Balancing the Grind with Hamish Thomson, Strategic Consultant & Non-Executive Director of OzHelp Foundation

Hamish Thomson is a strategic consultant and non-executive director of OzHelp Foundation, as well as the author of It’s Not Always Right to be Right.

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

Unapologetically, I am a typical corporate executive. I have a slight twist, however, as I have recently become a published leadership author with Wiley (titled ‘It’s not always right to be right – and other hard-won leadership lessons’) alongside being an avid investor and advisor in the fascinating world of start-ups and purposeful entrepreneurs.

I was born and raised in New Zealand. Post university, I set off on the standard antipodean adventure to Europe. A one year planned trip turned into 10 years of amazing insight. It started in London advertising.

I was a very ‘average’ copywriter yet loved the pace, creativity, and inevitable, daily hangovers of the industry. I then joined the sports and fitness team at Reebok International.  I did various sales and marketing roles before heading up the European marketing team based out of the Netherlands.

We returned closer to home (Australia), joining Mars Incorporated where I had 20 years doing global brand, CEO and Regional President roles (Sydney, London and Chicago). An amazing business with exceptional people.

About 18 months ago, I made the bold move to get out of the traditional corporate world as I wanted something new and stretching. I linked with Wiley publishing to launch my first leadership book that focuses on real lived corporate experiences, insights and mistakes. It has been humbling to receive such positive feedback and importantly, the book is viewed as practical, relevant and specifically, action oriented.

Those who know me well, know that theory without action drives me crazy. One of the reasons I hardly get past chapter 3 in the 1000 plus leadership books I have read over the years!

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

For the last 12 years as a CEO looking after markets, brands and factories, I have lived many a day on a plane. My new role – along with stay-at-home COVID orders, has been refreshing to say the least.

Most days, I get up at about 5.30am and go for a casual run or walk with the dog. Quick coffee with the wife and kids, and then into the home office for a day that changes consistently.

I am doing a heap of podcasts, interviews and keynote speaking sessions with large corporations, agencies, associations and various entrepreneurial forums. I love this stuff as it is super energising.

To share insight (warts and all) on what makes a difference to business and leadership performance is highly rewarding and if you can unlock some potential within others, it is a very cool feeling.

Interspersed with this, will be board meetings (I am a non-exec director on one of Australia’s leading mental health and suicide prevention agencies, OzHelp Foundation), alongside various consulting and mentoring sessions with clients.

Probably once a week I also am directly involved in the world of Food Tech and Neuroplasticity where I am an investor with a couple of pre-IPO start-up’s. Their diversity of thought and thirst for pace is infectious.

I do my best to cook dinner in the evenings – I never follow recipes and although I call myself creative, my wife would describe me as inconsistent. Few wines, All Black rugby on the weekends and some good discussions with the kids or friends, prior to sleeping about 11 most evenings.

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

I’m passionate about this topic and devoted an entire book chapter to it – titled, ‘Get a Life’. 

Personally, I view it as a life-work balance. I have always worked to live. Work is an important part of who I am, yet it is not all defining nor consuming. I have found that exceptional leaders need to have excellence in life to be their very best at work.

For me, this means a consistent balance of external and outside perspective fully away from a work setting – be that family, friends, exercise, music or even wine.

Like most, you learn the hard way about what triggers an imperfect balance and critically, the visible signs to others – in my case, a very poor poker face of impatience. I am also a believer that the best leaders have a responsibility to showcase balance to aspiring leaders. If they do not, aspiration for career progression can be severely halted.

One other point. Balance is invariably about choice. You can do anything in this world, but you cannot do everything. Unfortunately, making choices is definitely harder for some corporate leaders versus others. As an example, when you have a great support base at home, it is so much easier to be selfishly focused on work.

Without it, balance is incredibly difficult. This is one reason, amongst many, why additional support and focus needs to be made on enhancing gender and minority diversity within boards and leadership teams. 

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

My father used to tell me that the easiest person to sell to was a salesman. When reading, Legacy, by James Kerr, I was sold hook lines and sinkers! Clichéd or not, I am a believer in the parallels of sporting and corporate leadership. Humility, purpose and work ethic are the cornerstones of this book, and the leadership principles are ones I attempt to follow daily. 

The one business book that I did enjoy (and finish) is the First 90 Days, by Michael Watkins. I like his challenge on the need for different competencies and capabilities at different stages of business maturity. Although I challenge some of his initial thinking within my own publication, his text is pragmatic and very usable in a work sense.

Apart from that, I read, watch, and listen widely. Different views that challenge my preconceived perceptions of the world are always welcomed. This is why I invited 17 different global authors and experts within their respective fields to review my chapter concepts and challenge them directly. Insatiable curiosity of what could be better is always a motivator in my mind.

5) Are there any products, gadgets, or apps that you can’t live without? 

Showing my age now. I have recently got back into the vinyl music scene. I have quite an eclectic music taste covering artists from PJ Harvey, Kim Gordon to Thom Yorke and am loving getting into the industry again. Sound technology has progressed massively over recent years and high fidelity streaming apps like Tidal are simply sensational.

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

Probably, Christine Lagarde – former head of the International Monetary Fund. Her roles have always been high profile, polarised in perception and undeniably, surrounded by male dominated boardrooms. Her composure, pragmatism and values led communication indicates to me a level of balance that clearly works. Importantly, it also appears aspirational to others as well. 

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

Simply the importance of surrounding oneself with radiators. Those who inspire possibility, opportunity and a can-do attitude that invariably leads to breakthrough and innovation. We stand just that much taller around radiators. Conversely, rid yourself and your organisation of those who drain ambition, energy and potential. Life is way too short for limiting beliefs of this nature.

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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.