CEOs / Founders / Interviews

Balancing the Grind with Hamish Clegg, Co-Founder & CEO of Hilltop Leaf

Hamish Clegg is the Co-Founder & CEO of Hilltop Leaf, a U.K. plant based medicine company.

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Let’s start with your background! Can you share with us your career journey and what you’re currently up to?

When does one’s career start? In my view it starts when you learn the meaning of putting in a hard day’s work, and that probably started for me aged 16 doing a summer job on a Cheshire cheese farm getting up at 5am to go to fill the milk vats – it stank.

After university I started full time employment with a hedge fund called Odey. Odey really taught me how to think about the world of business, economics and investment. While we only bought minority shares in public businesses it still taught me to invest like an owner.

I went on to spend over a decade at both JP Morgan and Merrill Lynch. Working at JP Morgan during the credit crunch was a life experience I will never forget. I was twenty seven, just married, and was on one of the biggest trading floors in London. People were hiding to avoid being fired. I was young and therefore cheap, so I survived and was incredibly lucky to have the opportunity to step up.

I travelled to all sorts of corners of the world from pension funds in Kuala Lumpur to oil rigs in Congo. I built resilience and learnt how to cope – not all my friends did. I sat next to a guy called Joe at JPM and we ended up working together at Merrill Lynch before he took his own life. I knew at that point I needed to get out – for myself and my family.

I now run my own healthcare company called Hilltop Leaf with an old school friend I have known since we were two years old. We are trying to be pathfinders in the new industry of medical cannabis in the UK. We have ten employees and a 10,000m facility on the side of a mountain in Scotland that we plan to power with renewables and bring jobs to the community.

We’d love to know what a typical day is like for you. Could you describe a recent workday?

There is no typical day for a founder running a medical cannabis start-up in Scotland. I have two routines in Scotland and London. My family are in London and one of the joys of getting out of the big corporate world is being able to have breakfast with my kids and fit in morning exercise that doesn’t involve a nail biting commute dressed in lycra cycling gear (obviously riding a bike).

I like to start the day with a cup of tea and I get one for my 12 yr old and my wife at 6.30am – this little gesture goes a long way to them actually liking me. I aim (nobody’s perfect) to do some exercise after the tea drop off (6.35am). Maybe a run with our dog Wilma or even a weights circuit in the gym – if I have psyched myself up enough the night before. Then it’s into emails and our team morning call to set the direction of the day.

Any given day could be a combination of investor pitches, design meetings, reviewing R&D reports, discussing budgeting, drafting commercial agreements, collaborative reviews of standard operating procedures. I don’t usually get down to writing strategy or investor updates till after the calls have stopped and the kids have gone to bed but that’s not a daily thing.

Our operations are in Scotland, and that gives me a bit of “me time” once a month. I stay in a little local hotel in a town near the river. If it’s not pouring with rain I will have a 30 min jog up the river before breakfast at 7.30am and a chat with the hotel owner about town gossip and our progress. I then get myself onto site – the top of a rugged hill where the air is fresh and the sheep roam – before hitting the morning call and seeing the team’s hard work on site. The most exciting bit is inspecting our plants (the babies).

Can you define work-life balance for yourself and share with us your approach in maintaining it?

Bookends and Offices. I actually enjoy the commute and going to the office. Potential for working from home is very useful indeed – especially as it means I can make the odd nativity play or gymnastics show. Crucial to me is starting the working day by leaving the house and finishing on return.

Being able to switch off in the evening is not easy – but I find trying to read to my youngest daughter benefits me as much as her. Stepping away from Hilltop and into Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory or the magical world of Hogwarts is my form of meditation. Playing tennis is my other method. Tennis is such an intense mental game you have to block everything else out.

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Change is constant, and it’s essential for growth. Have you made any lifestyle changes in the past year to improve your work-life balance?

Yes. When you cross 40 you keep evaluating how you live. Friday work from home with a lunchtime bit of sport keeps me sane and more productive. Other changes include using delayed email so I can send something delayed till Monday but don’t end up on a weekend back and forth with a colleague.

I don’t wear suits any more. I never leave the office after 6pm – so I don’t crawl into bed after working on a big deadline project. We have dinner with the kids too. This means we only cook one meal and see each other.

We’re always on the lookout for new resources! Can you recommend any books, podcasts, or newsletters that have helped you in your journey towards balance?

Books – I have enjoyed Legacy by James Kerr, I am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes. Podcasts – I listen to The Cannabis conversation (obviously), How to Fail with Elizabeth Day, Desert Island discs and The Rest is Politics. New Letters I enjoy the Cannabis Industry Council Monthly, Time Top Ten and the Reuters Daily Briefing.

Before we wrap up, do you have any final words of wisdom or insights on work, life, or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?

  • Don’t forget to enjoy every day.
  • One small action is worth a thousand words.
  • Be humble, don’t seek praise and hope people are nice about you behind your back.
  • Trust your gut instinct, it’s often right.
  • Small things matter.

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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.