CEOs / Founders / Interviews

Balancing the Grind with Leigh Pullen, Co-Founder & CEO of CiGen

Leigh Pullen is the co-founder & CEO of CiGen, a family-owned Australian company specialising in intelligent automation and robotic process automation.

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

I’m the co-founder and CEO of CiGen, a proud family owned Australian specialist in intelligent automation and robotic process automation (RPA). CiGen has been at the forefront of RPA in Australia and the Asia Pacific region since 2015, being one of the first service providers in the region.

My first business dovetailed into my passion for music. I manufactured hard cases bands use to transport their instruments, amps and other equipment. For many years, groups like INXS and TV studios like Channel 7 and Channel 9 travelled the country and the world with cases I made from my garage workshop or later from our factory in Clifton Hill.

My career in the technology industry kicked off in the late 1980s, starting with working for a manufacturing resource planning system vendor. I then worked for different enterprise resource planning providers till the end of 1999 in a mix of technical and project management roles.

I also supported the sales teams when they did their demos for clients. It was from these experiences that I became an expert on materials requirements planning and all things inventory related.

In 1999, I started working with Optus and spent 14 years with the company. As a project manager, I became a subject matter expert in contact centre technology. In my last five years at Optus, I was involved with the company’s largest outsourced customer which was one of Australia’s large four banks.

After I left Optus, I took a year off but realised that I didn’t want to retire. I then went to work for Fujitsu for six months in bids management. That was where I spotted the gap for RPA type solutions in Australia and launched CiGen in 2015. And the rest, as you say, is history.

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

If I am in the office, then I’m normally up by 6:00am and in the office by 6:45am. I like to come in early as I enjoy the quiet time before my day gets busy. If I work from home, I might have a slightly later start.

At the office, someone from the team will go for a coffee run around mid morning as we like to support local businesses and the cafes in our area. As for lunch, I’ll normally buy takeaway and bring it back to my desk to eat. I’ll try to squeeze in a short walk too if I can.

My day depends on what clients require or if there’s training we need to conduct and attend and what meetings might be scheduled. The length of my workday changes depending on what needs to be done.

Some days are shorter than others depending on what we have on and whether I’m working at the office or from home. But I always commit to dinner with my wife at around 7:00 to 7:30pm each night. 

Some evenings, I have rehearsals with my band, Fins n Chrome. I play the guitar in the band. We play gigs when we can although COVID and lockdowns have made that harder. Other nights, I’ll listen to a podcast or watch TV and tend to any last minute emails so I can start the next day with a clean slate. Bedtime for me is between 10:30pm to 11:30pm.

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

I worked remotely even before the pandemic as most of our clients also work remotely. We only have one client that prefers more face-to-face interaction when possible.

Remote working is great but it does impact work-life balance. When you run a startup, you generally don’t have the luxury of time as there are many things going on and you’re always juggling things simultaneously. It can be hard to switch off.

I find it difficult to wind down from work. I live in an apartment which is great when you’re busy, but not so when you’re not. You don’t get that complete separation by being able to do things like gardening or tinkering around in the garage.

When I took a year off in between jobs, it took me three to four months to stop waking up at a certain time to get ready for work. Habit I guess.

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

Work-life balance is hard to achieve all the time, it is something you mindfully have to pursue. Running a startup can be consuming, so you need to find ways to achieve balance. 

Playing music helps me unwind. There’ll be times during the day where I’ll pick up my guitar and just play. Doing this helps ideas to come more easily to me.

I also like listening to people with different perspectives. A lot of my downtime is reading or surfing for podcasts to listen to.

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

We’ve been very fortunate that during the pandemic, demand for our services has increased as more organisations seek to leverage the power of intelligent automation to relieve tedious and time consuming repetitive processes and ensure their people working from home can enjoy focusing on more meaningful work. 

I admit with the pace accelerating for our services, I’ve let my exercise routine suffer a bit, but I am working to change that. 

Also, with more remote working, I’ve been able to listen to more podcasts, which is something I enjoy doing and gain a lot of insights from.

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

For podcasts, I highly recommend Common Sense with Dan Carlin, Russell Brand’s podcast Under the Skin and Gates McFadden Investigates which makes for some interesting listening for Star Trek fans.

As for books, I’m interested in topics on disruption and climate change. Disrupted: Strategy for Exponential Change by Larry Quick and David Platt covers just that and provides strategies on how to deal with disruption. It makes for an interesting read. I also recommend Architects of Intelligence by Martin Ford and How to Avoid a Climate Disaster by Bill Gates.

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

My laptop and access to the internet is essential for me. However, my mobile phone is just a practical tool that I use mainly for work. I also like the Luminary app which allows me to tune into my podcasts.

But the one thing that I can’t do without is my guitar. It provides me with an outlet to de-stress when things get hectic and gets me back on track.

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

I like reading interviews about work-life balance from ordinary people like myself and not from someone well-known. The reason being is I can relate more easily and resonate with similarities, compared to someone famous.

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

Work-life balance ebbs and flows throughout your career depending on your role and what’s happening on the personal front. It’s easy to overlook yourself and others when you’re immersed in a job or project. 

The important thing is to find a hobby or vocation to balance things out which gives you a different perspective on life and provides enjoyment and a break from work. 

Taking the time you need to recharge is crucial. It will boost your clarity and performance. 

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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.