Balancing the Grind with Rob Gardner, Director of Investment at SJP Wealth Management

Rob Gardner is the Director of Investment at St. James’ Place Wealth Management, a FTSE 100 company with £135.5 billion of client funds under management.

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

My current role is Director of Investment at SJP Wealth Management and I am responsible for planning, growing and protecting the wealth of over 830,000 clients. 

I am responsible for investing our clients’ money – which is over £140billon. My goal is to ensure that our clients have enough money to live a long and prosperous life, and that we use this money to be a force for good, delivering financial wellbeing in a world worth living in.

I started out studying geography and glaciology at university, so a different career path could have seen me work as a glaciologist down on Thwaites Glacier in the Antarctic. 

Instead, I started my career in investment banking at Deutsche Bank working in foreign exchange. I then moved to Merrill Lynch where I helped pioneer a way for pension funds to manage their long-term interest rates and inflation risks. 

In 2006 I resigned to become an entrepreneur and co-founded Redington – and we wanted to do for pensions what Jamie Oliver did for school food.

Redington today is one of the largest investment consultants in the UK, employing over 200 employees in London, Bristol and Beijing – and while I no longer work there, I remain the co-founder and Shareholder in that business.

About 10 years ago I co-founded another business called Mallow Street, which you can think of as a professional social network for the pensions community to bring like-minded trustees, actuaries, pension managers, investment managers and asset consultants together to collaborate on how to deliver a better retirement for everyone.

Finally, about 2 ½ years ago I started at SJP, which is where I am now.

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

Every day and every week are different, particularly while we figure out how best to come out of lockdown. Typically, I split my time between London, Bristol and Cirencester, along with working from home.

I’m accountable for 12 portfolios, 39 funds, nearly 70 underlying fund managers and investing in 13,000 different equities, ensuring that we have the we have the right people, the right team, the right data and technology in place for everything that we do; so, the day to day involves numerous moving parts which I enjoy.

I’m also very focused on what’s called governance – the process as to how we make decisions – and my job is to keep all of this on track and to keep looking ahead at what we can be creating and building in the future.

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

Yes, it does. As mentioned, I have various teams based all over the UK and so for me, flexible working means all of us coming together as a team anyway and anyhow. 

Also, with everyone having spent the last 15 months in lockdown, where the majority of those meetings were online via Microsoft Teams, successful remote working for me now is choosing which meetings work best in person where you can spend time together, and which are more transactional and therefore can be held online.

I would say at the moment we are trying to find that new rhythm between what work can be done anywhere, whether you’re at home or on the move, and what work is best achieved together as a group.

One of the things that is working for me at the moment, is this new hybrid form of flexible working. With it no longer the norm to spend a full working day in the London office, I can choose to split moments every day to make both my work and home life a priority.

There are days where I can work from home in the morning, meaning I can join my girls for breakfast and see them off to school, before heading into the office for the afternoon. In turn, I might leave for work super early, but be home late afternoon to pick up on work, while being able to join my family for dinner.

Choosing to embrace this new way of working is supportive in my being able to be the version of myself, both at work and in my role as husband and father – and this is something that I value.

What I hated about life before lockdown was being restricted to commuting home from one of London’s busiest train stations at rush hour; but actually, we are now in a new way of working that not only looks at how we split up our weeks, but the hours of the day, which has been really beneficial.

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

For me, work life balance needs to be in the context of where you are in life, your goals and your ambitions. I’m married with two young girls and have a lot of responsibility in my day job. I love what I do and so that balance is about flexibility

It’s about making sure I’m there for my girls in the important moments like bath time or putting them to bed and enabling my wife, who also works, to get on with her career, so co-parenting and looking at how I’m supporting her is also important. 

I’m always looking at how I can make it all work: So, enough quality time with my wife and girls, while trying to be the best I can at work.

I won’t lie, striking this balance was quite brutal in the last lockdown. Home-schooling threw it all out of the window. The first three months of 2021 were some of the toughest of my life because there was no balance, it was everything continuously with no break.

You’d finish a meeting and immediately after I’d be teaching my daughter maths, so we were working 16–18-hour days back-to-back with no personal time, which takes its toll.

I’m hands-on both as a dad and in my job, and these evolving times have brought to light a real lesson in how two working co-parents can juggle their numerous responsibilities. It’s definitely an artform.

Coming out of this period, and with the kids back at school, my focus is to carve back some of what was lost in terms of ‘me time.’

With some sense of normality in place again, I am back in the habit of getting up at 6am on a Wednesday morning to play tennis, my wife and I are enjoying our weekly ‘date nights’ and we have been able to put some holiday in the diaries – and holidays that are not at home, because you invariably end up taking work calls. 

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

My reflection on the past 12-months is that I’ve had no ‘me time’ so I am trying to carve that back. You need it to refresh and renew yourself. So, in terms of habits, it’s really about trying to restore the good.

While I’m pleased that I can do my job without having to work a long, full day in London, this was an almost effortless way to achieve my 10,000 daily steps– something that definitely falls by the wayside when working from home!

So, I’m sad to say that in the last 15-months I lost a lot of the good habits I used to have and I’m now doing my best to reverse that. I’m back in the habit of fasting for 24 hours every Monday, my steps are back up, and along with tennis, I do Pilates twice a week – which is the one thing I am pleased to have kept up throughout the last 12-15 months.

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

Yes, I have a number of recommendations:

My all-time favourite is a book called, How Will You Measure Your Life? by Clayton Christensen. 

I think it’s a brilliant book which helps you think, not just about business, but the choices you make, how you prioritise your time, where you put your energy and not falling into the trap of spending all of your life focused on work, for example.

As I’ve mentioned, time with my girls is important to me, it’s a period of life that won’t always last so books like this help you realise that and keep hold of these precious moments.

Another brilliant book is Atomic Habits, by James Clear because – going back to my earlier point – it’s good habits that help you achieve what you want in life. The small habits in the day compound over the years.

There are so many great podcasts out there. I listen to everything from nature and rewilding to decentralised finance and crypto-currency, through to leadership podcasts, so it’s a broad array of interest.

In terms of newsletters, one of the best I receive is called Brain Food by Farnham Street. Which is a brilliant email, often with links to articles, books and podcasts – so it’s just a really great resource.

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

I would say my favourite gadget is my AirPods. It may sound simple, but they are fundamental in helping me balance my daily responsibilities in work and at home -which goes back to what I’ve mentioned about sticking to good habits and what I’ve learned about making it all work.

When we were in lockdown, I’d often find myself in back-to-back meetings and being able to have working conversations while getting out in nature for a walk, or multi-tasking with house work, enabled me to strike a better balance when working at home, and benefit from some flexibility during my day.

The other gadget I love is my Garmin watch, which is a great way to track my body battery, my steps and my sleep, which is something I’ve become a lot more aware of recently. It’s a really great way to keep on top of your health.

In terms of apps, I think a brilliant app is the CALM app. They have morning and afternoon stretches and I know that if I have a lot of meetings scheduled and I’m feeling a little wound up, it’s great to just take 3-5 minutes to use the app for a breathing or meditation exercise. I actually really like some of the music in the app too.

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

This is a great question. I was going to suggest the usual suspects, but when I thought about it, I realised I’d love to read an interview from someone who’s quite like me, sharing a similar home life and working situation.

I’m not sure if this exists but I would love to hear a podcast from an entrepreneur who has a young family and is trying to balance it all to make it work. 

And I go back to ‘How will you measure your life,’ because, while it sounds like a cliché, I don’t want to look back and realise I’ve been successful in my career, but not in my role as a father and husband. I think a lot more could be done and shared in this space, especially after COVID, as to how people make it work, because it’ s so valuable.

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

Yes, I’d like to share one of my favourite concepts that I have come across, which is the concept of ‘ikigai,’ the Japanese ‘reason for being.’ 

It’s this idea, where if you were to draw a diagram of four overlapping circles: What you’re good at, what you can get paid for, what the world needs and what you love, and if you can find your place in the middle of all of all four, you can be fulfilled.

When I think about the start of my career in banking, I was good at it and was paid for it, and while it was a great profession, I’m not sure I loved it nor the world really needed it. 

Whereas when I consider my goal: to help people achieve financial wellbeing in a world worth living in, it doesn’t really matter how hard my work is, because it’s completely aligned with my reason for being. – And this gives me the intrinsic energy and motivation to do what I do. It’s my golden thread for work life balance.

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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.