Balancing the Grind with Kate Keenan, Partner & Chief Brand Officer at Sayers

Kate Keenan is a Partner & Chief Brand Officer at Sayers, a modern advisory and investment business founded in 2020.

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1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role? 

I have over 25 years experience in Financial Services both domestically and internationally.

Prior to joining Sayers, I spent five years as Co-Founder and Chief Marketing Officer of Judo Bank (Australia’s first ‘challenger bank’ purpose-built to fill the gap in the financing needs of Small to Medium Enterprises across Australia).

Specifically, I was responsible for building all components of the Judo Bank market facing brand, unique and contemporary culture and contributed to many other facets of building a bank from the ground up.

I was instrumental in helping Judo deliver its stretch targets and record-breaking capital-raising of $540 million of equity in 2018 and 2019 – the largest in Australia’s corporate history for a start-up.

Judo Bank received a full banking licence from the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) in April 2019. In the space of three years, Judo achieved “unicorn status”, achieving a market value of more than $1 billion. 

Before Judo Bank, I had a successful ~20-year career in Banking and Finance. I held several senior strategic and business development roles in the Institutional and Corporate arms of NAB and ANZ.

It was here I developed a passion for problem solving, creative thinking, strategy and delivering results. Organisational culture and its impact on success started to become very interesting to me too during this time. 

I spent the first half of my career in London where I launched EBS Trader across Europe for Bloomberg, worked as an analyst on the equities desk at Deutsche Bank and cut my teeth in marketing on the credit default swap desk at Enron, this was an experience and a half, as I’m sure you can imagine.

I absolutely loved my five years in the U.K. and the incredible opportunities that I had and shaped me as a person. We still have a bit to learn here on transferable skills and what it takes to be suitable for a role/organisation.

In closing that gap too much and hiring someone who fits the mould (or worse, a mate or a replica of ourselves) we miss the opportunity to expand the thinking via diverse talent that can really impact positively on growth. If not for my super close family and Australia being on the other side of the world, I believe I would still be in London. 

As a Partner and Chief Brand Officer at Sayers, I am responsible for the ground-up development of the Sayers brand, our unique story and messaging to the market (PR).

We are a purpose-driven scale up that has recently launched, so our culture and our values play a big part in shaping our business and our brand. They are not separate, “your brand is your business, your business is your brand”.

They are one in the same and need to be valued that way. New Quo is our vision for the future, doing better things when it comes to business that creates a mutuality of benefits among all stakeholders.

I’m particularly interested in the Economics of Mutuality (it’s a thing, check it out). It is the future of business. I am also playing a creative CMO-style role with many of our clients, helping them create or shape their brands to align with their growth objectives and business strategy.

It’s something that gives me a great deal of energy and satisfaction, working with our clients and the constant variety of opportunities and challenges I get involved in. Getting them on the map so to speak is rewarding. 

2) What does a day in your life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday? 

Is it a bad sign that I feel tired just thinking about having to recount a day in my life?! The struggle is real. On a good day this is how it looks. On a bad day, the opposite can also be true.

6am – 20 minute ™ meditation, sitting up, facing east, repeating my personal mantra. I learnt to meditate in 2006 and it has been an important part of my life since. 

6.30am – 5 km jog with my 11-year-old son, where we talk about all sorts of things from sport, to dreams and worries. It’s time I cherish with his growing mind. 

7am – the chaos begins – a variety of breakfasts for three very particular taste buds and the preparing of my own flavour of the month, a quark flaxseed oil Budwig style bircher (, school lunches, and getting ready for work. I do miss lockdown in that sense, time spent preparing to head into the office was time saved. 

7.45 – off to the office in Collins Street, 20 mins in the car to listen to my fav podcast, currently bringing your A game with Emma Murray usually interrupted by phone calls. The work day begins with coffee with a colleague.

I generally just grab someone and ask them to join me, we walk, grab coffee, have a chat and come back. I like to hear what’s going on with them, especially as a new business, there is so much focus on getting the business firing on all cylinders that we often miss, how our people are travelling in this often high-pressure environment. 

I read my emails while I eat my Budwig, then it’s in and out of 30 min (my set max when I can control it) meetings for the majority of the day.

Some of these are internally focused: brand activity such as media opportunities, social media content creation, thought leadership, podcast development etc. Without a team to support me at this early stage I am literally jack-of-all-trades. That’s a scale-up for you! This will all change in the coming months in a big way.

I am currently working on our next Sayers Convenes session which invites our clients and network to a special event or series of events where a person of interest shares their story and intellect in a round table discussion.

Mathias Cormann was our first Sayers Convenes just before he headed off to lead the OECD. We certainly started with a bang! But we have some great talent lined up that I’m confident our network will get a great deal out of.

Each day I spend some of my time on the Sayers brand and some of my time on our clients’ objectives. I love the fact that my role is split this way. I am constantly energised by the incredible businesses we work with and the opportunities we can help them realise. 

6pm – I am usually en route home where I quickly assemble something healthy for dinner unless my husband has already taken the lead. We eat as a family and each discuss the highs and lows of our day.

Our eldest son loves to pay homage to the farmers (a wanna-be farmer himself) who have produced the food on our table with a little (non-religious) blessing, while our youngest finds it hard to sit still.

If homework has not been finished, I sit with the boys while they do this. Otherwise, we’re all enjoying an episode of “Orangutan Jungle School” to close out the night, followed by some reading and bed. By this time, I am pooped, do a little bit of reading myself, sometimes meditation and I’m out. 

3) Does your current role allow for flexible or remote working? If so, how does that fit into your life and routine?                                                                          

Yes and no, we are in the scale-up phase and while we move about seeing clients on a regular basis, we are keen to be together as a team to collaborate on our offering and solidify our culture.

I do occasionally work from home when I need some space and uninterrupted time for thinking and creativity. I work well in both environments and have the flexibility to mix it up as needed. 

4) What does work-life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal? 

It’s true we should work to live and not live to work, but it is so easy to blur those lines, especially in start-up (scale-up) land. Being a ‘yes’ person, I have experienced overload from putting myself third, fourth or worse in line.

What I’ve learned over time is that no one wins in that scenario. Sayers gets the best of me when I am engaged by work rather than consumed by work. When I am balanced and fulfilled and that means in all the buckets of my life – me, my family, my friends, my health and fitness and of course in my career.

I now understand that if I don’t say yes authentically, I might say it resentfully and that can lead to far more problems than if I had said no in the first place. Saying no feels pretty good sometimes and does leave more room for the things you actually enjoy doing. 

5) In the past 12 months, have you started or stopped any routines or habits to change your life? 

Meditation is a constant at the moment, I have slipped in and out of this priority for me over the years, but I can’t stress how much it changes my performance, perspective and general well-being when I adhere to it, daily.

Water the root, enjoy the fruit. Budwig has been great for my body – I was having coffee only until lunch and I put on a stack of weight so having a healthy protein rich brekkie with all the good fats has had a positive impact on my performance.

Most recently, a two-minute cold shower at the end of my hot one has me zinging all over and is great for your mind and body, so many health benefits – I also follow the Wim Hof method for breathing and cold therapy – check it out. And, I have completely outsourced folding and ironing! 

6) Do you have any favourite books, podcasts, or newsletters that you’d like to recommend? 

I have found Audible a great way to absorb books, whilst exercising the ultimate multi-tasking opportunity with dual self-benefits.

Recently, I loved listening to Where the Crawdads Sing and podcasts are also a main feature, anything health/business related is interesting to me: Wim Hof series, The Drive – Peter Attia, The Imperfects – Hugh Van Cylenberg, Making Sense – SamHarris, How I built this – Guy Raz, Tribe of Mentors – Tim Ferris, The History Chicks, Ted Talks Daily and The Economist podcast. 

7) Are there any products, gadgets, or apps that you cannot live without? 

Yes. As a flat-out mum of three growing boys and a full-time career – I can’t live without my Thermomix, my Vitamix and my Dyson Stick – often all running at the same time. Plenty of great apps and I’m a sucker for a gadget, but I can live without them.

Having said that, my most recent sucker for a gadget purchase is the Strengthen You Pro Roller, an electric foam roller that works miracles on my ageing, post exercise muscle aches and stiffness. 

8) If you could read an interview about work-life balance by anyone, who would that be? 

A career mum, without support, supporting her family financially and in every other way, who works full-time and has young children. These are the stories we do not hear enough. How can we (and our society) better help them? 

9) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers? 

Don’t let your passion become a preoccupation. Some still believe that the harder you work the more successful you will be. But I have learned the hard way that spending a disproportionate amount of time, thoughts and energy devoted to my career ultimately destabilised my personal balance.

I now know this balance is actually critical to my success. Work smart, balance your buckets and devote time to enjoying each of them. I love a quote and this one resonates: “Always choose to heal, not to hurt, to forgive not to regret, to persevere not to quit, to smile not to frown and to love, not to hate.

At the end of life, what really matters is not what we bought but what we built, not what we got but what we shared, not our competence, but our character and not our success but our significance. Live a life that matters. Live a life that cares and always be Yourself!

A final word on work life balance – it’s time, well and truly to push back on the unachievable theory that we (women) can ‘have it all’. It is just another pressure. We can’t have it all. You don’t hear people professing this to men because we don’t expect them to do it all.

Being great at a few things is good enough for men, so it’s good enough for women too. Do your best and give yourself a break. Try to balance the buckets most important to you and remember to put yourself first so that you can be the very best version of you.

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About Author

Hey there! I'm Hao, the Editor-in-Chief at Balance the Grind. We’re on a mission to showcase healthy work-life balance through interesting stories from people all over the world, in different careers and lifestyles.