Interviews / Marketing & Advertising

Balancing the Grind with Ann Luong, Chief Marketing Officer at Socialsuite

Ann Luong is the Chief Marketing Officer at Socialsuite, a company that makes it easy to measure and monitor how your organization, its programs and services affect the community and the environment.

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

My entire career has been in marketing and I’ve enjoyed being part of the evolution of marketing over the years, seeing it become a more strategic partner that is connected with the rest of the business rather than perceived as just a service arm. 

I started off my career with large enterprise companies including Honda and BP before moving into tech because I desired a faster, more dynamic environment. Having said that, I did enjoy the larger budgets and innovative projects such as redesigning the service station of the future for BP.

My first step into tech was at Aconex, which was a growing construction SaaS company. I was at Aconex from pre-IPO to exit, including an enriching two year secondment in the UK. This opportunity gave me a real taste of the entrepreneurial spirit, a fast paced environment and the ability to carve out my own role. 

On return to Australia, I was approached to join an environmental tech company, where I worked on a major acquisition integration, built out a full stack marketing team, worked on a couple of capital raises and joined the executive team. I was fortunate to work with a very supportive CEO and mentor, Jason Cooper, who gave me the opportunity to expand my remit, take on a more strategic role and helped me grow exponentially over this period. 

Fast forward to a serendipitous moment of being in the right seat, at the right time on a flight from LA to Melbourne in February, where I met CEO Brad Gurrie of Socialsuite – a purpose-driven start-up helping organisations and not-for-profits show the positive impact they are making whether it be measuring outcomes or disclosing Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG).

Brad and I had an insightful conversation about ESG and opportunities within the space during that flight and stayed in contact afterwards, which then led to a chat about joining the team. So next time you’re on a flight, introduce yourself and you never know what will happen!

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

I used to be an owl but over the last year, I’ve really shifted to being a lark and starting my day around 6am, sometimes 5:30am. I typically start off with a guided meditation, followed by a home workout of yoga or HIIT and then get ready for the day with a cup of pour over coffee. I love the ritual of making a hand poured coffee in the morning because it gives me time to think about my day ahead. 

My work day usually starts with checking Slack, emails and prioritisation. I categorise things as either today, tomorrow, next week in terms of urgency. We’re growing our business in the US so mornings are filled with calls with the team over there and alignment calls across the business.

One minute I could be discussing business model options to designing artwork for social media. Being a start-up, I get involved in all aspects of the business which I love because I enjoy complex problem solving – trying to make sense of ambiguity and connecting dots to get to an outcome. 

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

As I’ve progressed through my career and personal life, the meaning of work-life balance and how I achieve it has changed. I believe it’s important to strike a balance that aligns to the phase of life you’re in and your goals, so it’s critical to look at work-life balance from your own lens.

For me, that’s prioritising meditation and exercise in the morning to set myself up for the day. That could mean shifting my wake up time forward or backward depending on my schedule to fit it in.

The other part is blocking out time for family and friends. I think we’ve all learnt through the lockdown experiences how important human and social connection is to us, so I try to reserve Thursday and Friday for my personal commitments. Of course, there are times when the balance shifts in one direction more than the other but it’s not a perfect science and that’s ok.

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

I started making exercise a priority. A joined an exercise challenge that my friend was running online from late November to early January, which of course is the festive season. When he first approached me about it, I thought what a ridiculous period to choose, however, as I was completing the 6 weeks it dawned on me that this was more than a physical challenge.

I was mentally challenging myself every day to create a new pattern of discipline in my life. If I could break through during a period of temptation, while still enjoying myself in moderation, I could continue this for the rest of the year. It was such a great way to start the year and something I continue with to this day.

This was also the catalyst for me to look at other forms of exercise and to make more of a conscious effort to include a form of movement into my day such as walking or yoga, especially because I spend a lot of time seated at my desk either at home or in the office. I only started yoga this year and have really fallen in love with the technical side of it such as finding that sweet spot of equilibrium in certain poses.

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

My two go-to podcasts are: Diary of a CEO and High Performance. I love the way that Steven Bartlett of Diary of a CEO interviews his guests with such thoughtful and deep questions. He’s really done his research on each person and cares about helping them tell their story and sharing their lessons. 

High Performance interviews are mainly with sports people. There are strong parallels between sporting teams and corporate teams in terms of how you align people to a common goal, motivate a team to perform at their highest and how to bounce back from setbacks or hurdles. I don’t follow rugby but one of my favourite episodes was with All Black Dan Carter on the art of winning.

I find podcasts easy to digest, something I can do while out on a walk and often take quotes and lessons from them that I implement or share at work. 

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

As a female leader, I’m impressed by the women who have paved the way or are setting the standard for others. I’m fascinated by people such as Shemara Wikramanayake, CEO of Macquarie Group, someone who is leading an extraordinarily large and complex company that is impacted by a constantly changing macro environment.

I’d love to understand the evolution of work life balance over Shemara’s career at Macquarie both at a personal and company level, but also how diversity and inclusion plays into the approaches to it.

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

As you progress through your career and life in general, it’s important to take a moment to share your lessons with those around you because something that you’ve learnt along the way could help reorientate someone and make a profound difference in their life. 

A friend who’s earlier in their career recently asked for advice about marketing pathways, which then turned into a broader discussion about the intersection between work and life choices.

They were at a crossroads in terms of where to next in their career but also had the additional weight of family pressure to meet certain expectations. My advice was this – make choices in life that make you happy because you’re the one that will have to live with and carry through those decisions that are made.

If we make decisions based on cultural norms, societal expectations or comparing ourselves to our peers, we do a disservice to ourselves as we may miss out on opportunities that will be more fulfilling, enriching and aligned to our own personal values. This can be difficult, especially for people from ethnic minorities or tight knit communities where your choices may be criticised because you’re challenging the status quo.

But I believe it’s really important to trust yourself, take the risks or opportunities that align to your needs and learn from the missteps along the way if there are any. I wouldn’t be where I am today if I didn’t take some risks or learnt through the errors because those moments have led to some of the most rewarding opportunities and experiences.

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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.