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Women at Work: Tracy Keeley

Beatrice Smith

Most women dream of achieving a perfect work/life balance, but would you take a year off in the middle of your career to find it? What about four?

Tracy Keeley did, and she has no regrets. The Director of Poppy and Maude, the company that operates Bookplate, Paperplate and the catering services at the National Library of Australia; Tracy’s career trajectory was anything but straightforward.

“I started out my career as a school teacher, and I absolutely loved that,” she says. “I loved being around children and I loved being of service but then an opportunity came up for a café in the John Gorton building in the Department of the Environment, so I took a career change.”

The café was a success, but the lifestyle was demanding and after six years Tracy felt the need for a break from the hospitality industry. A ‘seachange’ to the Gold Coast was the prescription for finding balance.

“Up until that point I was very much focused on my family, my home and my work – those were the three elements of my life. My guess is that it would be the story for most women – their children and their family come first, then their work takes a great deal of time and that means there’s usually not a lot of time for themselves.”

Initially intended for just one year, Tracy’s Gold Coast stint lasted for four. She took a long hard look at her lifestyle choices, made time for herself and went back to school, studying a Masters of Human Resources at Griffith University.

“I basically just said yes to every opportunity – things that would develop the other side of me that was dormant over the years. Those four years were vital for me. I made some really wonderful connections with other women and formed some really strong bonds because I was able to spend time creating friendships.”

“I think a lot of women like myself, who are raising children and have a business, find that any spare time that you do have you want to with your children, so friendships are often put on the back burner.”

And then the National Library of Australia came up for tender. Tracy found that even though the Gold Coast had been the missing puzzle piece for her self renewal, she missed managing her own business.

“You get such a great buzz from working. When you’re totally immersed in what you’re doing and you love what you’re doing,” explains Tracy.

“While my life at the Gold Coast was very much balanced, I knew there was a missing part of me that I needed to fulfil.”

Tracy won the tender for Bookplate in 2014, and she found her self in charge of a large business with many layers.

“We have 45 staff and three facets to the business: Bookplate, a café restaurant; Paperplate, an espresso bar. On top of that we also do event catering for the whole building from 300 pax morning teas to 500 pax exhibition openings with high profile guests. We also have the Picnic pop up bar, which is completely new for us,” explains Tracy.

Tracy sitting outside Bookplate at the Picnic pop up bar. Photography by Martin Ollman.

Tracy sitting outside Bookplate at the Picnic pop up bar. Photography by Martin Ollman.

“We have so many wonderful staff – people who share the same values and take pride in a job well done – it’s definitely a team effort.”

Since her move back to Canberra, Tracy has been able to solidify her ties with both her family and her business, but it wasn’t all smooth sailing.

“I work very closely with my son Matt, which is fantastic because I’m more about strategy but he’s very tactical so we balance each other out,” explains Tracy.

“We actually started in the ‘minus’ [at the Library] because the business went into liquidation and people thought we were closed, so it took probably seven months before we really started to see any growth in our business. It was a quite a struggle for those months but when I look at it in hindsight it was meant to be because if we had the development that we’re seeing now we wouldn’t have been able to manage it as it’s quite full on, but I love that – it’s a real challenge.”

While some women may baulk at the thought of four years away from work, Tracy is adamant that the time she took away from Canberra helped her find the balance and recognition of self that she needed to come back into the hectic pace of the hospitality industry and thrive.

“I believe that everything you do – if you really enjoy what you’re doing – prepares you for what you’ll love to do in the future,” she says.

Tracey is proud member of the Canberra Women in Business Network.  Canberra Women in Business connects likeminded businesswomen so they can develop strong working relationships that will fosters the growth of successful businesses through support, referrals, mentoring and friendship.

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Our events focus on creating a welcoming place where networking is fun, a light-hearted and interactive.

To find out more about Canberra Women in Business visit: cwb.org.au

To find out more about Bookplate, Paperplate and Picnic see their website.

All images by Martin Ollman

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Beatrice Smith

Bea loves that her job as HerCanberra’s Editorial Coordinator involves eating, drinking and interviewing people - sometimes simultaneously. The master of HerCanberra’s publishing schedule, she’s usually found hunched over a huge calendar muttering to herself about content balance. Otherwise you’ll find her at the movies, ordering a cheese board or ordering a cheese board at the movies. More about the Author

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