President makes her mark

DANIELLE Blain is well known to many people in Perth as the State president of the Liberal Party and as a director of Schaffer Corporation.

But not many people would know that her first job was also at Menzies House – the West Perth home of the Liberal Party – as a probation and parole officer. She might have transformed the prison system if she had stuck with her original career but instead she has made her mark elsewhere.

Mrs Blain has a natural instinct for marketing that has served her well through a varied career, and could prove handy in her current Liberal Party role.

She also aims high, never content to take the easy path.

These traits were apparent when she was a student at the University of WA and became public relations officer for the student guild.

Instead of running fundraising events like her predecessors, Mrs Blain took it upon herself to go out and find a donor for a car to be used as the major prize.

She also organised discount vouchers with nearby businesses, which at the time was hardly heard of.

Mrs Blain also made her mark during her time as a mother at St Hilda’s Girls’ School, where she was involved in a range of fundraising activities.

She went so far as to prepare a business plan for her first school fete and targeted activities that would substantially boost profits, with great success

Mrs Blain proceeded to become the first female president of the parents' association and subsequently joined the school council.

Her enterprising activities caught the attention of her father, George Schaffer, who brought her into the family business, known at the time as Calsil.

In 1988, Mrs Blain became managing director of Calsil’s newly acquired tannery business, which came to be known as Gosh Leather.

“My father was passionate about adding value to raw materials,” she said.

“He was very anti the quarry syndrome.

“Here was another case of taking a raw material, in fact a by-product, adding value and selling it."

When Mrs Blain took over the business, it made a wide range of products.

“We were jack of all trades and master of nothing.

“We quickly realised we needed to specialise, and we decided upholstery was the way to go."

Within three years, the company won about 30 per cent of the domestic market, and then decided it was time to pursue export opportunities.

Mrs Blain has learnt many lessons from selling into the international furniture market, which she describes as price driven and fickle.

“From day one, the only way we could get a foot in the export market was by selling Australia. We had to romance Australia.”

This approach was illustrated by one of Gosh’s marketing phrases: The rugged Australian with the soft touch.

At trade fairs, the company shamelessly used Australian novelties to attract attention.

“We were the only Australian company selling leather in the US, that was our point of difference,” she said.

Mrs Blain retired from her management role in 2001 and since then has watched Gosh, like many Australian manufacturers, battle against the rising currency and the inroads of low-cost Chinese manufacturers.

When she retired, Mrs Blain’s intention was to focus on her role as pro chancellor at Edith Cowan University, various philanthropic activities and her family.

It was her marketing reputation that led to her involvement at ECU, where she has been closely involved in developing a new strategic positioning for the university.

She said there was now a clear recognition that ECU needed to promote itself as being different and not as another “sandstone’ university”.

Mrs Blain’s current role as Liberal Party State president extends her family’s involvement with the party. Her late father was a branch president and her husband was an adviser to Court government minister Graham Kierath.

p Danielle Blain will be telling her story at WA Business News’ next Success & Leadership breakfast, from 7am to 9am on April 29.

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