HR & Culture / Interviews

Balancing the Grind with Mary Anne Dela Fuente, Head of People at mx51

Mary Anne Dela Fuente is the Head of People at mx51, the first Australian fintech to develop a bank-grade, modern, end-to-end payment as a service platform.

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

I remember prepping for my HSC, whilst also having the overwhelming task of trying to figure out what I wanted to do. My Aunt worked in HR overseas and I still remember thinking, “sure, why not”.

Very early in my career I was fortunate to land an organisational development role, where my team played a part in supporting the business through culture and change initiatives. It was here, I was exposed to “non-traditional” HR consultants who challenged, stretched and defined for me the value HR teams have in businesses.

Over the next 10 years, I’ve been fortunate to work in various industries moving from roles in learning, organisational development and business partnering; and through this have found a passion for start-ups and scale-ups where I get to wear all these hats and really embed myself in a way that supports businesses be the place where people excel and get to do some of the best work of their careers.

Today, I’m the Head of People at mx51 and work closely with the team to build a culture that enables our people to be themselves, solve challenging problems, get involved in shaping the future of our business and ultimately create great merchant experiences.

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

Given we’re in lockdown, it’s a little bit different and finding a morning routine that works for me was challenging. Fundamentally, I keep my morning slow by making a coffee, chilling out with my dogs and reading any messages or Linkedin articles, before I kick off a work day.

Since joining mx51, we’ve had a strong focus on growth. After finalising our Series A round, our team has entered a hyper growth phase which has pushed my team to pivot and support the organisation to scale and grow, whilst also building our People function.

What this means every day is something a little bit different, whether it’s solving a people challenge our team has never encountered, doubling our headcount, welcoming new starters, rolling out our first ever leadership development program, coaching leaders, designing a remuneration framework, all the way to organising team events to keep us connected during the pandemic.

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

mx51 has always worked in a hybrid/remote way. We have team members across the east coast of Australia who use tools like Slack to collaborate and work effectively. This way of work really set the team up for when the pandemic hit, whilst also supporting our team to create the flexibility that makes sense for them.

This fits into my life and routine perfectly. I’ve always been one to say “it’s not about the number of hours you work that makes you a high-performer”, and I truly believe flexible/remote work supports this.

I’m not going to lie, I do miss the chatter and vibrancy of a workplace but I’ve also learned the importance of boundaries and what that actually means for me. Flexibility enables me to be there for my friends, family, husband, and at times myself.

It helps me coordinate the admin of life that sometimes is just too hard to do any other time, whilst also provides me with the choice of the space I work in to help keep me in flow and support the creative juices keep flowing.

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

I’ve always struggled with the traditional concept of “work-life balance” as I see a simplicity in bringing them together.

Providing the space for work and life to overlap (sometimes), provides me with the opportunity to show vulnerability and authenticity. It allows me to set expectations for myself with those in my professional and personal circles, but also gives me the permission to lean in when I’m inspired or challenged.

In saying this, setting boundaries with work and life is critical to helping them “blend” in a sustainable way. It’s about ensuring that you can give the same amount of time, effort and energy to work and life commitments in a way that enables you to thrive.

Here are practical things I do to help me manage this:

  • Turn off work related notifications, such as emails and Slack, after 6pm
  • My work apps are not easily accessible on my phone
  • I set reminders in my calendar for lunch and to “go home”
  • If I do need to work late, I set the expectation with family and friends

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

Definitely. The pandemic really shook my routine, so I needed to make sure I adopted new routines to help me create space between work and life.

For example, when the pandemic hit I found myself sleeping in every day because I didn’t need to commute to work, so I had to create a morning routine that would give me more discipline and help me have the right mindset for work.

One of the biggest things I learned during the pandemic was helping people, help you. This meant blocking out time for lunch, giving yourself time/space between meetings, saying ‘no’ to avoid overcommitting and planning my weeks to block out time for design or creative thinking.

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

Here’s a few that come to mind:

  • Lars Schmidt and his podcast and book ‘Redefining HR
  • Everything Brene Brown and Simon Sinek
  • The Working Life’ podcast by Lisa Leong
  • Masters of Scale with Reid Hoffman’ podcast
  • Organizational Learning & Performance by Ryan Smerek (I’m currently reading this, so message me your thoughts)
  • And I just love HBR and Gartner whitepapers

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

Instagram and Linkedin are my most commonly used apps. But I do like Blinkist (I’m a lazy reader), Grammarly (who doesn’t like well written sentences) and UberEats (because it’s saved my life one too many times).

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

An artist or musician. Someone who’s work and life is so integrated and public. That must be challenging.

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

Work, life and balance is personal, so own it. Find a job you are passionate about and be in a place that values you, helps you thrive in all aspects of your life, and provides you with the opportunity to do rewarding work. If this isn’t possible, stop and listen to what your body needs and give yourself the permission to lean in and take action (i.e. set boundaries, go for a walk, take a break, breathe, say ‘no’).

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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.