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A Few Good Men: Paul Keelan, CFO Coast Underwriters

The second spotlight in our A Few Good Men series is Paul Keelan, CFO at Coast Underwriters. Paul met us at DFS Vancouverwhen he group volunteered with his former company, PricewaterhouseCoopers. He attends our events, sits on our board, and lends a hand whenever we need!

How are you involved with Dress for Success Vancouver?

I’m on the board of directors.
The board of any organization helps provide governance and oversight, and helps set the direction for the organization. Being a CA, I’m involved on the finance side.

How or why did you get involved with the organization?

When I was working with PwC I joined in on a team volunteering day. The firm gives employees one day a year paid to do volunteering. They have a foundation that connects with not for profits and creates opportunities to get involved – Dress for Success Vancouver was one of them.
During my team volunteering day I spent time sorting clothes and helping them change from winter to spring clothes. I met some of the DFS Vancouver staff and volunteers and I was really amazed with the number of women who were being helped on such a modest budget; what tremendous work is being done with very little. As a result, I stayed connected and volunteered again. I continued supporting them financially and attended events. I’ve attended Impact since the beginning; it’s been fun to see the event evolve over time.

What makes you so passionate about the organization?

Before joining the board I was the first male presenter at the Professional Women’s Group (PWG). That was a very rewarding experience and part of why I’m very passionate about being involved with Dress for Success Vancouver. A lot of their clients have had negative experiences with men but at the end of the day women have to interact with men in workplace.
If DFS Vancouver can expose its clients to men in a positive light, I think that’s a real good thing. That’s one thing that keeps me motivated to help, to be one of those people that our clients see once in a while, so they do see that there are nice guys out there. Since then I’ve attended a couple of PWG meetings as a guest.

How long have you been on the board?

I’ve been on the board for 3.5 years now, I’ve volunteered for 7.
We’ve seen a lot of change in the last couple of years with Jennifer stepping in in what was a tough situation. I was able to help out in the office during that transition and do some day to day work to keep them going. It’s been a delight to see Jennifer and rest of the team make it through that transition so well. I think it’s really amazing to see.

How did you end up joining the board?

I didn’t expect to be on the board at all. Deborah Twocock had approached me about it when I was still at PwC. I was travelling all the time and wasn’t in town enough to devote to it. Interestingly enough, about 4 years ago I was diagnosed with colon cancer and had time off work to re-evaluate a few things. I realized I didn’t want to be living out of hotels anymore.
I left PwC and it afforded me the ability to do things like volunteer on the board. When I got myself established at Coast Underwriters I called up Deb and was happy to become more involved.

Are there any events that you look forward to the most?

Something that has been very rewarding to witness is the growth of the fall luncheon. Not that I have  had any part in putting it together, but it was certainly nice to see that come together and it’s a real positive event.
I’m excited to see the boutique renovation too! I’ve been kind of a face of the board around the office. I’m the guy that signs check so I’ve spent a fair bit of time in the boutique.

Any favourite activities that you enjoy doing as part of the board?

Having a hand in setting the direction of the organization is very rewarding. In the last couple of years we’ve tweaked the core values of the organization and that for me is nice to see. Having been part of that discussion, having the staff involved, and really being able to see that come to life. It is more than just words, the notion that we’re empowering women into the workforce. To me that’s a strong statement. It’s very exciting to have a hand in crafting those things and thinking deliberately about the message we’re trying to send. It’s less about being on the board and more about volunteering.

What’s the most rewarding part of the work you’re doing?

The most rewarding thing for me is seeing clients even though I don’t get to see them a lot. Whether it’s past or present clients coming to Impact, at PWG, or in and around the office. Actually seeing the people that this organization assists is tremendously rewarding; it reinforces why we do this.
Being on the board we’re kind of removed, we don’t necessary see the people who are benefiting from the effort. For me, getting those opportunities while limited really reinforces why this is such an important organization.

How do you feel about the direction of the organization? 

I’m really excited about where we’re going. The clothing sales that we’ve only started in the last couple of years have been a tremendous success. It’s given us an extra degree of financial stability that we didn’t have previously. I’m pleased with that since I tend to think about the numbers side of things.
When I first joined the board I was a bit worried because our financial picture was not super great and I worried about money a lot with the organization. In the last couple of years we’ve shored it up and I don’t worry about it as much! We always need more money because that never stops being an issue, but it doesn’t concern me like it did a few years ago.

Do you have a favourite memory from 7 years of volunteering?

My favourite memory was being able to present at the PWG. That was really the first time I interacted with clients in any significant way and after the meeting so many women wanted to chat with me and pick my brain. I use to do HR and did a session on interviewing skills. I was nervous because I was told that they’d never had a man present before, I was worried about how the clients would react. The gratitude afterwards was almost overwhelming. People were just so pleased, it was really touching to see how appreciative the ladies were.
I stayed well over an hour after the session was done with a group of ladies who wanted to chat. I think we might have gotten tossed out of the room. That was really the moment I went “wow, this place is doing good stuff!”

Do you have any last thoughts on the organization?

It’s amazing when I think about the fact that it’s been 15 years! I’ve been somewhat involved for half of that time and for me it’s just been a privilege to be one of handful of men fortunate enough to be involved with Dress for Success Vancouverhttp://dfsvancouver.org/impact/
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