The GMS Journey: The Story of GMS Founder & Visionary Marria Pooya

During Women’s History Month, we commemorate the countless women who have played an important role in shaping the trajectory of the United States and the world. This month and every month, I like to think about the important roles we can all play in the lives of the women and girls around us, whether family, friends, colleagues, acquaintances, or even strangers. For me, the idea of empowering each other has been the motivation for everything I do, including the way I envisioned my business. Today, Greenwich Medical Spa is seven locations strong, and we’ve been honored with numerous awards within our industry and from our community. But it’s the ways GMS has improved the lives of our employees and patients that I am most proud of, along with how our team has extended the benefits we receive through our nonprofit and community involvement.

 I am fortunate to have achieved much success in my life, something I never take for granted. To get to where I am today, I overcame many challenges, often doubting myself, but continuing to move forward, keeping my vision and later our GMS core values in mind — excellence, integrity, a focus on people, passion, respect for everyone, and being adaptable and having a growth mindset. These core values are the direct result of the obstacles I faced during childhood and as a new business owner.   

 When I was 9 years old, I moved from Kabul, Afghanistan, to the U.S. with my family. During my early years, I often felt like I led a dual existence — one at school and another at home. My upbringing was characterized by the strict rules my mother enforced, and I was often denied the freedoms that many American girls my age enjoyed. I couldn’t socialize with American friends, go to the movies, or participate in after-school activities. This situation compelled me to embrace a more traditional Afghan role at home while attempting to assimilate when I was at school. It was an incredibly challenging experience, but it ultimately shaped me into a stronger individual.

 Coming from my background and being a girl, I encountered differential treatment throughout my early years. I was frequently told that I couldn’t pursue certain endeavors simply because of my gender. I often heard criticisms about being too loud or asking too many questions. As a result, I had to continuously advocate for myself to attain my goals in the face of such gender-based obstacles.

 From this childhood of dual-identity and restrictions, I learned two important lessons. The first is that labels are meaningless. Second, I understood the timeless value of treating others with the same respect and kindness I wished to receive.

 Unwilling to be held back because of my gender, I attended university and earned a Finance and International Business degree from NYU’s Stern School of Business. My early career was spent as a financial analyst on Wall Street, and I later transitioned to product development and marketing for a color cosmetic line, an industry I found I enjoyed immensely.

 Several years later, with a second child on the way, I contemplated being a stay-at-home mom but knew I wanted to explore additional avenues. While looking into business opportunities, I decided to combine my passion for the beauty industry with my financial acumen and entered the burgeoning medspa field. My first location, opened 18 years ago, was a franchise, which I later fought to separate from, rebranding the business as Greenwich Medical Spa.

 In the early days, not only was I tasked with developing a new business, hiring staff, and managing P&L, but I also had to educate the public about the medspa concept. It’s hard to imagine now, but at the time, it was a new idea that a medical practice could feature a spa-like environment and provide powerfully effective aesthetic treatments. In those early days, I often shared equipment with another medspa owner to keep costs down. I vividly recall driving 30 miles to the Walgreens parking lot every Sunday to meet my colleague for the device exchange. We often joked that someday, we’d have enough resources to hire someone for that task!

 Although my background in finance gave me the know-how for running a profitable business, I lacked managerial experience. But I dove into that aspect of entrepreneurship too and have worked diligently to create a company culture informed by strong values, teamwork, professional development, and community involvement.

 I believe this growth mindset has led to the success of GMS, and we are not done. We have plans for more expansion on the horizon. Among our GMS staff, which consists mostly of women, I strive to create an atmosphere of empowerment. I want to support the professional growth, education, and financial independence of all staff members. And we make sure to share the belief in shaping your own destiny with the next generation too.

 At GMS, we are involved with a number of philanthropic and community organizations, including Girls With Impact (GWI). This nonprofit is dedicated to the empowerment of young girls through entrepreneurship and leadership training. GMS has contributed to the organization’s mission by raising funds for five scholarships, which have played a pivotal role in shaping the futures of young women. This partnership works to create meaningful change in the lives of these aspiring and inspiring participants, nurturing their potential for a brighter and more independent future.

 We further emphasize empowerment for GMS patients. By helping them reach their aesthetic goals, we have worked to foster self-confidence among thousands of patients during the years since the first location opened its doors. In turn, I have gained so much from knowing them and learning about their experiences. 

If I were to honor a woman I’ve admired throughout my life, it wouldn’t be just one – it would be a collection of stories, each woven with its own strength and persistence, that have collectively inspired me.

 Take my Aunt Fawzia, for example. She’s the family pioneer who didn’t just step out of the box – she drove right through it. When she was told she shouldn’t drive or run her own business because she was a woman, she did both. She didn’t just break the mold; she made her own, paving a path for the rest of us to follow.

 Then there’s Susan Jansen, my old boss from my Wall Street days. In an industry where men usually take the lead, Susan was a force to be reckoned with. With intelligence and determination, she balanced her high-powered career with family life, never dropping the ball. She had this incredible way of bringing out the best in everyone, making sure that I, too, realized my potential. She showed me that with a little push and the right support, I could climb mountains I thought were out of reach.

 And I can’t forget Cindy James, the hardest worker I’ve ever known. For over a decade, I’ve seen her juggle life with a determination made of steel. With her husband away and raising two boys, one with special needs, she’s been the rock of her family. She managed to work multiple jobs and start a business, all fueled by an unwavering commitment to her loved ones. She’s not just a hustler; she’s the very definition of grit and love.

 These women have taught me that empowerment comes from chasing your goals, no matter the obstacles. They’re icons of courage, living proof of what it means to be tenacious. Their stories aren’t just inspiring – they’re empowering, and they drive me to pass on that legacy of strength.

 That is why, this Women’s History Month, I call on each of us to lift each other up, honor our strengths, and do everything we can to let each woman and every little girl know she has the ability to achieve whatever she can envision.