Interviews / Operations

Balancing the Grind with Yvette Henderson, Group Operations Director at M&C Saatchi Australia

Yvette Henderson is the Group Operations Director at M&C Saatchi Australia, an international communications network headquartered in London.

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

I had no clue what I wanted to do when deciding to go to college in my last year at school, a policeman, a dental nurse, a lawyer, I really didn’t know. But I settled on being a designer after a couple of years being a PA, it seemed a natural progression.

Although I enjoyed the team environment, I worked out pretty quickly that the people sitting around me were far better designers than I was and my real strengths lay in organising the people.

From there I moved into project management at the biggest agency in town at the time, and after a few years in that role, I was promoted into the TV department as it was discovered I was good with the finances too.

But I still had no clue what I wanted to do and decided to understand what this internet business was all about and went to work for a technology company in the advertising space, and it was there I truly got a lesson in how hard account service really is.

From the people I met and the skills I gained in this role I then worked towards an agency operations role which is where I am today at M&C Saatchi Group, Group Operations Director.

I’ve been doing this role for about 10 years now. Although diverse in its remit across all departments in the agency and very challenging at times, I would say it’s mostly grounded in problem solving, minimising risk and most importantly delivery.

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

I’m generally up at 5:00am with some kind of walk with the pooch, PT, at home exercise session and the occasional swim. I have breakfast and then either head out to work or into the spare bedroom which I’ve taken over my home office.

For the most part my day consists of many meetings. These vary between meeting with Team Finance, department and WIPs meetings, one on one’s and resourcing discussions. No day is the same and that’s the way I like it.

I usually block out a couple of hours a day for actual work time if possible or save these projects for when I’m working from home when I block diary time to work undisturbed.

At the end of the day, I cook an early dinner for my husband and I usually or sometimes meet up with some friends. At night I like to embroider or bake something and then bed by 11pm/11:30pm. I don’t need a lot of sleep.

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

M&C Saatchi Group has done a great job of moving us into Flex – the group’s flexible working model. So for me, after a career of being in the agency, initially I found it odd, as you only worked at home when you had a report to write or were working on a special project. That’s it.

But COVID has shown us all what’s possible. M&C Saatchi Group has worked closely with all the teams and group companies to find a cadence that works for every part of the business. The work, the individual teams, our clients as well as culturally with each other as we recognise that it’s very important to the work.

Depending on my week, I can happily do five days in the office, full days and other weeks depending on the projects and team time needed. It’s two days at home with three in the agency.

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

It’s important to me that work doesn’t define me as a person. I’ve seen it happen to so many people in advertising. Their lives become narrow. Although I’m really dedicated and committed to doing the best job I possibly can, I don’t want people to think that is all that there is to me.

I believe all the things that you do outside of work give you balance and perspective for those long hours in advertising. You appreciate the people and the time you commit to work because of the ‘not’ work time.

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

After the lockdown last year, I made a conscious effort to be less ‘busy’ in my personal life and do more personal activities that I enjoy more that steady my mind and relaxes me more.

The socials can be all consuming and there is only so much Great British Bake-off and Netflix you can watch. That was the hardest part of COVID lock down I’d say. The constant news cycle and the need to know made it difficult to unplug.

I’m an active member of the CWA Sydney City branch and make jam and preserves for fundraising at markets. I’ve also up’ed the handicraft over the last and always some kind of embroidery which I’ve done since I was a young girl on and off or baking, which is my biggest passion project outside of the family and the fur baby.

There is so much to research, learn and practice, it just never gets old to me. Which in turn the agency kids get to enjoy spoils the day after as I don’t have a sweet tooth.

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

My favourite podcast for the last few years is Table Manners by Jessie Ware and her mum Lennie. They have your typical mother and daughter relationship just much funnier with fantastic guests.

When it comes to reading, I read for fun and listen for work. Hence, I recently finished listening to Atomic Habits by James Clear as an audiobook.

For fun, my favourite book is Elizabeth David’s An Omelette and a Glass of Wine. It’s a collection of articles she wrote between the 50’s and 80’s for newspapers and magazines like the International Gourmet Traveller and Vogue. It really transports you to places that you’re craving to travel to. I’ve read it a few times over the last year of closed borders.

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

Two things I most definitely can’t live without is my Kindle (I keep it in my handbag in hope of a stolen moment) and a freshly sharpened Palomino pencil. I’m addicted. I carry them in bunches.

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

As it’s National Reconciliation Week, I’d like to hear what Aunty Margaret Campbell’s thoughts are on what this means to her. Aunty Margret is an Aboriginal Elder and cultural knowledge holder.

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

The best advice I can give any person entering our industry is ‘Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.’

I’ve carried those words by Oscar Wilde for a very good part of my career. Being true to who you are, not pretending to be someone you’re not. Being the same person with your colleagues and peers as you are with your family and friends, this makes for a really authentic and much simpler professional life.

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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.