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Balancing the Grind with Harry Hortyn, Co-Founder & CEO at Oxford Summer Courses

Harry Hortyn is the co-founder & CEO at Oxford Summer Courses, a company established in 2010 by a network of Oxford alumni and educators.

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

I started Oxford Summer Courses whilst at Uni, working as a tutor in Oxford (and seeing room for improvement in the summer school space).

After starting the business, it didn’t really look like a career at that point so I moved to London (as everyone did in those days (the 2010s)) and worked for the impact investment organisation Social Finance.

This provided a solid grounding in strategy, policy and financial modelling which I could then use in my “side hustle” until Oxford Summer Courses became large enough to support me financially (in 2015).

Since then, we have become more of a “proper” company i.e. getting an office, growing the staff beyond friends and family and building out processes and policies. These days, my title is CEO and I manage a team of 25 permanent staff as we deliver courses to 2000 motivated young people.

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

I start the day by making tea for my wife who’s 6 months pregnant and reading her a page of “Pregnancy: Day by Day” and discussing what’s coming next.

When I switch my brain onto work it’s either (i) a mostly full calendar of meetings/1-1s with senior managers or (ii) a mostly time-protected day to think about the company strategy / do some financial analysis on potential internal or external investment ideas.

I like to chunk together meetings into a full day which is a little tiring but at least it allows me to get into uninterrupted flow later in the week – it also helps all the senior managers know what the weekly goals are and we can troubleshoot anything at the start of the week

3) Does your current role allow for flexible or remote working? If so, how does that fit into your life and routine?

We are just starting to re-open our office in Oxford – however (like many companies) we are finding that coordinating days that we’re all heading there takes some work (we’ve tried leaving it to people and having set days that everyone comes in – but neither are giving everyone exactly what they want).

I live in London so I have meeting-heavy days in Oxford and meeting-free days in London (in a local co-working space) so the geographical separation is quite helpful for me to either be present with the team and focus on interaction and collaboration / be remote in London and focus on solo work like planning, strategy work etc.  

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

Predictability is very important for me – having a lot of work to do isn’t necessarily a problem, it becomes a problem (for me) when it’s unpredictable. If you book a meal out / gig etc and you don’t know if you can definitely make it or not – that’s a recipe for stress.

Oxford Summer Courses is seasonal by nature – we know that there are some big weeks in June/July but then things ease off in August; winter meanwhile is a different vibe as we are mainly in preparation and product development mode. Balance (for me) comes from working hard, making meaningful progress, celebrating success and working towards a common purpose that everyone buys into.

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

Starting the day with a cup of tea and without looking at my phone until 9am is a godsend. I would highly recommend avoiding work emails until the working day starts if you can

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

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

Focus mode on my phone!

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

As an avid football fan, all my managerial metaphors are about football so I’d probably pick Arsene Wenger (although he admits to being a (“reformed”?) workaholic in his autobiography so maybe that’s not so good). Alex Ferguson would also get a look in too and I’d contrast that with Jurgen Klopp too for some modern insights too.

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

I think work-life balance should mean something different to everyone based on what brings them balance – I always return to the Japanese concept of Ikigai (combining passion, mission, profession and vocation) as a great place to start thinking about it.

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About Author

Balance the Grind is a work-life balance publication on a mission to showcase healthy work-life balance through interesting stories from people all over the world, in different careers and lifestyles.