Catherine Szulyk is the Chief Operating Officer at ipaymy, a payments fintech solving the short term financing problem for SMEs.
To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?
My career has been an eclectic one primarily focused on product and operations. I have acquired an obscure wealth of knowledge on aviation flight deck controls, natural gas pipeline valves, microphones, thermal & acoustic foam and payments.
I’ve been at organisations at various maturity levels – privately held midcap, publicly traded corporates to early stage start-ups. I’ve also worked in various global markets including North America, Europe and Asia.
Having this agile and transformative mindset has helped me maintain career momentum and has equipped me with very diverse and transferable skills. This has been critical in my current role.
I’m currently the COO as part of the founding team at ipaymy – a payments fintech start-up solving the short-term financing and cash flow challenges faced by businesses. Saying the past 6 years have been a journey of perseverance would be an understatement.
2) What does a day in your life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?
My days are far from routine starting from the moment I wake up – in which case my toddler acts as my alarm clock. My husband and I rotate who gets our daughter ready and off to nursery so I always appreciate the days where I get that extra bit of sleep.
Unapologetically, the first thing I do most mornings is check my phone for messages from my family. I live in Singapore and my family mostly lives in the US, so with the time zone difference mornings are the best time to catch up for a bit of a chat.
Now the grind, at ipaymy we operate with a lean team at a relatively fast pace and as COO I wear multiple hats. My scope spans from contract negotiation, pricing strategy, product, marketing communications, client meetings, regulatory compliance and much more.
I need to be comfortable with being uncomfortable – knowing at any point of the day a curveball can be thrown at us. When it does, I really elevate my team and listen to their input so I quickly assess a situation and determine a path forward.
The best kind of workdays are ones where I am unexpectedly faced with what seems like a colossal road block – but have that ‘aha’ moment and get it done.
3) What does work-life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?
It’s a verb, it’s a balancing act – not a stagnant level you achieve in Donkey Kong. There are times when one responsibility takes hierarchy over the other. I’d be setting an unprecedented level of pressure on myself if I believed it was attainable for me to simultaneously be an engaged mom and spouse, all-star employee, health and fitness fanatic, social butterfly and well rested woman. The narrative of ‘Having it all’ is utterly false –the question I try to answer is ‘What is important right now?’
‘Work’ and ‘life’ are very much intertwined and it’s unrealistic to completely compartmentalise them. I recently received some unsettling news about a family member and I needed to take the next day off to recharge.
I was transparent with my team during our product brainstorming session that the next day I needed a ‘mental health day’ and without hesitation they responded – ‘hey – we got you covered, that’s what teams are for!’ This was a reflection of the culture we have built and I am so appreciative of it.
A supportive organisation that focuses on acknowledging productivity rather than hours worked, believes in respecting boundaries and is empathetic towards employee wellbeing certainly helps in this balancing act.
4) In the past 12 months, have you started or stopped any routines or habits to change your life?
Having a toddler by default I kickstart my day much earlier than I used to. I will usually be one of the first people online in the morning and this provides me with a couple hours to get a leg up and to really focus on completing tasks that need my undivided attention. It’s the calm before the storm.
One habit that has been put on the backburner and I’m struggling to get back into my routine is my afternoon workouts. I would regularly block out ‘non-negotiable’ gym sessions in my calendar giving me that mid-afternoon energy and endorphin boost.
I don’t need to list out the benefits of exercise but having that designated appointment with myself was important to maintaining balance in so many ways beyond physiological. I’ll eventually get there.
5) Do you have any favourite books, podcasts or newsletters that you’d like to recommend?
I enjoy reading non-fiction books particularly about international historic events, it ties into my passion for travel. A page turner for me was A Kim Jong-Il Production by Paul Fischer.
6) If you could read an interview about work-life balance by anyone, who would that be?
Calvin Cordozar Broadus Jr. He isn’t just a hip hop legend who has managed to maintain relevance and influence in the industry for over three decades, he is an entrepreneur who has built a wildly diverse portfolio without diluting his brand. He incorporates his ‘life’ into his work to the extent that he employs his wife as his business manager.
His ventures include a record label and film production company, cookbook with Martha Stewart, esports gaming, web3 investments, breakfast cereal, wine, an animated children’s series, a charitable youth football league amongst others. He even became a certified football coach to coach his son’s high school football team.
Transforming from gangster rapper and navigating these vastly different verticals and making a business out of it requires a whole lot of balance. Would be intrigued to hear about the journey and pivots along the way.
7) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?
Keep it real and keep it in perspective. ‘The Grind’ can be a never ending to do list making it easy to get caught in the minutia of it all. There is no magical formula of hours slept, minutes meditated, books read, podcasts listened to, exercises completed etc. You are the best person to determine what balancing act works for you and sometimes giving 100% of 85% to ‘The Grind’ is okay.
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