Balancing the Grind with Sonya Khouri, Founder of Malo

Sonya Khouri is the founder of Malo, an Australian-based luxury baby product brand created from vegan, and cruelty-free ingredients.

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

My career started in investment banking and I was exceptionally driven. I had graduated from The University of Sydney and secured my first job at an international bank within a month of finishing my studies.

I was so nervous about starting my first full-time job, and I was so green, but I bunkered down and worked long and hard hours during those first few years.

By my mid-twenties I was working internationally leading the ASIAPAC strategy for an investment firm. And by my late twenties I was an Executive Manager for a large Australian Bank.

Within a few years they asked me to act in the CCO role (Chief Customer Officer) for their new division, and it was everything I had been striving towards since university. I was at the pinnacle of my career, and now leading the launch of a new product to market.

I was a young female in a heavily male dominated industry, breaking stereotypes and sitting on a leadership team. Reputation meant everything to me, so I worked harder and strived higher.

Within that year, I married and fell pregnant with my son Joseph. I finally decided for the first time in my 12 year career to take a break from my job to recoup, re-energise and connect with my new baby. And within those 18 months I decided to officially end my corporate career and focus on launching my own business MALO.

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

As a busy mum I can confidently say no two days are the same. However I thrive on structure and routine, so there are a few non-negotiables.

I’m usually up by 7am (which any mum will attest is an excellent sleep-in for a mum of a three year old). Mornings are always spent around the kitchen table talking over breakfast with my husband and son. This is a non-negotiable and it works for our lifestyle.

Then my day turns to frenzy between multitasking emails, entertaining Joseph, trying to negotiate control of the laundry, and fitting in a “fun” activity for Joseph, like a visit to the park. All of these are done while working on the business.

I use short bursts between check-in with my team and negotiating calls with our manufacturer. By the afternoon I spend a solid hour on “work tasks” in my home office while Joseph rearranges our entire workspace and inventory (fun!).

I always clock-off for family dinner, and then clock back on in the evening after bedtime routine (usually finishing by midnight or thereafter). And without fail I read every single night before bed. I am an avid reader and always have been. This is definitely “me” time.

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

Coming from such an intense corporate career, I can certainly see the benefits of owning your own business. I am able to work mostly from home and structure work into time with my son, which means I can be answering emails while still engaging in an activity with him.

But I would be lying if I said it was an entirely flexible arrangement. You are so vested when it is your own business, especially in the start-up phase, so you tend to work through some gruelling nights to get the job done.

There are some moments where I look at my son and it kills me to know “I am missing out on this moment with you, but I really have to answer this email or ship this order”. Those are the toughest, and mum guilt kicks in.

Remote working is definitely a benefit. This past weekend we took a trip away, and I was able to handle most of the workload without being in Sydney. But this does come at a cost, because when you’re relying on orders to be shipped, ultimately you’re the person responsible for it.

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

This is extremely tough to balance, especially when you are first launching your own business. There are many moments that I know I have spent more time on the business than enjoying time with the family.

But it is also short-lived in the start-up phase, and then I will have weeks where all my attention is on the family and the business can flow with minimal input from me. Ultimately I am extremely structured and thrive on routine. This helps keep me centred for the most part.

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

The past 12 months have been extremely challenging with COVID. Particularly when it came to structure around activities that I did with Joseph.

We also usually spend a fair bit of time between Sydney and the US (with my husband’s work) so this came to a halt. I decided to refocus mine and Joseph’s time on gardening and reconnecting with nature. I had never so much as planted a flower before! It was one of the best things we’ve done together.

We spent most of 2020 bringing our garden to life with vegetables and flowers, and even a lemon tree. I really got Joseph involved in planting his own patch and garden gnomes too. Our goal for 2021 is to start our own compost.

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

I am an avid reader and read every single night. There are many books that have changed me in different ways over the years.

However a recent book I read American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins, is one I both couldn’t put down, and will never stop thinking about. Some of the storyline haunts me to today, but has reminded me to appreciate each day, especially during my toughest days as a mother.

While there is much critical debate about this book, one thing is true. Once you read it, you can’t unread it. I highly recommend it, but not if you’re looking for an easy read.

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

Call me biased, but I definitely cannot live without the MALO Baby Bottom Spray. We are way past the days of nappies, but that spray literally still travels everywhere with us!

It’s been my best friend during toilet training when cleaning Joseph’s messy toosh, and has totally saved us every single time we’ve run out of wet-wipes. I can’t think of a time I haven’t sprayed it on some toilet paper or tissue to help clean-up almost anything my son has got himself into!

Totally 2019, but I have just converted to AirPods and can I say they are life changing! To think I can now answer calls, listen to messages and multitask all with the freedom of my hands.

I’m one of those people who never knows where their phone is, so they are the handiest bit of tech I have bought and I don’t know how I lived without them. 10/10 a modern parent must-have!

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

Princess Diana. I have always been incredibly inspired by her. She taught the world that everyone in society deserves to have a voice.

Everything she continued to do beyond her time in the Royal Family was that of choice and a passion to follow her heart. How she managed to balance motherhood and philanthropy while being one of the most iconic women of all-time will continue to drive her legacy for generations to come.

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

I recently connected with a fellow female entrepreneur Niccii Kugler of Nash+Banks. We were like two old friends who could talk on the phone for hours about everything about work-life balance. Something she said to me really stuck; “It’s amazing what a mum can achieve with only 45 mins sleep!”

I guess I needed to hear that, because for me, it reminded me that even when you think you’re not doing a great job, you are. Because you have to remember that some days you’re working against some pretty tough conditions. So don’t be so hard on yourself!

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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.