Melanie Griffin knew she wanted to be a lawyer when she was 8 years old.
It wasn’t a moment of inspiration or a mentor that guided her. It was just something that happened, which even at that early age seemed fine. She has a photo of a career day project at the time and a drawing where she talks about her briefcase.
“I’m not entirely sure except that I dressed up as a lawyer for Halloween. That year, I was literally wearing fake glasses, I had a briefcase, brand new,” says Griffin, now 41.
“I don’t know what crossed my mind at such a young age, but I was really determined to do it.”
The decision served her well.
Today, she’s a corporate attorney at Shumaker in Tampa and also serves as secretary of the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation — a position Governor 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 that she helps others overcome.
Griffin, with his powerful career in the making, proved his own fears were unfounded.
In Griffin’s state role, her top priority now, she is the face of one of the most integrated, yet unadvertised, departments of state government. The Department of Professional Regulation oversees the licensing and regulation of businesses and professionals statewide. If you order a beer at a bar, go to a barber or call your real estate agent, the department has a hand in making it happen.
For this reason, Griffin feels responsible to Florida businesses and the customers those businesses serve.
She does not use the word obligation. But she feels a duty to ensure that these business owners, who already face daily obstacles that threaten their survival, can do what they need to do without the government getting in their way or fixing the problems.
The reality, she says, is that most businesses in Florida are small and often operate paycheck to paycheck. If the department is unable to license effectively and resolve issues or respond to questions quickly, “it affects its ability to transact business and complete payroll.”
“Which means people can’t afford their rent, their food or their gas,” Griffin says. “And, so, you really see that daily impact and get the satisfaction of not just helping people in their daily lives, and how they’re multiplying that and impacting others through their businesses.”
But here’s the thing. Remember how Griffin wasn’t sure what brought her to law? Well, if she had thought about it at the time, none of this might have happened. She would not be a lawyer in a prestigious law firm. She wouldn’t run a state agency. And who knows what else would be different.
So this part of her story is as important as her choice of profession, because it is this part that shows how naturally 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 done a critical analysis of where my skills would be best used in terms of how they could impact the world, I don’t know if I would have chosen (the law). I can almost guarantee you that I would not have chosen this profession.
Griffin says that when she was growing up, there were no entrepreneurship or mentoring centers. These are not topics that have been discussed. Most of the time, you graduated with an undergraduate degree and went to graduate school. Some people decided to become doctors, others lawyers without considering what their purpose in life was or if they were going to leave a legacy.
“A lot of buzzwords, and I mean it in a positive way, that you hear today, and I see a lot of our younger generation talking about it, which is great.”
But even with that, business was always important to her and ended up playing a big part in her life. She graduated from Florida State University in 2003 with a degree in business and finance, then earned an MBA and law degree in 2006. As a lawyer, she focused on corporate law.
But Griffin, whose mother was a social worker, says what motivates her is helping others. Whether it’s working with a client who is having difficulty, helping a contractor whose license has expired and may not be able to open their doors the next morning, or speaking with someone whose fear not being good enough hinders growth, it’s about giving back.
“I’ve had so many people invest in me and make a significant difference, so that’s definitely one of the reasons I’m so grateful for the opportunities I’ve been given to repay,” says -she.
“It brings me a lot of joy. I know a lot of people say that, and it sounds like a cliché, but it’s not, it’s more fun to give than to receive. It’s really a great feeling when you know you’ve empowered someone else.
And, really, when that’s your motivation, does it matter what you wanted to be when you grew up?