Balancing the Grind with Matthew Sek, Director, Commercial & Product Strategy, Airwallex

Matthew Sek is the Director, Commercial & Product Strategy at Airwallex, a payments platform transforming the way businesses move and manage money globally.

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

I’ve had several ‘career pivots’ throughout the last decade or so. Initially, starting my career at management consulting firm Kearney, where I worked on large scale transformation projects across the globe. 

I then moved into the tech sector, and spent 2+ years on Seek’s corporate strategy team before joining Melbourne-founded fintech unicorn Airwallex. At Airwallex, my initial role involved setting up the channel partnerships and product marketing functions.

More recently, I’ve moved back to my strategy roots and am currently leading the global product strategy, commercial strategy and data analytics functions. In other words, my current role involves figuring out what we build, how we price, how we launch products and how we measure success.

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

Everyday is quite different at Airwallex (different topics, different stakeholders, different impact). But a typical day would look like:

Start of the day: I usually start my day with a cup of coffee and my first hour is usually spent either planning for meetings during the day, or deep thinking on ‘content’

During the day: I’ll have a mix of:

  • Weekly one-on-one meetings with my team to plan out priorities for the week, and
  • Stakeholder / team meetings, where decisions are made for the business

Lunch & reading: I’ll take some time out of my day (around lunchtime) to have a quick meal, an additional shot of coffee plus do a bit of reading (mix of news on the industry or competitors, strategy blogs, etc). 

Before I end the day, I’ll usually ensure I’ve cleared out all emails and slack messages (that require an urgent response).

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

Yes, as Airwallex has offices across America, Europe and APAC, all roles are flexible and set up for remote working. With communication tools such as Zoom and Slack, it’s much easier to collaborate remotely. 

The two key principles I apply to make remote working work with my team are to:

Be extra clear on agreed outcomes during a meeting – a simple example here could be documenting it in a Google Doc or sharing key action items over an email or slack message post meeting

Always keep the camera on – it’s harder for attendees in a meeting to ‘read the room’ with cameras switched off. Therefore, we make it an ‘unspoken rule’ at Airwallex to try to keep your camera on when joining a Zoom meeting.

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

Working in a fast growing start up like Airwallex does come with a challenging schedule as the business expands rapidly (which I personally find exciting). However, to manage work-life balance, I try my best to ensure I’m sufficiently rested and have time for other things besides work.

To do so, I apply the following principles:

Optimise productivity during work hours – I find that I’m most switched on at the start of the day – if I leave all my ‘thinking-heavy’ work till the end of the day, then I’ll probably spend more unnecessary time and achieve a sub-optimal outcome. Instead, I try to front-load all my thinking, and if that means I reply an email a few hours later, it’s a worthwhile trade-off

Find ‘switch-off’ days / times – I always ensure that each week, I find time and days to ‘switch-off’. Some people go to the gym or go for long walks to relax, but for me, I’m either watching a movie on Netflix, or planning my next vacation (once borders reopen). Having a vacation planned also gets me motivated (i.e. I have something to look forward to in x number of weeks!)

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

In the last month or so, I’ve started going to bed an hour earlier (at 10.30 instead of 11.30) and waking up slightly earlier so I get a bit more room for thinking space before a hectic day of back-to-back meetings begins. I found this to be quite effective in just having an extra 30 – 60 minutes to plan my day ahead. Obviously, this only applies to weekdays, and I do enjoy my sleep-in on the weekend!

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

One of my favourite newsletters is Stratechery by Ben Thompson. It dissects strategy within the tech sector and attempts to formulate a ‘mental model’ of various sub-sectors or strategies deployed by significant tech companies. However, as the content can get quite deep, I don’t usually read this at night when my brain is probably at 50% capacity.

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

An Airfryer. I bought one during last year’s boxing day sale and it has changed my life. Healthier cooking, with zero mess and much faster than traditional frying.

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

I would probably say Warren Buffett as I know he spends quite a significant amount of his work time reading or in deep thinking. I probably spend a smaller proportion of time reading and thinking than I’d like, thus would like to hear his perspective on it.

I think investing is one of the sectors which is notorious for having poor work-life balance (think investment bankers and long work hours driven by market-sensitive announcements, tight deal timelines, etc).

As I am also involved in investing on the side (and no doubt this is the case with most Balance The Grind readers), it would be good to hear from Warren on what he thinks about ‘investing-life balance’.

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

I like to think of work and life in ‘seasons’. It’s never always going to be 50-50, but rather there’ll always be seasonal peaks and troughs. Always take the opportunity to rest and rejuvenate (e.g. by going on a vacation, or taking longer breaks) during off-peak work seasons so you can be at your best when work picks up pace again.

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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.