My Best Career Move: How I went from the petrochemical industry to women’s fashion

My Best Career Move: How I went from the petrochemical industry to women’s fashion

Magnetic Island – My spiritual home in North Queensland


My name is Denis Keeffe. I am the husband of Mainie founder, Charmaine Saunders. I am the Executive Director of Mainie. Along with our General Manager Sales, Rebecca Nelson, our exceptionally talented, qualified, and extremely efficient daughter-in-law, I look after the sales and marketing for Mainie. That is right – Mainie is a truly family owned and operated business.

Unlike Rebecca who has a vast knowledge of fashion and design, and is formally qualified in these disciplines, I am not. My background and qualifications are as far removed from Charmaine and Rebecca as you can go. I am a process control system engineer, specialising in control and monitoring systems for petrochemical plants, oil refineries, natural gas plants, power stations, steel mills, furnaces, and mineral processing plants. My first job was at Mount Isa Mines in north west Queensland.

I have worked in the Simpson Desert on the oil and gas fields, at the largest oil refineries in Australia, in steel plants in Japan and Australia, in the outback of the Northern Territory at isolated mines sites, and in regional and metro power stations. Across the manufacturing industry, I also have worked in paint factories, paper processing plants, building materials factories, food processing factories and breweries.

I have worked for about 20 years in a few of the world’s largest process control system companies in many capacities from commissioning engineer, design engineer, international business development management, as well as local and national management positions. Technical design and development of digital control systems placed me into senior management roles with large multi-national systems companies from the USA and Japan. 

So, what was my segue from industrial process control systems engineering to where I am today in the fashion industry? It was really a “light-bulb” moment that occurred a long time ago and in a most unusual place. Like most life changing moments, it came and went quickly but I recalled it and tried to fathom the meaning.

I was at 30,000 feet enroute from Tokyo to Sydney late at night. I was successful and secure, but I was not content. I decided then and there that there must be more to life than this. I had been recently seconded from my senior management position in Sydney at a Japanese multinational corporation to work in their Tokyo head office for the company’s international division. We were assigned to develop strategies that would be successful in the emerging western markets of North America and Europe. The secondment was supposed to be for two weeks but it lasted four months. I loved Japan, its people, and their amazing culture but I had lost control of my life. The company virtually owned me, and my metro-city life crowded me.

I decided that night, way up over the ocean in a jet plane that big companies and big cities would be in my rear vision mirror. I made a resolution then and there that I was going to head home to the place in the world that I absolutely loved and missed – North Queensland.

My journey into the fashion industry with Mainie was not immediate. I enjoyed a “bridging career” in professional sport before Mainie was born but I will get to that chapter another time.

I love the old expression, but I have changed it a bit, “You can take the boy out of North Queensland, but you can’t the North Queensland out of the boy.”


Posted by Denis Keeffe

More Posts