (HAILEY, 1976) SHARES how she STARTed HER PHARMACY BUSINESS IN A TIME WHEN WOMEN FACED CHALLENGES TODAY'S ENTREPRENEURS CAN'T IMAGINE.
When did you attend PLC Sydney and what did you plan to do after school?
I attended PLC Sydney from Year 3 in 1967 through to Year 12, 1976.
My part time job through school was at Prouds the Jewellers, City store, so I knew I enjoyed helping people and I liked working in retail. While still at school, I struggled to decide whether to study Law or Pharmacy. My classmate friend Felicity Cooper (Gordon, 1976)’s father, a lawyer, explained to my parents that even with two degrees, it was difficult to find work in law and that part time work was inconceivable.
As I hoped to one day have children and to own my own business, Pharmacy became the clear career choice for me as I knew it would provide flexibility to work as few or as many hours as I chose and additionally, my two pharmacist uncles, both owned their own pharmacies.
Please tell us what you did after finishing school?
After completing my Pharmacy Degree at Sydney University, I commenced working as a relieving pharmacist. I worked as many hours a week as I could, gaining experience and tucking away knowledge of what did and didn’t work, for the future, when I hoped to own my own pharmacy. I was also saving hard to realise my dreams and travel with three girlfriends for 10 months through the United Kingdom and Europe in a Kombi Camper van. After returning to Sydney, I married in 1983 and had my only child, a daughter, Victoria Rozehnal (Whitehead, 2005) in 1987.
In 1988, Victoria was 9 months old and Therese, a good friend from University, called me excitedly to let me know that her father-in-law was retiring. We had a golden opportunity to purchase his pharmacy, that she and another pharmacist, Ann had been co-managing for the previous two years.
The pharmacy profit and loss statements were excellent, Ann and Therese had built good relationships with the customers and we had the required deposit saved, however, oddly, two banks refused to provide the finance we required. They did not provide a reason why. The third bank manager we approached advised us that he had decided to “overlook the fact that we were women” and loan us the money. We were horrified to realise that the other major banks had declined to loan us the money because we were women! At the time, we were grateful that our bank overlooked the fact that we were women and loaned us the money we required. As far as I am aware, we were first female partnership to purchase a pharmacy in New South Wales at least.
Therese, Ann and I had 7 children between us. At the beginning of the year we would sit down with our school calendars and work out the days we needed to take off to transport our children to extra-curricular activities and attend sports carnivals and parent-teacher interviews etc. Meanwhile, my husband had purchased three pharmacies in partnership with two of his friends and he and I purchased our first house.
Life was good or so I thought, however in 1989, my husband, abruptly left our marriage, initially without giving a reason. I soon discovered that he was having an affair with one of his employees- another pharmacist. This was devastating, as I had no inkling that this had been occurring. I had a 20-month-old baby, my debt levels were high and interest rates were running at 18%. He refused to provide child support and it was before the government garnished wages.
Yet, despite all the negatives, my pharmacy was running well, so I did have financial security and I had a wonderful support network. I had no time to feel sorry for myself, as I had a business to run and a daughter to raise.
Six and a half years later I met a wonderful man, Lindsay McBride, on a blind date. We were introduced by one of my school classmates, Katherine Doust. We married in December that same year and we are still happily married.
Put the clock forward to 2005, and my partners and I sold our first pharmacy at Greystanes so we could take life a little easier and only work in our second, pharmacy, that we called our “retirement pharmacy”, at Collaroy Beach. Then, in 2009, Harriet, the three-year-old daughter of Majella, our other business partner, was diagnosed with an incurable brain tumour. Majella also had a 5 year old son and a 6 month old baby daughter, so her hands were full and she could understandably no longer work. As our pharmacy serviced 12 nursing homes, we could not find pharmacist relievers to relieve any of us, so we made the difficult decision to sell the pharmacy. Fortunately, we sold the pharmacy after a few days on the market, however tragically, little Harriet passed away on New Years’ Day 2010.
While I enjoyed every moment of owning our pharmacies, the responsibility is huge and the law states that a pharmacist must be present in the pharmacy at all times, which means that a day off, even at short notice, requires significant planning. I took two years “long service leave”, during which time my only responsibility was caring for Gus, my 8-month-old step grandson when his mother returned to work after her maternity leave, and being President of the PLC Ex-Student’s Union.
As the two years drew to a close, I was bored, and I knew that I wanted to go back to work and into business. I did not want my future to have the “leg rope” that being a pharmacy owner entails, so after some research, I purchased a business that writes reports for personal injury lawyers. I hold a Private Investigators Licence, although, I hasten to add that I do not undertake covert or hidden investigations. In a way I suppose, although I am not a lawyer, I have opened a door to the other interest I had at school, which was law.
I have been involved with the Ex-Students Union’ Committee since 1999. I was Honorary Treasurer for many years and Honorary President for three years. I still enjoy participating in the Ex-Students as a Committee Member and giving back to the school that gave so much to me.
I am step-grandmother to Gus, Otto, Toby, Tahlia and Oliver (12 years old to 6 years old) and grandmother to Mackenzie and Alexandra (3 years old and 1 year old). We are actively involved with all the grandchildren and being a grandparent is extremely rewarding.
What has been the proudest moment in your life so far?
Where do I start? I have had SO many moments where I have been happy with outcomes and achievements. My early proud moments were being Vicars House Captain in Year 6 (there were three Houses in the junior school then) and Kinross House Captain in Year 12. Graduating as a pharmacist was a happy day.
My next very long and happy moments were having my daughter Victoria and watching her start and complete her education at PLC Sydney from 1993 – 2005. Victoria is a lawyer, a good citizen, a beautiful and caring wife to Tom and mother to Mackenzie and Alexandra.
In August 2013, Lindsay and I, with several friends, climbed Mt Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa and the highest single free-standing mountain in the world. It was a huge achievement as everyone in our group made it to the top.
I am still good friends with my former business partners, and I have stayed in touch with a majority of our staff and at one time we had over 45 members of staff across our two pharmacies.
Could you tell us about a mistake you have made and what did you learn from that mistake?
I don’t like to think in terms of mistakes, as everyone makes them. I prefer to think of learning experiences. The breakdown of my first marriage was a steep learning experience. He left when Victoria was 20 months old and has continued to be a philanderer since. As I was raised in a beautiful family, where trust was absolute, I was naïve and deeply shocked to discover that affairs existed outside of the movies. I learned resilience and compassion, along with the value of strong family support and truly good friends - “the village” - who supported Victoria and me through the difficult times.
What's the most significant piece of advice you've received and who shared it with you?
The words that my mother wrote in my autograph book spring to mind: “Your path lies before you like a path of untrodden snow. Be careful how you tread on it, for every mark will show.”
My father, although not religious would always say: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”
If you could travel back in time, what would you say to your younger self at the age of 20 or 30?
I inherited the “worry” gene from my mother, so I suppose I could tell my younger self not to worry so much. I don’t think I could have advised my younger self not to marry the first time, because my marriage breakdown and the nastiness that he inflicted towards me afterwards has made me a stronger person, who is better able to appreciate the good times I have experienced since. Also, had I advised my younger self not to marry the first time, Victoria, Mackenzie and Alexandra would not be in my life, nor would my wonderful second husband, Lindsay or my gorgeous step family.
What tools (apps, books, podcasts, etc.) or activities do you go to for inspiration or balance?
I live in Northbridge and I enjoy walking a 6 kilometre steeply undulating circuit around the end of the Northbridge peninsula which takes me close to the waters of Middle harbour and along a bush track that is filled with the sounds and smells of Australia. On my way to work I listen to the ABC News or Jonesy and Amanda on 101.7 WSFM and Podcasts on my way home. After years of closing the pharmacies and arriving home too late to watch free to air television, I have become a Netflix/Stan junkie. I have the privilege of enjoying our boat and our holiday house on the Central Coast with our extended family.
How has your education at PLC Sydney shaped the person you are today?
PLC Sydney very much assisted to shape the person I am today. I was eager to attend school every single day, where I made wonderful lifelong friendships. Miss Whitlam was Headmistress during my 10 years at PLC and she conveyed to her pupils that women could achieve their dreams and compete in a man’s world. We learned that it is okay to be a stay at home mother, a full time employed mother, or a combination of both and that we could reach for the stars and achieve our dreams.
I was fortunate to be Vicars House Captain in year 6 and Kinross House Captain in year 12. The leadership skills and responsibilities I learned in those early roles have been invaluable to me in my life and career. I learned to be a cooperative team member and to lead when required. The lasting friendships I forged at school helped me to weather the difficulties that I have encountered. Being a student when Mis Keown was teaching at the College, also helped me to understand that adversity can be borne with grace and a positive approach.
Please share some of your most vivid, favourite or amusing memories from school.
I commenced PLC in Year 3. There were three new girls that year and only 20 girls in my year group. The other 17 girls had danced the Maypole in year 2. To this day, my “besties” Anne Parry, Debbie Dempster (Pedemont) and Judy Pedemont, along with several others of my cohort, Robyn Fisher (Downie), Felicity Cooper (Gordon), mention at every opportunity that I did not dance the Maypole. At our reunions, those girls who danced the Maypole, proudly flash and share photographs of themselves in their white dresses dancing the maypole.
To that end, I started Victoria at PLC in Kindergarten, so she did not miss out on “Dancing the Maypole”. The irony was that in Victoria’s day, the Maypole was danced in year 4! Too funny.