CEOs / Interviews

Balancing the Grind with Adrian Farouk, Chief Executive Officer at Digitas ANZ

Adrian Farouk is the Chief Executive Officer of marketing agency Digitas ANZ, as well as the Chief Executive Officer at Epsilon ANZ.

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

I first started working for Digitas (formerly LBi) over 20 years ago in London. Little did I know at the time, I’d eventually be heading up three of their offices across two countries on the other side of the world. And that’s where I find myself today.

After initially taking some time out to travel, I came to Australia for what I thought would be one year. 17 years later and I’m still here.

When I was asked to launch the Digitas Australia office eight years ago, it felt like the mothership calling me home. Since that standing start, the business has grown to over 160 people across ANZ and has been crowned Campaign Asia’s Digital Agency of the Year.

I’m now CEO of Digitas Australia, with offices in Sydney and Melbourne, as well as Digitas New Zealand in Auckland. I’ve also recently taken on the additional role as CEO of Epsilon, launching the brand in the ANZ region for the first time.

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

As CEO of both Digitas and Epsilon spanning five offices across ANZ, my focus is on steering leadership teams, empowering them and removing any obstacles that may keep them from performing at their full potential.

I have a mixture of daily, twice weekly and weekly stand ups with the leadership of Digitas and Epsilon AU and NZ, where I get a temperature check on the wellbeing of all our people and clients. These typically take up the first one to two hours of each day.

Before that, my morning starts with either a race or a group ride on Zwift with my bicycle connected to an indoor trainer. The start time and duration vary depending on whatever race I have chosen, but I always end with enough time to be showered and ready for the first of my meetings at 8:45am.

After checking in with the different leadership teams, I’m typically in video calls throughout the day with the exception of 12-2pm, which is always safeguarded as a no-meeting zone.

Importantly, I always close the laptop and aim to be present with my kids in the evenings before logging on again, if necessary, after they’ve gone to sleep.

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

Before this period of isolation, I was on a plane, either interstate or overseas, three out of every four weeks. I was moving so much I couldn’t even book a time to speak to people I sat next to without waiting over a week.

Now I speak with my teams daily, twice weekly or weekly without fail regardless of my – or their – location.

Like many people, I now find myself questioning how we worked before and whether it was any more efficient. The sheer amount of time I used to spend commuting has been rediscovered and reclaimed.

I find myself more able to safeguard essential thinking, planning and strategy creation time, all while being more connected and more able to orchestrate disparate teams in different locations.

All in all, I am able to do my job much more effectively remotely than chained to the office.

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

Ensuring that one doesn’t overtake the other is the key.

I have two mechanisms for ensuring this doesn’t occur: structure and focus.

My work schedule is broadly structured the same each day. I have time allocated for team WIPs, which I rotate with different teams on different days, I have time set aside for meetings and time safeguarded for no interruptions.

Equally, I have time set aside in the morning for exercise and no-work zones to spend with my family. I also try to take time each Wednesday afternoon for a long ride on my bicycle outside in the sunshine.

But no structure, no matter how sound, can truly work without focus.

When I’m in a particular part of the day, it’s paramount to concentrate on the task at hand and not be multitasking. If I’m on a video call, I won’t answer emails. If I am in a no-interruption time, I won’t pick up the phone. If I am with the family, I won’t check incoming messages.

Focusing on the immediate task keeps me from stressing about the other things I need to do. I know I will get to each of those at the right time.

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

Taking Wednesday afternoons as annual leave has made a huge impact on my life.

Firstly, it helps to structure the week. I have an early two-day part of the week and a late two-day part of the week, rather than one single homogenous expanse of time that can sometimes drag on or race by in the blink of an eye.

It also ensures that I get outside to cycle, which tends to be longer and more leisurely, as opposed to racing the clock on my indoor trainer each morning. Before taking this time out each week, I would have every intention to do so, but something would always pop up – or I’d be stuck on a plane.

Having that time set aside also protects my “me time”. When you have two young kids, you quickly find that weekends, evenings and every waking minute you are not working is usually filled to the brim with family life. Having time scheduled for those things, even if it only ends up being a couple of hours, does wonders for your mental health.

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

I spend a lot of time listening to podcasts while riding my bike. Sadly, these tend to mostly be about football given I am a massive fantasy football nerd.

I listen to podcasts about football stats, data and analysis. I immerse myself in as many opinions and thoughts as possible while pouring into the raw data myself to create my own forecasts and predictive models.

Despite the many, many hours spent, I am still rubbish. I don’t think this matters though. I get a lot of enjoyment out of it and I always find that there’s nothing better to stop you from stressing than focussing really hard on something else.

7) Are there any products, gadgets or apps that you can’t live without?

My phone. If I need a quick break, I’ll grab it, sit somewhere I can’t be interrupted and catch Pokémon for 10-20 minutes. That, or take on someone from Digitas in one of our Words With Friends tournaments.

Afterwards, I’m ready to tackle the next task.

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


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

To truly embrace flexible working, we need to think beyond working from home a few days a week. Some tasks are better done in isolation, some with small groups, some with big groups. We should be dividing our workdays and locations based on the nature of what needs done.

If that means working from home until 10:30am, heading into the office for a group workshop until 1:45pm and having a 1-on-1 catch up in a café at 3pm before working from home for the rest of the day, that’s great. And if the following day is made up of completely different tasks at different times in different locations, that’s great too.

We need to stop considering full days and half days as the only chunks of time we can use to divide our home and office working arrangements. By leveraging the freedom to use various locations as a tool for best tackling the task at hand, we can all be more efficient – and better off – overall.

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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.