CEOs / Interviews

Balancing the Grind with Gregor Young, CEO at Guild

Gregor Young is the CEO at Guild, a platform for professional communities and networking.

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

My background is in product development and product management. I’m an engineer by training, but I’ve meandered through a range of digital roles, some highly commercial, some marketing and martech focussed, some pure product and some more transformational at big UK brands such as BT, Channel 4 and most recently the Financial Times. I’ve always been an agitator for change and an advocate for great digital experience.

I am now the CEO of Guild, a platform for professional networking and communities. It’s an alternative to the incumbent social media for those seeking higher quality connections and conversations – built for professional groups and communities with a mobile-centric chat experience. We’re still in a relatively early stage but growing fast and our communities love it. Ashley, Guild’s founder, brought me in to take the company to its next stage of growth.

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

We’re still a small company, so despite being CEO, I’m also the product lead, and spend a lot of my time working within product delivery. We have a lot of weekly rituals at Guild. Every Monday the day starts with a leadership stand-up where we review and agree the priorities for the week.

We then review our strategic accounts, where they’re at, what actions are needed. I then check in with our product delivery team to go through what is about to be released this week and next – we do weekly product releases.

Then I go get an enormous salt beef bagel from one of the bagel shops on Brick Lane. There isn’t a better lunch.

In the afternoon we have our weekly performance review where the whole team goes through our KPI performance from the previous week. We all understand where we are against targets for our most important metrics, we discuss and agree on any immediate actions to take away.

I then go into a deep-dive session on product design where we work through the details of upcoming features.

I usually leave the office around 5 so I’m back home at a good time.

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

For me, work-life-balance simply means that I enjoy what I do but work doesn’t dominate everything. Life is to be lived, and work should be a positive part of that. I work hard, and I think working hard is good for everybody, but not to the extent that it impacts relationships with family, friends and interests outside of work.

I do believe a steady daily routine is a good thing to have but I’m lucky that in my line of work I can be flexible when necessary. I’ll often start late, leave early. If I’m not in the right frame of mind I’ll stand up and walk away from my desk. This is part of work-life-balance for me – knowing that I’m choosing to work.

I have always delivered against my targets, but I’ve never consistently worked ridiculous hours into the evening or over weekends to do so. There are times when this is necessary, and as CEO I expect to have more of those times. But it is the exception, never the rule.

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

Over the past 5 years or so I’ve gradually moved towards a more rigid weekly routine where possible and have always found this increasingly helpful to achieving my goals, or the goals of my team.

A basic discipline, underpinned by a routine sounds dull but it can be incredibly effective. Now that I’m running a company, I’ve been able to implement this at an organisational level also and it has been crucial to developing valuable working behaviours and ultimately the company culture.

On a more personal side, I’ve committed to writing, and finishing, a song once a week. I play guitar and sing, it’s a big part of my relaxation and enjoyment of life. I’ve always been happy just noodling around and playing covers but more recently I’ve wanted to turn it into something more.

It’s nice to have a project that isn’t work, something that just gets your head away and into something else. I also think it’s important to have something creative in your life. I’ve not written anything good yet, but it’s a new skill I’m developing and maybe I’ll produce something worthwhile eventually.

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

I don’t read a huge amount of work-related books, I just find them too dry and I need to enjoy what I’m reading. Having said that, I do find lots of work-related inspiration from reading and listening to what I enjoy and there are plenty of great books that have helped me develop as a leader and decision-maker.

I like to read about making music, stoicism, psychology and history. I’m also a big fan of listening to lots of different points of view and so I listen to conversational podcasts like Sam Harris, Diary of a CEO, Joe Rogan and Intelligence Squared. I thought Joe Rogan’s Mark Zuckerberg episode was great, as were the recent James Watt and Malcolm Gladwell episodes of Diary of a CEO.

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

Barack Obama. He’s the only person I can think of that has achieved so much, is consistently brilliant in everything he does, is just an incredible character and yet still seems to be as happy and functional as ever.

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

Everyone has their own way of working that suits them best. It’s important to be productive, but how you do that differs from person to person. It is natural to care deeply about how you are perceived and to watch how others behave for clues to how you should.

Unfortunately this ends up with a lot of people working in ways that don’t suit them because they feel like they must be at their desk until 9pm because so-and-so is, or they must be sending emails over the weekend because everyone in the team does that etc. The reality is, some people just like to work long hours, for some people it’s how they achieve their best work. But that’s not necessarily the right thing for everyone. The ‘hustle’ culture doesn’t help.

I believe that many people’s work-life balance struggles are due to this need to meet these social expectations and that drives them to stretch themselves too far. Where that is the case they have to try to ignore it all and do their own thing.

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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.