CEOs / Founders / Interviews

Balancing the Grind with John Gutteridge, Founder & CEO of MAWDE

John Gutteridge is the founder & CEO of MAWDE, makers of premium sloungewear, blending streetwear designs with the comfort of sleepwear.

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

I began my career in advertising in London. I worked for a couple of independent agencies before joining J Walter Thompson (JWT) in Berkeley Square. In 2004, my wife and I decided we wanted to experience the world and moved to Australia.

After 14 months with JWT Melbourne, I was fortunate to be offered my first management role as MD of our New Zealand operations, and by 2011 became CEO for JWT Australia/New Zealand based in Sydney. 

In 2016, I accepted the role as CEO for JWT and Mirum APAC. An incredible experience both professionally and personally, but very taxing from a travel perspective, and difficult to split time between my young family and work. I certainly struggled to maintain a good work-life balance, and found myself mentally and physically ‘always on’ as I was engaged with colleagues in every time zone across the world. 

After three years, I was ready to permanently base myself back in Australia, and agreed to lead the merger of the two businesses formally known as JWT and Wunderman.

Whilst I had agreed to do this for a year, I already had my sights and aspirations set on building a business of my own. Keen to learn new skills, experience different challenges and create something tangible I launched MAWDE in April 2021. 

My role to date as Founder and CEO has been vastly different to previous roles. Naturally, as a start-up I need to be very hands on, and I’m responsible for a huge array of tasks day to day.

My day can consist of anything from working with a designer on new products, to problem solving with cutters or makers, to working with the marketing team, to interacting directly with our customers or updating our investors. This wide variety has forced me to learn about so many new areas in business, none more so than manufacturing. 

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

We are currently in week 8 of lockdown in Sydney, so workdays have been quite different. The factories that manufacture our products are all based here in Sydney, Australia, and are currently closed during lockdown. Naturally, this has impacted my workdays and been quite disruptive. 

However, typically the first thing I do when I wake up is have a coffee whilst I check the previous day’s sales and see if we have any overnight queries or feedback from any of our customers through our customer service app. This is generally followed by a read of the news across three or more different news sources.

Next is some exercise, this will either come in the form of a dog walk or a run depending on the energy levels at the time. On my return I’ll jump into the online data from the previous day, often through a combination of Shopify, Facebook and Google data.

The data informs so many decisions across the business, it helps us constantly listen and respond to our customers, which in turn influences our products and service – choosing to design and manufacture our products here in Australia not only assures us of fantastic quality, it also allows us to be nimble if we need to change direction.

I’ll also spend a bit of time looking through our Social Media activity to see what comments and feedback we’ve received. This generally goes on throughout the day. 

At least twice a week I would aim to physically catch up with the (small) team that works with me. Having some physical contact is important as we continue to establish and define our culture. We use these meetings to review many aspects of the business.

Typically, we cover off products and designs to make sure we’re capturing any learnings for future reference. Every week we’ll review the content and CX of the site, along with the marketing plans. Most importantly we’ll spend time talking about our growing customer base – making sure we truly understand what they like and don’t like, as we figure out how we can improve.

I’ll often make a point of visiting any one of our makers in either Marrickville or Lidcombe on any given day. Often, there’s a need to problem solve with them and the Production Manager with a new style or trialling a new fabric, or we simply need to catch up to review the finished product.

I really enjoy this intimate level of interaction with the people that actually make the clothes. I believe as a start-up, it’s fundamental for me to have a relationship with all the people involved across every facet of the business. 

Throughout the day I’ll monitor sales and think about what we need to do differently to improve the business the next day. I’ll try and wrap up the day with some more exercise before settling down for dinner with the family. 

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

Yes, very much so. Before lockdown, I was spending 2 to 3 days in the office with the team. We would generally try to align on physically meeting Mondays and Wednesdays. I’m a big believer in empowerment and accountability and I think a hybrid work world supports that philosophy well.

The key to this is agreeing in person on a priority list of jobs to be done in any given week, and then empowering the team to get on with them as they see fit. Aside from being available at any time for support, you otherwise trust and empower the team to get the job done, unless proven otherwise.

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

I think the notion that there is work and there is life assumes that the two are mutually exclusive. However, there have often been times where my work has been so enjoyable and rewarding that I’d argue that they aren’t.

I think it’s incredibly important for the mind and the soul to have a break from work, often I think this results in greater productivity and a better clarity of thinking. It’s important to be disciplined and make sure that you’ve planned your day to accommodate both of these aspects.

Having said that, I know myself that it’s often very hard to achieve this consistently, and I often fail with all the inevitable deadline pressures we face from one day to the next.

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

I’ve never been a huge fan of routines, I always try to make each day different from the next, however in a life of lockdown I’ve found it hard to escape the monotony. 

In the last 12 months, I have been through a tremendous change in my life – having moved from 20 years of working in a corporate environment to a start-up environment. The two being so incredibly different, this change has been amplified by the disruption we’ve all experienced through COVID.

From a routine perspective, I’ve found myself craving more exercise which helps keep my mind sharp, and right now due to the fact that I’m WFH this is quite attainable. The other big change I’ve experienced which is part COVID, part job related is the amount I travel. Previously in my corporate life I was travelling nearly every week, I haven’t boarded an aeroplane since February 2020.  

With regards to habits, I spend too much time on the phone. Every year I say to myself I need to change this habit and be in the moment more often. Unfortunately this is work in progress!

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

Shoe Dog. I read this book just as I was writing the business plan for MAWDE. A truly inspiring account of the story behind Nike. It gives any entrepreneur great hope to read the (entertaining) trials and tribulations of Phil Knight as he fought adversity to create an empire.

Golf Is Not a Game of Perfect. This is a great book if you want to understand the power of the mind in the context of sport. It provides some great insights and practical tactics to psychology on the golf course (something I need lots of help with), but also helps you appreciate physical ability alone won’t get the job done. 

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

I have a love-hate relationship with my phone. I know I spend too much time absorbed in it, but it holds nearly everything I need to run the business on it!

Right now, I use the Google Analytics app all day every day to monitor the performance of the website which helps direct our strategy. We rely heavily on social media to drive traffic to the site, so FB and IG are also key, and the Gorgias customer service app is a portal to a one-on-one dialogue with our customers.

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

I honestly have no idea. But I think David Attenborough would be a great interview. Aside from having an incredible mind I believe he’s a fascinating man to listen to.

Everything I’ve read and understand about him has demonstrated his love and passion for his work. Which in turn provided a unique lens with which he could view the world and experience a very full life.  

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

My only thought would be to try to find or create a job or role that you enjoy so much that it doesn’t feel like work. This way you’ll find that work and life co-exist together harmoniously, and you’ll probably be more successful and most importantly you’ll likely be happier for it. 

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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.