Interview

Georgie Kay

by Lucy Feagins, Editor
Friday 16th January 2015

If you have a passion for hospitality, creative events, weddings with all the trimmings (sorry, who doesn’t love a pretty wedding?), hard work and kick a*se female entrepreneurship, well, today’s interview is for you. It is a little long, but so truly inspiring.

Meet Georgie Kay, who runs Melbourne based events company Georgeous events.  What a woman!

I have so much admiration for Georgie Kay, who runs Melbourne based events company Georgeous events. (They pronounce in ‘Gorgeous’, if you’re wondering!).  After many years working in hospitality and events, in 2006 Georgie went out on her own, and hasn’t looked back.  From a tiny home office operation, Georgeous has grown now to employ a team of seven staff (and counting!), and over the past eight years has been responsible for realising a truly spectacular array of events, weddings and other creative happenings.  Georgie and her team work with some of Melbourne’s best creatives – from caterers to florists, calligraphers, ceramicists, leather crafters and so many more, leaving no stone unturned to source the perfect personalised finishing touches for each special event.  They nail it – every. single. time.

If there’s one theme that really stands out when you read through Georgie’s generous interview responses below, it’s a simple one. HARD WORK. Georgie has worked in hospitality since year 11, and still draws on the lessons learnt at her very first job in her home town of Hobart.  For twenty odd years, she’s worked days and nights, back to back.  These days, like many small business owners, after her 9 – 5 ends and she’s had a meal with her husband and put her little one to bed, Georgie is back at work, playing catch up on her laptop. But the long hours are never begrudged – hard work is part and parcel of the events industry, and Georgie loves every minute of it.

This year, Georgie’s greatest challenge is achieving that elusive work / life balance. As she explains below, she’s still working on having the ability to relax, properly! ‘I love what I do and could not imagine life without it, but balance is a challenge’ she says.  On a mission to find an assistant this year to lighten her personal workload, Georgie plans to make 2015 the year for working ‘on’ the business rather than ‘in’ it – Georgie, when you have figured it out, we need to chat!

In addition to their events services, this year Georgeous has also launched a brilliant new resource – the Georgeous Store, an online store where many of the items collected and custom produced for Georgeous events over the years are available to hire.  The Georgeous website is also well worth a look for SO many pics of previous Georgeous projects and events (we only had room to include a handful here!).

Tell us a little about your background – what did you study and what path led you to launching Georgeous in 2006?

I grew up in Tasmania. From the very beginning, I was incredibly fortunate to travel extensively with my family, and I always marvelled at how a good experience could be made great through the performance of the hospitality team at a hotel or event. These experiences were what awoke my passion for the industry, and from the moment I could choose the direction of my schooling, I chose my subjects accordingly and enrolled into Drysdale House in Hobart.

Like most kids, I had a job in a restaurant from year 11. However, to pursue my dream of excellence in service, I bypassed the golden arches for one of very few Hobart fine dining establishments, run by the late Geoff Copping. This began the late night working trend, and I have loved every minute of it since.

While studying at Drysdale, I was also able to gain experience by working at the hotel which is now known as the Hotel Grand Chancellor (previously The Sheraton Hotel). By age 20 I had worked my way up to becoming the Restaurant Manager of their fine dining restaurant – Sullivan’s Cove, which brought the responsibility of staff rostering, budgets, menu development, ordering of the restaurant requirements and the general upkeep of the establishment. Supplemented by pulling Pints at Knopwoods (a Hobart drinking institution as any fellow ‘Hobartian’ will inform you), I was well prepared for the challenges on different shores. After graduating in 1995, I took my Diploma of Hospitality with a Business Management major overseas for two years to test the waters.

As an Australian, I was contractually bound to venture to the UK as a backpacker. The first stop on this journey was working at a traditional English Country Club. After this experience, and a brief journey Europe, I returned to the UK and Chelsea where I became a nanny. With days filled by emptying nappies, I again used the evenings to fill pints at a the local pub, along with the rest of the Australian backpacker brigade!

Then, from the UK, life sprouted one of the most life changing experiences, as I moved to Zambia, to assist in the management of the luxury Safari Company Tongabezi Expeditions.  There is not a day that goes past that I do not look back fondly on those times and the lessons they taught me. Living in a tent for six months and working with the local people was a once in a lifetime experience.

As I reached the end of my six month African expedition, the planets aligned, and University of Tasmania made the decision to start up a new degree that targeted Drysdale graduates in its first intake. Whilst the prospect of a three year University degree was daunting after all this time, I bit the bullet and went headlong into it. After two years of summer school, failing two subjects and having to repeat, this is still something I consider to be one of my proudest achievements. I exited the University with a Bachelor of Business Administration, Majoring in Hospitality Management – something I definitely did not expect to have on my CV, and the emotion of this achievement certainly hit home when graduation day came along.

Having stretched my academic boundaries, I decided to go even further as I applied for, and won, The Harry Holgate Fellowship. This was sponsored by the Tourism Council of Australia, and was the moment I realised that all these years of hard work and dedication to the industry may finally have been paying off. The paper I presented was on the employment opportunities and challenges presented to Tasmania given its seasonal nature. My study tour covered New Zealand, Cairns and Darwin to see both ends of the seasonal tourism spectrum, and I proposed that we could start an employment agency in Hobart where people could ‘swap’ their workplaces seasonally. Jumping deeper into my discomfort zone, I had to present the paper to the Tourism Board, and also speak at the Tasmanian Tourism Awards! It seems that someone else had noticed the passion and effort behind this venture, as I was subsequently nominated for Young Tasmanian of the Year.

The year 2000 saw me make the move to Melbourne, where I was able to secure a role in the esteemed offices of Peter Rowland Catering. The office I started in was at the beautiful Gardens House in the Royal Botanic Gardens. I loved the work, as I gained exposure to some of the most beautiful and special occasions I have ever witnessed, such as Lindsay Fox’s cellar parties, marquees at Flemington, box suites at the Grand Prix and too many others to mention.  I spent five years working with PRC, and it taught me a huge amount about the industry in Melbourne.  I still often work with them at events, and they even did the catering for my own wedding last year! I will not forget the support they provided me in those formative Melbourne years, and I am still a huge fan of the work that they do.

Another great benefit of this time was the exposure to the workings of an event from behind the scenes. Ensuring that everything is organised down to the finest of details, and valuing EVERY supplier, client and colleague alike is something that was drilled into me, and something I absolutely pay forward today.

The next chapter of my career was with the boutique event management business Bigger than Ten Bears. This was a very important 18 month period, as it exposed me to the ‘prettier / styling / creative’ side of events. Being able to weave this in with my hospitality and back of house experience was seriously fun, and I could see the final pieces of the puzzle fitting together. It was damn hard work, but seeing the finished designs made the entire process that much more rewarding. This put me in a position where I could now provide clients with a total’ experience from thought to finish.

In 2006, Georgeous was born.

There is no question that there have been some tremendous highs as well as devastating lows on the journey, but equally it has been the most fun I have ever had. The business has grown so much and now is almost unrecognisable from our launch eight years ago, but we are still bringing events to life for people and companies alike, and making sure they all have the Georgeous touches to make them special.

What was Georgeous like in the early days, did you ever anticipate your fledgling business to grow into the company it is today?

Challenging, scary, lonely at times (as I was working at home on my own), but always personally satisfying. I learned a lot, read a lot, listened a lot, failed a lot, watched a lot, worked some pretty crazy hours… but loved every (well almost every!) minute. After resigning and making the decision to go out on my own, the second scariest thing was employing my first employee. How was I going to afford to pay someone else when I am not even paying myself?!

More so now than ever, it is vital to surround ourselves with amazing people. Without the team, everything Georgeous simply would not happen.

I am very proud of what the brand has achieved and am excited about the direction we are now taking. We can never be complacent and never take anything for granted. Relationships are everything to us and it is these, along with our valued collaborations, that have contributed most to where we are today.

Can you give us a little insight into the inner workings of Georgeous? How is your office structured, how many people do you employ, and are you still each very involved in the design and event process day-to-day?

The business has changed from the early days when it was just myself, the Georgeous team has since grown to include seven staff – and we are currently on the hunt for two more to join our growing team! Last year was an exceptionally busy year, where we also launched The Georgeous Store, this component of the business has grown faster then we imagined, and now have a full-time staff member managing this also. At the beginning of last year we did some serious delegation within our team, and this has made a huge difference in not only the level of service we now provide our clients, but also the quality of our work.

We now have dedicated account managers for both our corporate and wedding clients and a skilled creative team of two supporting them. We have a wonderful Wedding Intern, and our book keeper. I am in the office four days a week as I spend Wednesdays at home with my toddler, Isabelle.

Unfortunately I am not in a position to know every single detail of every single event any more, but I trust the team team implicitly as they all work autonomously and efficiently. Hearing the creative banter in the office always puts a smile of my face! The ideas they all come up with as a team makes it a fun working environment. While we certainly work very hard, I do like to pop a Champagne cork every once in a while to celebrate all that we do.

How do you and your team go about bringing one of your events to life – from working up the original concept to the event day when everything must fall perfectly into place?

Asking the right questions and listening to our clients. Having the ability to pick up on things that are actually unsaid and getting to know our clients, and their brands, from the inside out. When we are really on fire, we like to think ourselves as mind readers! We might be searching for a product or service for one client and come across that perfect something for another client. Pre-empting their needs and always, always striving to exceed expectations.

SO much of what we do comes down to communication and ensuring we are, creatively, on the same page. We do not want any surprises on the day, so it is our role to ensure we paint a very clear picture as to exactly what a marquee, room, gallery, home, beach scene etc will look like when guests arrive. A to-scale floor plan with images of the actual furniture proposed is always a must.

We must be flexible and understanding of our clients’ needs, as their brief often changes or evolves over time. The scope of works, the requirements and challenges of an event are constantly changing, along with the budget. Being smart, thinking quickly, responding and reacting optimistically is also part of our role. Oh, and always with a smile on your face!

What have been two of your favourite projects in recent years?

Our own wedding would have to be up there, if that is ok to say?! Even though we were only engaged for 16 weeks, every finer detail was (of course!) carefully considered and planned. All would have been impossible without the incredible stable of people I worked with. Melanie and her team at Cecilia Fox have been there since day one, and she pulled out her best work for my very own special day.

There have been two corporate events I have been particularly proud of. The Schweppes Marquee at Flemington in 2013 and the Yellowglen Terrace that launched at Flemington in October last year.

And of course all our weddings… I particularly loved Steph and Alex’s wedding in Main Ridge last year – it was truly spectacular. We are so spoilt with our amazing clients.

What does a typical day at work involve for you?

We do not require an alarm as we have a 2 ½ year old that does that for us. The morning is the normal run around, dressing and walking Issy to childcare before heading off to the office. I am usually at my desk, with soy latte, at 9.30am to start the day.

I like to then have a short chat with each team member to see what their day entails (and to see how their night was) and to see if I can assist in any way. We would like to have a weekly meeting ritual but with everyone’s diaries constantly changing, these have never quite gained momentum unfortunately.

I would normally have a couple of meetings during the day, which can then consume most of my working day hours. I try very hard to keep at least a day a week with no meetings so I can put my head down and focus without interruption.

The days fly by until I leave at around 5.00pm to collect Issy from childcare at 5.30pm. Half an hour in the park, dinner, bath, bed takes us to around 7.45pm, when Stu and I try to have some time together. I am a very lucky lady as my husband does all the cooking in our home. Fortunately he loves it and happens to be very good at it also!

Like so many people, I am then usually back online after dinner to play catch up. I have recently (like 2 weeks ago!) made the big decision to find myself an assistant. Someone who can assist with clearing my inbox and helping with the day to day running’s at Georgeous HQ. This will then bring me closer to my ultimate dream of being ‘on’ the business rather than ‘in’ the business.

Years of hospitality sees me as a bit of a night owl, so I am very rarely in bed until 11.30pm. When I have the energy, I do love to head to bed with the latest copy of The Collective. It motivates and inspires me in so many ways which is a great head space to be in before sleep.

Can you list for us 5 resources across any media that you turn to regularly for creative inspiration?

I regularly visit Instagram and read The Collective Magazine, I am obsessed and it is the only magazine I read cover to cover. In the mornings I will go through my daily blogs that land in my inbox including The Design Files (of course), Yellowtrace, and Remodelista. And finally, The Lane is most certainly a favourite wedding inspiration website.

Which other local artists, designers or creative people are you most inspired by at the moment?

The absolutely incredible Melanie and her team at Cecilia Fox. In the early days it was Mel and I (and Mel’s partner Jamie!) up ladders at 2.00am bumping out after a grueling 10 hour bump in. And I can honestly say I miss those days. Our events come to life when Mel arrives.

Klaus Goods recently hand made and embossed business card holders for the team.

While I know she is a regular feature on TDF, the amazing Miranda Skoczek has been a fave for years! In fact her artwork hangs behind my desk and continues to put a smile on my face every day.

We could not not mention the beautiful team of Bonnie & Neil. We love working with them and their products. We are pretty excited about a very special event we have coming up with them, and cannot wait to share!

Pip Compton from Studio Lipp. Pip has been responsible for all Georgeous branding and identity since day one. She is very much part of the Georgeous Family and what the brand is today.

The lovely and very talented Betsy from Lemontree Calligraphy is also a favourite of ours at the moment. Rachel at Peep Designs have been screen printing many a fun thing for us recently, including our new aprons. And of course, the absolutely exquisitely stunning letter press from the folk at The Hungry Workshop.

What is your proudest career achievement to date?

Taking the risk and making the decision to take a leap of faith and start the business is one of my proudest career achievements. Having the courage, the personal belief and the confidence in not only myself but also my brand, product and service to continue to strive for the best is something I am very proud. Also graduating from university with a degree, when I had not passed school, is a day I will never forget and was most certainly a very, very proud moment for me.

What would be your dream project?

My daughter’s wedding. It might be a few years away yet, but I cannot wait!

What are you looking forward to?

The ability to relax, properly! I love what I do and could not imagine life without it, but the infamous work/life balance is a challenge.

I feel I am so close to being more ‘on’ the business now rather than ‘in’ the business and this excites me very much. I can then work hard on implementing and strategising more for Georgeous’ future rather than for tomorrow. This will also allow me to spend time with my gorgeous Isabelle, husband Stu, dear friends and family. And maybe even read a book!

MELBOURNE QUESTIONS

Your favourite Melbourne neighbourhood and why?

We live in Prahran near Chapel Street, Hawksburn Village and the beautiful Victoria Gardens. I smile every night when I drive down our tree lined street.

Where and what was the last great meal you ate in Melbourne?

Woodland House for my recent (argh!) 40th birthday. My husband surprised me. I had no idea where we were going, especially when he said ‘Put your flats on, we’re walking!’ The service, food, wine list were truly incredible. One of the best Melbourne dining experiences I have had.

Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?

Having a cheeky sleep in, while Stu takes Issy to her swimming lesson. Occasionally I will run and meet them at Melbourne Sports and Aquatic Centre, and catch a lift home!

Melbourne’s best kept secret?

Melbourne itself. Melbourne is an amazing city to live in and be a part of, especially in the creative events field. The creative spaces, the incredible caterers, many a talented artisan to collaborate with, our gardens, our multiculturalism, our arts and our sports are all world class. Where else would you want to be?

A few of the Georgeous team!  Photo – Sean Fennessy for The Design Files.


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