Interviews / CEOs

Balancing the Grind with Mark Nielsen, Global CEO of Talent

Mark Nielsen is the Global CEO of Talent, a tech and digital recruitment specialist company working with start-ups, SMEs, public sector organisations and more.

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

I’m originally from South Africa and have been in Australia for about 20 years now. I commenced my career working with EY as a chartered accountant. I then moved into investment banking and private equity.

In 2013 I had the fortunate opportunity of meeting Richard Earl, the founder of Talent. I joined Talent initially as a non-executive director and after a few months of that I thought, wow this is an amazing business and Richard wanted to scale the business into new areas and he asked me if I would join him in doing this.

I then came on as CFO for about three years, then moved into the role of APAC CEO for another four years and then became the Global CEO.

For me, what I really love about Talent is we challenge the norm, take on the multinationals, are highly entrepreneurial, and it’s really a fantastic experience to work with like-minded, driven and caring people.

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

There are two different streams for this, one being in lockdown and one when we aren’t. I’ll go with the not in lockdown as it’s much more interesting.

I normally get up around 7am. Grab a coffee with my husband and walk our two dogs before heading to the office. I am very lucky as it’s only about a 15 minute walk to the office.  I listen to a podcast on the way in, normally The Economist or The Wall Street Journal, or if I feel like I need a lift I normally pop on some high-energy music.

When I get in I will check emails, read the newspapers to find out what is making headlines and then the day starts. Generally I will connect with people who may need a bit of support with projects they are working on or if they are dealing with personal issues (especially when Melbourne was in lockdown!).

I try to do that first thing to set everything up for the day ahead. I then will start my meetings, I try to keep them to 45 minutes max.

Those meetings can be a combination of things from issues that the business may be facing, looking at areas to improve the business, financials, client focused presentations, or it can be general things about interacting with our shareholders and board members.

That’s normally the bulk of what I do. After the workday is done I head off to F45, it’s quite nice as it’s on the way home for me. When I get home I’ll relax for a bit, catch up with my husband, have dinner and then normally do an hour or two of work focusing on the UK due to the time difference.

I’ll then watch some tv or head to bed where I make sure I read for a bit before fully switching off. Having a bit of escapism is important, especially having time away from the screen. What I do, which has made a big impact, is that I put my phone in my lounge room. I’ve linked up the TV so that at 7am it will turn on and that’s when I know it’s time to start the day. 

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

Yes absolutely, components of it do. We have all had to adapt to flexible work faster than what companies would have thought.

A key part of my role though is getting out into the business. It is crucial for me to make sure I am visiting the different branches and connecting with people to help them develop and grow. If I’m not travelling I am normally in the office connecting with people.

I do enjoy face-to-face interaction and feeding off people’s energy. It doesn’t have to be in the office, which we have discovered this past year, but making sure you have interaction with your teams is essential.

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

At Talent we have the ‘no weekend work rule’ whereby we encourage everyone to switch off and not check emails or work throughout that time. People need to have a break. There may be a few bits and pieces that I need to do but I try to make sure that I don’t work on the weekends.

The way I see it is the week is for work and the weekend is about recharging, relaxing, getting a bit of exercise in and clearing your head before Monday rolls around.

A few other things I do. Firstly I try to be really efficient and encourage my teams to delegate when they need to. Delegation is important for a few reasons. It’s good because it can help people free up more and you can focus on other things, and it also can help give other people the opportunity to grow and develop. You need to take away the fear of failure though for this strategy to work.

Secondly, if there is an issue that you can see arising, try and nail it as soon as you can rather than wait for it to blow up. Something that I teach my team is the ‘blank paper rule’. How that works is, I say to them, if you had a blank piece of paper, would you do anything different? 

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

I think the one key thing that I’ve stopped doing is drinking alcohol during the week. Normally I’d have a glass of wine or a beer with dinner but I’ve cut that back and now will do that on the weekends only.

I’ve also tried to cut back on eating unhealthy snacks especially during lockdown. It’s not easy as they are always there! As I said previously, I keep my phone in the lounge whilst I sleep and to make sure I don’t have screen time 24/7. I try to also do as much exercise as I can.

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

As a break I enjoy reading books that aren’t too serious but are fast paced – Lee Child, Harlan Corbin are some of my favourite authors. I also read A Little Life recently which was hard but enthralling.

Podcasts – I love The Economist and The Wall Street Journal. It’s important though to balance out the business stuff and the fun stuff. The fun stuff can often build your creativity.

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

I’ve closed down Facebook as it became a bit addictive, and I’ve taken Instagram and moved it off my main page and popped it towards the back. The newspapers are what I enjoy the most. I really like The Guardian as they give a different perspective on a lot of things. 

I do use Headspace as well. If I feel a bit overwhelmed I sit in a room and pop that on for 10 minutes and it really helps.

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

Richard Branson. I think he works hard but at the same time he has the passion and enthusiasm for what he does. You really have to enjoy what you do so it doesn’t seem like work. So for people like that, it’s really ingrained into the fabric of their lives.

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

You really have to love what you do. Yes there will be bad days, but you’ve got to try and get to a stage where you see going to work as not something that you have to do and rather something that you enjoy.

Yes, the role you do is important but the organisation that you are a part of is even more important. You could have an okay role but have awesome people around you who can help develop and grow you. That really makes coming to that place something that you love doing.

Often when I mentor people, and they say they don’t enjoy their job, I say to them okay let’s unpack that, do you not enjoy what you do or do you not enjoy the environment? If you could do the same work in a different environment would you enjoy it?

Normally the answer is yes because you wouldn’t be doing something for years if you really hate it. That then pushes people to look for another organisation and all of sudden their passion for what they do is elevated.  

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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.