Balancing the Grind with Sally Cullen, Chief People Officer at Arctoris

Sally Cullen is the Chief People Officer at Arctoris, a tech-enabled drug discovery company headquartered in Oxford and Boston.

Learn about the daily routines from the most successful people in the world by signing up to our newsletter

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

I’ve been involved in human resources from the beginning of my work life, with a bit of facilities and office management thrown in. I started my career in the 1990s working for a large utility company partnering various businesses.

I did a stint in leadership development, and also held a role assisting the investment team with M&A and TUPE. Overall, I have been very fortunate that my career has allowed me to develop my international experience and I have loved the challenges that come with having responsibilities across Europe, North & South America, and Asia Pacific. However, I don’t miss the early morning or late-night flights.

Fast forward a few years and I took the decision to move into contracting so that I could balance work life with home life. Many people will resonate with the challenges of juggling working full-time, running a home, and taking care of a family. It’s never easy!

I wanted a career and to be a mum and I did that! I feel that my career slowed a little as careers for women with families, whilst improving, are still challenging. I’m not concerned though as I have the best family (I am obviously biassed) and I now have the perfect job.

I’ve been able to build a career across multiple sectors, which has really been insightful, from utilities, retail, FMCG, investment, real estate, and STEM. I joined Arctoris as Chief People Officer in July 2021. Arctoris is a tech-enabled drug discovery company. I was truly inspired by the founders.

Their mission is to challenge lengthy old fashioned and expensive drug discovery processes. Arctoris is the future: leveraging robotics, Machine Learning and Data Science to create a truly integrated, timely and accurate drug discovery platform. 

It was refreshing to be hired for my diverse experience and passion although I started off in a laboratories and sciences role at Welsh Water and I am back in a similar but much improved laboratory environment! I love learning and I am thankful to the great team I work with, from the automation and data teams through to the biologists and chemists. 

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

For many years I have naturally woken up around 6 am – those early morning flights and travel schedules!! I have two work patterns. My office days start around 7.30 am with a coffee. I typically plan out my day, clear down emails, identify tasks and most importantly I take time out to chat to colleagues.

My WFH pattern is a later start as I always take the dog out for a walk first thing. After sorting out everyone else, I am typically in the study and on calls from 8.30am.

A recent workday was: team check-ins/ 1:1’s, contributing to an Inclusion and Diversity forum, hosting a ‘lunch and learn’ development session on culture and personal brand and then I spent the afternoon attending operational meetings. 

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

I don’t think it is ever easy to get the balance right! The nature of home life or work life often demand you to flex your time. I know when I am neglecting things as it can affect my sleep and overall effectiveness.

When this happens, I take a step back, reassess and reset to ensure I get the balance back on track. Appreciating that we all need to take time out sometimes has helped me to create a great supportive culture at Arctoris.

Elon Musk, Kobe Bryant, Naomi Osaka, Simone Biles, receive a new daily routine each week about some of the most successful people in the world.

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

Since the pandemic I now take a break during the day to think! I used to be so focused and driven by completing tasks. Taking a break reviewing what’s been achieved and what’s next is cathartic.

I give myself at least 30 minutes every day to exercise and/or to listen to a podcast or music or walk the dog again – poor thing! Please note that the dog will quite often refuse to go out with me again if he’s tired! I work with a great team at Arctoris who love to join me for a ‘walk and talk’.

I’m a fan of the ‘Pomodoro’ app in Slack too. It has become part of our company culture to walk and talk. In previous roles there was an expectation that you would be focused for the whole time and it’s just not realistic. If I remember, I also turn off emails from 11-4 as we use Slack internally to chat.

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

I highly recommend Linda Gratton’s The 100-Year Life. Reading about how the world has changed over the past 100 years and looking into the way things are likely to change in the future was very insightful.

It also made me feel better about taking the brave decision to move into contracting many years ago so that I could balance being a mum and having a career. The portfolio career approach of the future makes so much sense and it is also an exciting prospect. I have just started reading Atomic Habits by James Clear.

I listen to a few podcasts from The Diary of a CEO with Steven Bartlett, through to Gabby Logan’s ‘Mid-Point’. I have a long list of things I want to listen to in the future too, including Mel Robbins ‘The 5 second rule’ and Adam Grant’s podcasts. If I need a chuckle I dip into ‘Parenting hell’ with Josh Widdecombe and Rob Beckett! Very funny and also reassuring to hear that our lives are normal! 

We have one life and continuous reading, learning, and developing is something I really enjoy. I am forever telling the team about the importance of having a ‘growth mindset’. 

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

I have always been fascinated with the role of the monarchy and following the sad passing of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, I would love to know how King Charles III is adapting to the demands of his new role. I’m sure over the years he has stacked up lots of habits and this will need to change dramatically.

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

Make sure you look after yourself first. You can only help others if you take care and are in a good place. Life demands so much of us and over the years I wish I had been a little more unapologetically selfish. Be yourself and have fun!

Before you go…

If you’d like to sponsor or advertise with Balance the Grind, let’s talk here

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.