Dean Blackbeard is the Country Head, SMB AUNZ at TikTok, where he is focused mainly around SMB sales, operations and people leadership.
1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?
I was born and raised in South Africa, completed high school at St Stithians College in Johannesburg and then took a year off in the UK before studying in Cape Town. I have completed a BCom in Marketing Communications and a post graduate diploma in Enterprise Management from the University of Cape Town. I relocated to Sydney with Zomato back in 2016, post their acquisition of Urban Spoon.
My work experience spans across ecommerce, fintech, mediatech and payments. I have always found myself in the early stages of high-growth, global businesses such as Groupon, Zomato, ShopBack and now TikTok. My discipline is focused mostly around SMB sales, operations and people leadership. I have also myself been a small business owner.
2) What does a day in your life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?
Any two days for me are seldom the same. My alarm goes off each morning at 05:45 and I try my best to get to the gym. If the gym doesn’t materialise then I use this time to walk the dogs and catch up on any personal emails which helps to remove distractions during the day.
At 08:30 my work days kick off with metric tracking to know the business position and size of the revenue gap. At 09:00 I usually have a catchup with my direct reports to give assistance to them where they need it & vice versa. I also aim to close feedback loops on target progress and strategies.
I typically then balance internal operations and conduct meetings with clients and new prospects. Working across timezones can mean the odd late night call but if not, I get home around 19:30 and help with the kids bedtime routine.
3) Does your current role allow for flexible or remote working? If so, how does that fit into your life and routine?
Speaking of my time at ShopBack; throughout the pandemic and also at the tail-end of it; yes – remote work was a possibility but since my business unit was new and I was spending a lot of my time on hiring, I found myself in the office more often than not.
I find that I can close off tasks at home but in order to create new work or for anything related to leadership, learning or relationship building, in-person interactions simply cannot be beat. TikTok is returning to a 3 day work-from-office policy which I fully support.
4) What does work-life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?
Work-life balance to me means knowing what your priorities are and finding an equilibrium between your efforts and the resulting reward. The reward is different for different people.
I like to work hard because I know that the achievement of my personal goals will reward me with a better life for my family and a brighter future for my kids. It’s important to establish over what period you want to find balance.
It could be more effort upfront with a delayed reward in the form of early retirement, as an example. Or it could be a daily balance with a strict clock-in and clock-off schedule. There are weeks or months that I work harder than others, but I then do my best to balance this with a holiday somewhere remote as an early reward for effort.
I view part-work from home as an evolution of working culture. My productivity has not decreased because I work some days from home, but it does allow me to be that much more present and involved with my family and with my hobbies. Hours spent travelling to and from work have been replaced with family or exercise time.
5) In the past 12 months, have you started or stopped any routines or habits to change your life?
My routines have fragmented. Where I used to follow the same routine Monday – Friday I find myself now following the same routine on days where I go to the office but on days where I work from home, my routine is different and I manage to spend more time in the morning helping to get kids ready and getting them to school before logging on and starting my working day.
I feel more comfortable and in control having set days that I go into the office and set days where I don’t. With the flexibility of part-work from home I now definitely spend more time at the gym than I used to.
6) Do you have any favourite books, podcasts or newsletters that you’d like to recommend?
One of my favourite books is How The Mighty Fall by Jim Collins. A demanding but necessary read for all managers is High Output Management by Andrew S Grove. My final book recommendation for anyone entering the working world is A Game Plan For Life by Joe Gibbs.
I subscribe to The Hustle and Morning Brew and have a paid subscription to medium.com. My top podcasts are Mindset Mentor, Masters of Scale, How I Built This and The High Performance Podcast. I also fill my social feed with motivational speakers.
7) Are there any products, gadgets or apps that you can’t live without?
I purchased a lifetime subscription to an app called 12 min which I use quite a bit. Similar to Blinkist, they summarise books into 12 minute segments. The segments are well narrated and cover off the main points of the book effectively.
They are also constantly adding to their catalogue. Another app that I’ve been using quite frequently is Fishbowl. They plugin LinkedIn profiles but maintain anonymity. You need to engage your own filter when reading through comments but it is super interesting to go through the comments of employees when they remain anonymous.
A non-work related app that I enjoy in order to disconnect from work is IncrediBox. I was a big fan of their web platform some 12 years ago but their new mobile app is amazing.
8) If you could read an interview about work-life balance by anyone, who would that be?
Jacinda Ardern. She is a role model to my wife and has also become one to me too. She is constantly testing the status quo and has figured out the formula to effectively balance running a country as well as a family.
9) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?
It has been helpful for me to blend my work in as part of my life instead of viewing them as two opposing forces. Energy spent on work and energy spent on life cannot be so easily divided. One improvement I’ve made is that I now manage only 1x calendar for myself.
I add everything into this calendar, all internal work meetings, external client and prospect meetings but then also blocks for reading, finishing a podcast or even personal events that have to happen, even if they have to be during the working week ie taking my dog to the vet. I have ownership over my KPI and I trust myself to leverage time to achieve what I need to achieve both professionally and personally.
To help achieve this, time management is critical. I had to force myself to better delegate and automate even the smallest task such as setting up email filters as an example. I’m constantly looking for ways in which I can save time so as not to let the day run away from me. There are a lot of distractions in today’s world, so I also use technology to limit them, i.e. Apple’s built-in focus and switching off notifications or deleting certain apps altogether.
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