Melanie Griffin knew she wanted to be an attorney when she was 8 years old.
It wasn’t one moment of inspiration or a mentor who guided her. It was just something that happened, that even at that early age felt right. She has a picture from a career day project at that time and a drawing where she talks about her briefcase.
“I am not quite sure other than I dressed up as a lawyer for Halloween. That year I literally wore fake glasses, had a briefcase, the whole nine,” says Griffin, now 41.
“I don’t know what got into my head at such an early age, but I was sure set on it.”
The decision has served her well.
Today, she is a corporate lawyer at Shumaker in Tampa and is also Secretary of the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation — a position Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed her to in late 2021. Griffin also owns the company Spread Your Sunshine, which offers speakers and training and sells inspirational gifts and products. The company was born out of her fear of failure and of not being good enough, a common fear she helps others overcome.
Griffin, with her powerhouse career in the making, has proved her own fears to be unfounded.
In Griffin’s state role, her main priority now, she is the face of one of the most integral, yet unheralded departments in state government. The department of professional regulation oversees licensing and regulating of businesses and professionals statewide. If you order a beer at a bar, go to a barbershop or call your Realtor, the department has hand in making that happen.
Because of that, Griffin feels responsible to businesses in Florida and the customers those businesses take care of.
She doesn’t use the word obligation. But she feels a duty to make sure those business owners, already facing daily obstacles that threaten their survival, can do what they need to do without the government getting in their way or not solving problems.
The reality, she says, is most businesses in Florida are small and often run paycheck to paycheck. If the department is unable to license efficiently, and solve problems or answer questions quickly, “that affects their ability to actually transact business and make payroll.”
“Which means that people can’t pay for rent or food or gas,” Griffin says. “And, so, you really see that daily impact and get the satisfaction of not only helping people in their day-to-day lives, and how they multiply that and impact others through their businesses.”
But here’s the thing. Remember how Griffin wasn’t sure what led her to the law? Well, if she had thought about it way back then, none of this may have happened. She wouldn’t be a lawyer at a prestigious firm. She wouldn’t be running a state agency. And who knows what else would be different.
So that part of her story is as important as the one about her choice of profession because it’s this part that shows how innately important it is for her to give back and why her interest in business is so ingrained.
“Looking back, I think if I had really critically done an analysis on where my skill set would best be used in terms of possibly impacting the world, I don't know that I would have picked (the law). I can almost guarantee you I would not have picked that profession.”
Griffin says when she was growing up there were no centers for entrepreneurship or mentorships. These weren’t topics that were discussed. Most of the time, you got an undergraduate degree and went to graduates school. Some people decided to become doctors, others lawyers without questioning their purpose in life or if they’d leave a legacy.
“A lot of the buzzwords, and I mean that in a positive way, that you hear today, and I see a lot of our younger generation talking about, which is awesome.”
But even with that, business was always important to her and ended up playing a big role in her life. She graduated from Florida State University in 2003 with a degree in business and finance and then earned an MBA and a law degree in 2006. As an attorney, her focus has been corporate law.
But Griffin, whose mother was a social worker, says what drives her is helping others. Whether that’s working with a client who’s facing difficulties, helping an entrepreneur whose license has expired and may not be able to open for business the next morning or talking with someone whose fears of not being good enough is impeding their growth, it’s all about giving back.
“I had so many people who invested in me and made a significant difference. So that certainly is one reason that I am so grateful for the opportunities I’ve been afforded to pay it back,” she says.
“It brings me a lot of joy. I know a lot of people say that, and that it sounds cliché, but it’s not, you get more joy out of giving than receiving. It really is just a great feeling when you know that you have empowered someone else.”
And, really, when that is your motivation, does it matter what you wanted to be when you grew up?