Last night over 350 people gathered at the AIS Arena to celebrate Canberra’s volunteer workforce…
From surprise maternity leave to the ‘psychology of living’, Laurie McDonald appreciates how a challenging situation can be turned around.
Laurie is being inducted into the Businesswoman’s Hall of Fame on Tuesday 8 March (International Women’s Day) along with another 19 businesswomen ranging from vitners to charity founders to high profile chef Stephanie Alexander. The Businesswomen’s Hall of Fame was founded in 1998 by Suzi Dafnis to inspire women in business through the celebration and profiling of their high achieving peers.
“I think that it’s a privilege,” says Laurie when I highlight that she’s the only ACT inductee. “It’s a privilege because it’s my town. I feel a lot of ownership for Canberra, I love Canberra – always have – so it’s an honour to represent the city.”
Laurie began the highly successful Canberra Furnished Accommodation as a way to help stay ahead of mortgage repayments on her own investment properties.
“I was on maternity leave with my first son, Connor, who was a surprise,” explains Laurie. “My husband and I had started a property portfolio, but because we were on a single income we were struggling to make ends meet and make mortgage repayments on the investment properties.”
“Property has something we’ve always been passionate about as a form of superannuation so we didn’t want to sell the properties. So I came up with the idea of putting furniture packages into them and putting them on the short term lease market.”
Laurie found herself in the ideal position in Canberra’s emerging property market and took advantage of the opportunity.
“It was the time when All Homes had just started up. It was just one lady – Jan – and she was really helpful. The [trial] furnished apartment was 100% occupied and we were paying off the mortgage plus [earning] about a dollar in cash flow,” Laurie laughs.
“So I talked to another owner in the complex and I rented out their unit in the same way and then I had grocery money! So that was pretty exciting and opened up my eyes to the possibility that I could keep going with that model.”
“I thought, ‘perhaps I could keep doing this and not go back to my public service job after my maternity leave and begin to create a life where I’d be home with my kids more than having them in childcare’. That was a massive motivator for me.”
“To this day I drop them at school every day and I pick them up every afternoon – it’s just another one of life’s privileges which I’m grateful for. It says on my bio that I’m always playing catch-up at work because I’m always at home playing catch with the kids,” laughs Laurie.
Canberra Furnished Accommodation now operates over 50 properties. When I ask Laurie if she plans to expand even further, she’s thoughtful.
“That’s the funny thing – I’m 13 years [with Canberra Furnished Accommodation] now and I think around my ninth year I got really caught up in the idea of expanding. I played around with it but I found that the bigger I made it I didn’t make so much more money and I just ended up putting a lot of pressure on my team and on me.”
Laurie might not want to expand her portfolio exponentially, but she’s found a deeper level of meaning to owning and operating a number of locations.
“My main focus these days is the interior design and the furniture packages,” explains Laurie. “Particularly looking at the psychology of living, looking at how someone uses the hubs of the spaces – where your handbag and keys go.”
“So I’ve been taking on more and more interior design clients wanting to put their properties on the short term lease market and that’s a lot of fun.”
I ask Laurie for advice for Canberra businesswomen who are just starting out.
“I’d say get out there and meet lots of people,” says Laurie. “One of the things for me when I started out was the loneliness of being at home alone – I was missing the social element of an office.”
“What really opened up the world for me was joining some business organisations. One of the first ones I joined was [Canberra Women in Business]. It was just so lovely because you could go to those functions and have a drink and talk [about business]. Another one was Family Business Australia where I had a forum group – a mentoring group – that I met with monthly for about seven years.”
“Making some friends that are also in business is invaluable and I couldn’t not give a plug to Canberra Business Chamber – I’m on the board!”
“I’d put it out there to anyone – if you’re going to your first function and it’s a little bit scary, contact me* and I’m happy to take [you] to one of those. I remember how nervous I was the first time I went!”
* You can contact Laurie via email at email@example.com