Balancing the Grind with David Hickey, Executive Director in Asia Pacific at Meltwater

David Hickey is the Executive Director in Asia Pacific at Meltwater, a global leader in media intelligence and data analytics.

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

I am the Executive Director of the APAC region at Meltwater, a global leader in media intelligence and data analytics.

I run the overall APAC operations and one of my key responsibilities is driving growth for the business across the region. That is not only related to growing our portfolio of clients, but equally related to the professional development and growth of our team.

I actually joined Meltwater 14 years ago and have led many different lives in the business over that period. I started my career in a sales capacity role in Sydney. I had just studied journalism at university and whilst it didn’t end up being what I was passionate about, I still wanted to stay connected to the media space.

At the time, digital media monitoring was very nascent and Meltwater was paving the way in the industry as the first company to offer such a solution – I was one of the first recruits in our Australian business.  

What drew me to the company was their philosophy around progressing a career based on merit over tenure. Meltwater also had (and has) a policy of growing management from within the business, so within the first twelve months I was promoted twice and a year after joining I had moved internationally to Hong Kong to expand the company’s operations, and soon after took over the ANZ new business team. 

I quickly moved into a regional role having gained experience across key APAC regions and as of last year I moved to Singapore with my family.

I love that we are still focusing our efforts on developing our people internally and that we’ve only worked on improving the professional development opportunities for growth, but our values are the same as they were 14 years ago when I first joined.

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

I think that by prefacing the fact that I am a dad of three kids under four automatically explains what my day may shape up to be. You know, waking up at midnight to put our daughter back to sleep, to then start the day at 5:00am with our son.

I do joke, but as a working parent this is a reality which shortly follows a 7am ‘work mode’ switch where I’ll usually either have an early meeting call or I will plough through the emails that have come through overnight. Once I’ve ticked those off I like to spend some quality family time before the kids are off to school.

We have a hybrid working model at Meltwater so on Tuesdays and Thursdays I am at the office.

On those days, I make sure I am spending time with our team to ensure they get the most out of our days together and it never feels like they could have been spending the day working from home.

Otherwise my mornings are usually blocked out for meetings with key stakeholders, followed by an afternoon dedicated to focused strategic and ideation time once my energy is flowing again from a bit of exercise over my lunch break. I love taking notes whilst I’m on the treadmill listening to a podcast and in my own chaotic way I jot down some ideas that I then spend time stitching all together.

I always want to ensure I am covering off my responsibilities and have time for thinking, so I  follow a ‘hands off’ approach with my team rather than involving myself too much in the details, so I can add true value by moving forward projects or focusing on planning our next one. 

Once the kids are home from school, I make sure to completely switch off and spend quality time together over dinner and our night time rituals.

As I work across regions, jumping back online for some late night calls – whether it’s recruitment interviews or planning with our global leaders – is within the norm but I’m working on being selective when I truly need to be online.

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

Since having our third child and really in the lead up to her arrival during the pandemic, I’ve thought more and more about what work-life balance means to me. 

To me it means understanding all the things in your life that fill your cup, knowing those things transcend into everything you do at work and in your personal life, and acknowledging their importance by making sure you dedicate the adequate time to them.

It’s easy to make excuses and let some things override certain areas of your life, but I’m learning to truly be unapologetic about giving time to everything I enjoy. It’s a non-negotiable as I know not doing them ultimately negatively impacts other parts of my life.

I now schedule my ‘me time’ in the calendar as a key appointment I can’t miss – that can be exercising with my personal trainer, playing tennis with my friends or something as simple as deciding to take a walking call. Having it scheduled gives me accountability to make sure those things happen.

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

As part of my renewed outlook on work life balance, I have started prioritising exercise more recently. Committing to my investment in personal wellness and turning it into a healthy routine has definitely reflected a change in my habits.

Something else I’m working on is minimising screen time so I can have more quality time with my family. I think we are all somewhat guilty of it but it fits within my perspective on what work-life balance means.

I always pride myself on how available I am at work and I am focusing on doing more of that at home too.

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

I was an avid follower of the podcast Sway by Kara Swisher, Silicon Valley’s most feared and well liked journalist. That’s recently stopped so I am on the hunt. I’ve always loved Casefile – a true crime podcast – but I reserve that for road trips with the family. 

Right now I am reading ‘The Geography of Thought – How Asians and Westerners Think Differently’ by Richard Nisbett. This was recommended to me by my APAC HR Director Susan Tang to broaden my understanding of what challenges and adversity look like through an Asian lens.

As 70% of Meltwater’s workforce is based in Asia, it is truly opening my eyes more to the culture and I am learning so much from it. I think it’s so important to be able to look at things through the lens of the culture you’re operating in.

If I had to name the book that has had the biggest impact on me from a leadership perspective though, it’s definitely ‘Good to Great’ by Jim Collins. This book has taught me to get the right people on the bus and then concentrate on putting the right people in the right seats – this is something I think about daily in business. 

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

My north star for work-life balance is Bandit from Bluey. He seems to have a nice house in a good neighbourhood (I hope he didn’t inherit it), spends ample time playing epic games with his kids and gets downtime out of the house with friends and family. I would love to know how he does it all and whether he is kicking as many goals at work as he is on the home front. 

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

It’s been a journey for sure. I have realised it’s very personal and it varies from person to person. I feel that the decision on whether a company should operate on a hybrid work model or should bring back the ‘good old glory office days’ still remains an issue for leaders. 

It dawned on me that management was remembering the glory days of the sales floor, and forgetting that the reality is the world has moved on much faster than we thought it could have. I think it’s important (and essential) to move forward – adapting to remain relevant is what’s needed now. 

When I came to that realisation, it helped me be more direct with senior leaders on what the future of how we operate looks like, and to encourage everyone to be open-minded to what’s required today.

Putting the effort in driving a really different, fun and positive experience in the office to the one your team has working from home, rather than reminiscing on the way it used to be, and providing an environment for your team to be successful is the best way to lead your team forward into the new future of working and providing the right work-life balance. 

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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.