We Were Nearly There


I wrote about the appointment of Tracey Gaudry as CEO of Hawthorn in May 2017. I was excited about the appointment – not just because she was the first female AFL CEO at this level, but also because of her skill set.

Over the last week, it has all gone to hell in a handbag. Various commentators have noted that:

  • Tracey didn’t come from a football background;
  • the selection process took months to commence and good (male) potential appointees took up other jobs as a result of the delay;
  • the AFL was not consulted about the appointment;
  • the selection panel didn’t get verbal references from her previous employers – suggesting they would have poured cold water on Tracey’s candidature;
  • Tracey was not a “good fit”.

What has emerged following Chip Le Grand’s exposé in The Australian on 7 October 2017 is that Tracey’s husband almost died on Day 2 of Tracey’s tenure at Hawthorn. He had a heart attack, was diagnosed with an inflammation of his heart; the maintenance to get that condition addressed over the last four months has been challenging at best. There are three small children in this family unit as well.

Tracey has done what many people in that position would do. She’s hunkered down, continued to try and do this huge job while looking after her family. She didn’t seek sympathy or support from anyone. Rather, she tried to carry on.

Le Grand reports that senior staff believed her management style to be curt and abrasive. Some were threatening to walk unless something was done. Caroline Wilson* has talked about her first meeting with team members following her appointment. Apparently she told the team that they needed to pull their socks up. There were some who were offended by Tracey’s comments.

The backdrop is that Tracey took over as CEO following five losses on the trot.

So, Tracey was “let go”. Richard Garvey has stood down as President but remains on the board. And he’s back: Jeff Kennett has returned as President.

Here’s what my “family club” should have done.

The moment Richard Garvey heard that Tracey’s husband had suffered such a debilitating and serious medical emergency, he should have organised for Tracey to step away as CEO until the emergency subsided. He should have put in an interim CEO, but assured Tracey she was safe.

It was always going to be difficult, but not impossible, for Tracey to do this job. Her previous experience and academic qualifications demonstrate that she was an eminently suitable appointee. So what if she didn’t have football experience? Oddly enough, not many women do as jobs in the AFL are rarely advertised, we women weren’t “allowed” to play footy and had traditional roles of cutting the oranges and washing the jumpers.

There were players and coaching staff who didn’t like Tracey telling the lads to pull their socks up. I would say they should get over it, buttercup. She has to sell the team to sponsors, potential members and others and it’s a big ask to be successful if you’ve lost five on the trot and vying for the wooden spoon.

And don’t get me started about Tracey being curt and abrasive. Different standards are used when describing senior women – I wonder whether she was guilty of not gilding the lily and just telling things the way they were?

We have seen how difficult it was for Peggy O’Neal to survive in the cut-throat male world of AFL. There were numerous occasions when Peggy was under threat, but she was given time and, voilá, she is now the talk of the town.

Tracey should have been given time. Time to support her husband and children. Time to grieve for life before the heart attack. Time to adjust to life post the heart attack and with the new diagnosis. Time to then return when things were back on an even keel. Time to have the staff realise that threatening to resign won’t cower any board.

I’m really sorry that Tracey has gone, especially given the circumstances. If I knew her I’d be taking tea and scones around to her place regularly.



*Caro and Corrie Perkin have a fabulous podcast called Don’t Shoot the Messenger.



About Anne Cahill Lambert

One of the first females to be admitted to membership of the G. Thank you Mr Cain. Nicknamed The Hyphen by Alamanac Editor, despite the fact I don't have one.


  1. So well put Anne. It would suggest that Hawthorn is as much The Family Club as Tasmania is The Apple Isle: in name only.

    Although I’m not sure it’s in the CEO’s job description to tell the team to pull its socks up. I would have thought that was the task of the Football Department and/or the President. There can be no doubt that the new President won’t be standing on ceremony should The Hawks fall behind the competition in 2018.

  2. Hear, hear Anne. Thanks for the perspective this piece gives. High performance environments should not be an alibi for lack of compassion and support being provided when needed.

  3. Amen to all that. Puts an entirely different (and totally objective) slant on the situation than the subtle character assassination done by the PR flaks and disseminated by Caro (what the??) et al. More power to Tracey’s arm.

  4. Well done, Anne.

    I hope those kids are muddling along alright.

  5. Malby Dangles says

    Wow, I had no idea about the health issues of her husband! The Age (the paper that I get my sport info from) didn’t mention it…or at least not to the point compared to her supposed unsuitability for the role in the first place.
    Thanks for this article!

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