Balancing the Grind with Mercedes Ibbett, Managing Director of EVT Incentive Marketing

Mercedes Ibbett is the Managing Director of EVT Incentive Marketing, which has been running incentive programmes in Australia and New Zealand since 1985.

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

I am the Managing Director of EVT Incentive Marketing. As a business, we support our clients in creating and running successful Sales Incentive, Reward & Recognition Programs – and everything that entails.

We have in house creative, marketing, data, reward buying, fulfilment, travel and events teams. So to say we are a business that does a lot of great, varied work is an understatement!

I have been in this role since 2009, at the age of 25 and I took the role when my mum very sadly passed away. My mum created this business back in 1985 and I literally grew up in it. And she was my role model that proved to me that you can be a mum and a boss lady!

My father ran it with her and he is who I run it with to this day, which is incredibly special. It’s the best unintentional family business around!

Before I took the role as MD, I worked at EVT for three and a half years across all of the teams and then left to spread my wings and worked for a large ad agency in their B2B Marketing team and cut my teeth on client service and marketing strategy in a whole different way.

My current role is a total mixed bag one day to the next. I manage a team of 11 and we have over 30 clients and what we do is so varied within the incentive space.

My day role is to ensure we are delivering the best programs for our clients, the most incredible incentive trips and experiences, delivery on our high quality of client and customer service but also ensure we are innovating and running a successful business. And it’s what I love about what I do, variety.

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

Firstly, I work just 4 days per week and have done so since my first daughter was born. So I tend to action pack my days to get what I can do in a 4 day work week. And let me tell you, there are plenty of the ‘extra’ things I’d like to get done that I just can’t get to – and that’s ok!

Our house in the morning starts at 7am when our two girls wake up- they are 22 months and 5 years old – luckily my husband is more of a morning person than me and takes care of the kid’s breakfasts.

I start my day with a quick 20 minute home workout- my biggest tip for sanity as a mum is to get in that one thing done in the morning just for me! After that, my husband is out the door to his work, and it’s all chaos and outfit changes in the rush to get my workday started.

My eldest daughter is in preschool, so I will either drop her off, or our nanny will take charge and take care of the kids while I get ready to get to work.

I take my short walk to the office and once I’m set up behind my computer, I drink my coffee whilst catching up on emails, slacks, social posts and getting clear on my priorities for the day.

We then kick the day off with a morning team catch up via Zoom every day at 8:45 am – something that has become so important since COVID started and we have been WFH.

We go through what’s on for the day and make sure we are clear on what our deadlines are but also equally important that we connect as people and have some social time.

After that, it’s a solid mix of:

  • Reviewing work & our creative direction for programs
  • Meeting with my teams on projects
  • Checking in on people individuals – I’m doing that more than ever at the moment
  • Meeting with my clients – lately, it’s all been about adjusting strategy, postponing incentive trips
  • Creative & strategic brainstorms
  • Reviewing upcoming trips (When we could travel)
  • Working on our marketing strategy and sales
  • Planning, forecasting and sales

We have also been renovating our house for the last 4 months, so a lot of builder/tradie calls and site visits get squeezed in there too.

Where it has changed is that pre-COVID I would normally be on a plane to Melbourne every two weeks to visit clients, or I’d be travelling around Sydney to have our face to face meetings.

So while I’m saving a lot of time commuting and I don’t miss the 5:30 am wake ups to get to Melbourne, I do miss sitting in a room with my clients and bonding in a way that video conferencing does not allow.

I always aim to get home by 5:30-6pm, say farewell to our wonderful nanny who has kept the home front ticking over and then spend some quality time with my girls and get them to bed by 7 pm.

After that my husband cooks us dinner (yes he’s the chef) and we normally just relax and watch one of our various streaming services or get some work in. We have young kids and big jobs, our life is quiet at night and we need it to be, to be able to do it all again the next day.

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

Most businesses now provide remote working, because there was no choice. And we were one that did not before COVID. It’s been the major silver lining out of this time, is being able to see in action how well our business can operate with people working remotely.

So much so we have decided to downsize our office as, even though we still think some time together is important, we do not need a desk for every team member any longer and we can happily provide the team with the flexibility to WFH and have their life balance a little better with less commute time.

As things have improved slightly in NSW, we have been bringing in each team one day every two weeks, and I can see how much everyone is enjoying the time together/ change of scenery – but by no means do they want or need to do it every day any longer and it’s been a welcome revelation.

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

As a mum of two young girls and being in the role I’m in, I have had to learn what work-life balance means to me now vs before kids.

I have big goals for my business, for myself and my family. And that means sometimes there is A LOT on! And before kids, I could do the long hours to make it happen.

Whereas now, I have set a goal to always be home for their bedtime every night (unless I’m travelling) and while they are not in school spend an extra day with them which means I only work 4 days – oh and stay sane while I do that.

To achieve those goals I have had to:

Accept, as one person, I can love my family & I love my work and what it is to me. And that’s ok. I’m not going to hide that I’m a mum with my team, my clients or in new business meetings. And I’m not going to hide from the girls that I love to work because it fuels me and balances me out.

Learn that I can never do both things ‘perfectly’ and that there are periods where I can excel at one thing more than the other and that’s ok. No one is perfect and has a perfect balance.

Choose to work only 4 days while the kids are young.

Make my life easier where I can:

Firstly, by picking the right partner to take this challenge on with, who wholly supports me and is an equal parent.

We moved our home close to my office, less important at the moment, but it has meant I’m never far from home – and as a mum of young kids that feels very comforting. It also means I haven’t commuted which is a lot of wasted time (again not so relevant at the moment) but it’s mean I do optimise my time.

Learn what work needs me and what doesn’t. Delegation and trust in my wonderful team are huge otherwise I couldn’t have the ‘balance’ that I want.

Get a lot of help at home! Grandparents look after the girls but also paid help with our nanny and a cleaner every two weeks. An absolute privilege to be able to have that support, and I respect women who do have that support and hold it all together.

Order our Daily Routines ebook today! Featuring first-hand interviews, insights and revelations compiled from 50 of the world’s most successful people.

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

I exercise at home every morning before work, for just 20 minutes. I don’t have to leave the house, the kids are often sitting on me – but that’s ok!

I read every night to switch my brain off so I can sleep and not lay awake thinking through my to-do list! I listen to a lot of podcasts when I’m walking or doing things I don’t enjoy – like washing the dishes.

A habit I’m trying to focus on is letting go of the things I can’t control. 2020 continues to throw me so many business curveballs and there are constant changes. I’ve not been successful 100% of the time, but I am working very hard to switch off the things I can’t control and focus on what is in my control.

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

As an avid reader, I have many books I would recommend, but my favourite books I’ve read in the past year are:

  • A Gentleman in Moscow by Amore Towles
  • Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton
  • Against All Odds, the story of the Thai Boy Rescue written by the two gentlemen who were integral, it’s an incredible story!

Podcasts- I love the Mamamia Outloud Podcast and their Quicky Pod to get on top of the news daily. I really enjoyed Louis Theroux Podcast Grounded he did in lockdown and also Michelle Obama’s new pod.

A great series to listen to is the Drop Out, the story about Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos. Your mind will get a little blown away by this story.

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

We finally got smart with our shopping lists that my husband and I share called AnyList. Saves us a lot of time as we can both update it. It’s also synced to our Google Home, so if we are in the kitchen and run out of something we can ask Google to add it to the list.

My kindle for reading- means I can quickly access all of the books and not add more clutter to my house (as much as I love real books).

Slack for communicating with the team easier and clearing my inbox. Digital Tasks- my emails are set up so if something needs to be actioned it can go into the task list and I know I’m on top of it.

And, Uber Eats – because sometimes food delivery is the single best way to get some balance.

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

Michelle Obama is one of my favourite ladies in the public eye. She’s elegant, real and such an inspiration to women. I’ve read her book and it gave a great insight into her work and life, but I want more!

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

Balance is what you make – as an individual you should always find the things that will support you to be fuelled to get up every day and do more of that. And I have found that has changed with the changing of my life.

Comparison is the thief of joy; I try to never compare what other people have, or how they portray their lives. No one is perfect, everyone has their challenges and circumstances.

If you can, find work you enjoy and work in a culture that suits you! Every job has it’s good and bad, but you interact more with your work colleagues than anyone else in your life and that interaction should bring joy and not pain!

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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.