Marla Wynne Ginsburg
It’s Never Too Late to Pivot
It has to be a mistake, Marla Wynne Ginsburg thought as she stared at her phone. To her absolute astonishment she, along with luminaries the likes of Julie Wainwright, founder and CEO of The RealReal and Cathy Engelbert, the commissioner of the WNBA, had made the inaugural Forbes Fifty Over Fifty list. The news was impossible to absorb, and she spent the next few days certain Forbes magazine would call, letting her know they were taking it all back.
That call never came. Marla had earned her spot on that prestigious list, though her career had taken several unexpected turns to get her there.
Marla began her professional life working full time as the head of public relations for a St. Louis hotel while she was still in college, after which she bucked her parents’ plans for law school and instead moved to Chicago to study at Second City while working full time in advertising. Through an odd twist of fate and ample ambition, she ended up producing a children’s show for the Chicago Board of Rabbis, a show that would go on to win an Emmy and launch Marla into the first major pivot point of her career.
She relocated again, this time to LA, and began her career in television, as a studio executive developing series, the most notable of which was The Wonder Years. The work was fulfilling; living in LA was not. Marla, who had never considered herself to be especially pretty and hadn’t really cared – she was smart, funny and charismatic…who needed pretty? – felt out of place in looks-obsessed Hollywood. She didn’t like the future she saw for herself there, one she half joked might include an apartment with cottage cheese ceilings and too many cats, so she decided it was time to make a change.
She packed up a few paintings, a lot of books and even more shoes, and with basically zero French, set out for a new life in Paris. She worked her way up to become the highest ranking female American television executive in Europe and, over the next twenty years, she learned the language, met Prince Charming, fell in love, and had two children. Had this been a Hollywood production, the story might have ended there; but this was reality, and in reality, Prince Charming fell off his horse and Marla came to the necessary but painful conclusion that her life had to change again. She packed up her most treasured possessions and booked three tickets back to LA.
Although she returned to LA under a deal to develop network series, her return proved ill-timed. The US economy would shortly be in freefall, her investments tanked, and the last big Hollywood writer’s strike hit. The studios shut down, there was no work to be found and Marla knew that “in an industry that eats its young, let alone it’s menopausal” the likelihood of her finding a post-strike job was right up there with finding a natural blonde in Beverly Hills. Marla had two teenage kids whose needs and wants – ballet lessons, football practices, college tuition – were only growing, but her ability to provide for them had shrunk. For the first time in decades, Marla did not know what to do.
Aware of how fortunate she remained even in the worst of times, Marla readily admits that hers were “high class, lucky white people problems.” And yet, that awareness did nothing to lessen stress of her carefully manicured world crashing down around her, taking her children as collateral damage. Tempting as it was to allow herself to fall apart, Marla pivoted yet again. She drained the pool, fired the gardener she could no longer afford, and took in a boarder to help cover expenses. And then, she went out and bought herself a sewing machine.
During her years in Paris, Marla had gotten the chance to see the fashion industry up close. She adored the beautiful clothes but chafed against those luxuries being reserved for the small segment of the population young, thin, and wealthy enough to have access. Why, she wondered, shouldn’t women her age, whose bodies and lifestyles were changing in midlife, have the chance to dress well without having to sell a kidney to do it? What began as a fledgling clothing line to fill that gap in the market has since become a global brand, MarlaWynne, averaging 60+ million dollars in retail sales per year.
Marla might make all this success look easy, but the behind the scenes work tells a different story. During the grueling years she was building her brand, Marla faced personal crises and professional setbacks. It took ten years just to earn back the money she had once lost, and even now she works ten to twelve hours a day, seven days a week.
However, Marla believes that the runway is long and, at 67, can’t imagine slowing down anytime soon. She is still searching for ways to beat herself at her own game. Her success, she says, is not about confidence; it is about taking one step at a time, again and again, to constantly keep moving forward, even when forward happens to go in a different direction.
It is never too late to pivot.
To get a look at the latest collection, please click HERE.