Interview with Susan Armstrong, Founder and Editor of The Suite Collective

Continuing to focus on innovation and wellness, for women and by women, Sangeeta Venkatesan, Chairman of FairVine Super sits down with Susan Armstrong, on her journey to launch The Suite Collective, a media company committed to celebrating and supporting women in leadership. Susan’s journey has been nothing short of spectacular. In her own words, “Launching a business was terrifying and exhilarating in equal measures, but it just felt right. I now know this is how it was meant to be.”

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Susan Armstrong’s journey to launch The Suite Collective, a media company committed to celebrating and supporting women in leadership, has been nothing short of spectacular. In her own words, “Launching a business was terrifying and exhilarating in equal measures, but it just felt right. I now know this is how it was meant to be”.

She is what I identify as a woman of today – someone with passion, grit, and conviction, who walks her talk and isn’t afraid to express herself in a way that is both humbling and empowering. It was my privilege to interview Susan as our Member of the Month, share with you her incredible journey in publishing, and what led her to launch her own magazine-style newsletter, The Suite.

I met Susan at an event a few years ago. A passing introduction left us talking to each other for the entire evening, and a friendship was born. Since then, she has graciously offered her time and advice every time I’ve needed a sounding board, and even written articles for FairVine Super. It is no surprise that Susan nurtures her relationships and has built more than one supportive tribe around her. Discussing women supporting women, she believes that the key to building strong networks is through genuine friendships. That comes from mutual respect, and an interest in and care for someone.

Susan says her career journey began when she was just 12 years old. It was while she was on a family holiday in Surfer’s Paradise that she first discovered Dolly magazine for the first time. “I remember flicking through its glossy pages and thinking, ‘this magazine has been written for me’!” she recalls. “I suddenly felt seen and heard – like I’d found my ‘tribe’. It ignited in me a lifelong obsession with magazines.

“What I probably didn’t realise at the time, I was beginning to understand the power of the written word – how carefully crafted content can pull at heartstrings and build deep, long-lasting connections,” she continues. “What I did realise then, was I knew what I wanted to be when I ‘grew up’ – the editor of a teen magazine.” 

Less than two decades later, Susan career aspirations became a reality. She moved to Ireland and launched the country’s first teen magazine, KISS, which she edited for six years. She went on to launch another magazine called STELLAR, which won awards and even featured on a reality show. “It really was a dream come true,” she recalls. “I had the perfect job, the most incredible team around me, and I loved every minute of it. I had found my passion and purpose.”

Susan returned to Sydney nearly five years ago and joined The CEO Magazine, first as its Editor-in-Chief, then Global Content Director, overseeing all five editions of the print magazine, plus its website content. “Again, I was blessed to work with the most remarkable bunch of editors, writers and designers.”

Then, earlier this year, she took the leap and launched The Suite Collective. Founded to share the stories of the leaders who are making decisions today and influencing change tomorrow, The Suite Collective wants to help drive more women into positions of power – and keep them there. “At the current rate of change, it will take about 135 years for women to reach parity in business. We can’t afford to wait that long,” says Susan.

“I believe the more we celebrate and support the successes of women in leadership, the more opportunities we can create for those rising through the ranks or encourage others to go out on their own.” Her recent article Why It’s Never Too Late… [1] does exactly that.

"When you surround yourself with the right kind of people, magic happens."

It is hardly surprising that Susan has a distinctive voice, a talent that has inspired her career journey thus far. Not one to take no for an answer, the steely determination that lies beneath her calm exterior, and her strong work ethic, are qualities that continue to win over colleagues, clients, and friends alike. In fact, looking back at her very first role at NW Magazine, she says, “I actually didn’t get that job the first time I interviewed for it. I was devastated! A year later, I called the magazine to see if there were any new opportunities and – this is no word of a lie – they told me they had been looking for my phone number that very day! They wanted me to come in and chat about the role I didn’t get the year before. I started work there a couple of weeks later.”

Leading with integrity and aligning with those who have similar values is integral to Susan. “I think it’s so important to be consistent in your actions, words, values and morals. It builds trust, loyalty, and confidence in those around you. When you surround yourself with the right kind of people, magic happens.

“It’s also more than important than ever to associate yourself with brands that have the same values as you”. According to Susan, every company needs to be a media company. “There are finite people in the world with finite attention and there’s so much noise online these days. To be heard above the digital din, brands need to think like media companies and create trusted, relevant content for their audience. Content helps us connect. Connection helps us engage. And engagement is essential for business.”

Talking about the publishing industry, she says that she’s been lucky to have worked in an industry that is predominantly female, and, for the most part, always felt seen and heard. But that’s not to say that she didn’t have her own struggles, especially dealing with narcissistic energy at one job, where the person in question couldn’t accept strong women with integrity. And it is exactly for this reason that Susan believes in mentors, sponsors, and executive coaches, and has had many to date, including Celine Naughton and Michael O’Doherty, with whom she is still in touch.

“I also have a wonderful mentor in John Karagounis, the CEO and Managing Editor of The CEO Circle. He has given me so much guidance and support for the last five years, but particularly since launching my new business. I’m a member of his Future Circle, a place where I can share ideas and experiences, and seek advice and guidance in supportive and highly confidential surroundings. It’s been a gamechanger for me”.

She adds, “Asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness”. Her advice to anyone really struggling with an issue at work is to consider getting outside assistance, whether that be in the form of a coach, mentor, or just a friend who can offer advice.

In a world of constant data flow and information overload across social media channels and a plethora of publications, is there room for a specialised magazine-style newsletter? Research shows that the information age is paradoxical. Whilst we have more information than ever before, at the same time, the amount of really meaningful information has dwindled to abysmal levels, with algorithms feeding us content that has a significant effect or narrowing our views, doing little to enrich our lives. It is no wonder that Susan has taken it upon herself to bring us factual content from all over the world, covering all aspects of a woman’s life, that is carefully researched and selected and brought to us with her distinctive voice. After all, we are in a creator economy, and curation is more important than ever.

The drive to launch her own publication, The Suite, was clearly not accidental. “While I was at The CEO Magazine, I kept leaning towards the subject of women in leadership. This included launching and running the brand’s first International Women’s Day event and making sure 50% of our magazine covers featured women. I felt myself moving into the space more and more and realised I wanted to focus on it 100%, so decided to create my own company around it. I also have some amazing female supporters, from Pip Marlow, the CEO of Salesforce ANZ & ASEAN to Jane McNally, CEO of Camilla, who believe in me, and that definitely gave me the courage”.

Ernest Hemingway once said, “Courage is grace under pressure” and it’s with grace, combined with grit, that Susan continues to build a brand she’s so clearly passionate about. When I ask her for her favourite quote she reveals, “It’s by Jennifer Lee, the director of Frozen – the first woman to direct a Disney animated feature film. She said, ‘Be fearless in the pursuit of what sets your soul on fire’. The minute I heard this, it deeply resonated with me, and it’s now a motto that I try to live by each day.”

I am so glad that Susan has been fearless in her pursuit and can’t wait for the arrival of the next issue of The Suite in my inbox. To subscribe[2] to The Suite, a magazine-style newsletter that delivers the perfect blend of business and lifestyle content, please click The Suite Newsletter | The Suite Collective.

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[1] Career Talk: Why It's Never Too Late To Change Your Path (thesuitecollective.com)

[2] Subscription to The Suite Collective is free.

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All information provided in the magazine is sourced from independent writers & may contain general advice that is not endorsed by the FairVine Super Plan.