April Palmerlee is CEO of the American Chamber of Commerce, Australia’s largest and most influential international business organisation providing assistance to U.S. and Australian companies.
1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?
I am the CEO of the American Chamber of Commerce in Australia. With operations all across the country, we support American companies selling into or investing in Australia, as well as Australian companies operating in or entering the US market.
I was appointed to the role about three years ago, after an international career in diplomacy, think tanks, and the private sector.
2) What does a day in the life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?
My “typical day” starts with reading all of the newspapers and checking in with members of my team.
During business as usual days, it also used to mean three or four in person meetings with members or potential clients, a business lunch with a high-profile speaker, and a networking activity in the evening. COVID has upended that, of course, and now almost every day is spent in front of a screen, answering emails or participating in Zoom calls.
I’m eager to get back to face to face meetings. Zoom calls are adequate for keeping in touch with people one already knows, but meeting new people is best done in person.
3) Does your current role allow for flexible or remote working? If so, how does that fit into your life and routine?
My role always had to be flexible. Overseeing five offices across the country meant I spent a lot of time on the road domestically.
I also took four to six international trips each year. So I was already accustomed to the Work From Anywhere concept when COVID hit. And with our work spanning across to the United States, we all are used to flexible schedules to accommodate different time zones.
4) What does work-life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?
For me, I devote myself fully to whatever I commit to, whether that’s motherhood, my career, sport, volunteering, etc. There is no partial effort with me; if I don’t have time or interest to do something to the best of my ability, I would rather not take it on.
Giving my all, every time, is how I find satisfaction, whether it’s running an ultra-marathon, driving a well-performing business, organising charity fundraisers, or raising children.
5) In the past 12 months, have you started or stopped any routines or habits to change your life?
Once Sydney was locked down to combat Coronavirus, I started walking every day because I realised it was quite possible to sit down at my computer at 6am and not move again until dinner.
So, I tried to get out every morning to get some exercise, go to the market, buy a coffee, or just to take in the neighbourhood before I really got stuck in to my work. I also started scheduling regular lunches with the family.
With four children doing home school online, it was hard to find a time that suited all of us, but we eventually landed on a 1pm rule- everyone stopped what they were doing and came together for a hot, nutritious meal (thanks to my wonderful husband) and to catch up on their day.
It was a real treat to see the kids so much, and it gave me a positive perspective to counter all of the dreadful things that were happening due to the virus.
6) Do you have any favourite books, podcasts or newsletters that you’d like to recommend?
I recently read A Woman of No Importance about Virginia Hall. She was the most important American spy people have never heard of. Her intelligence, desire to serve, and determination (she escaped on foot across the Pyrenees in the middle of winter with a wooden leg, for example) are inspiring.
7) Are there any products, gadgets or apps that you can’t live without?
My favourite app – discovered during COVID – is the Scan n Go app from Woolworths. It is the future of shopping, eliminating the double handling, the queuing, the hassle. I’m in and out of the shop in 10 minutes, tops. Day-to-day, I certainly use Zoom and Outlook a great deal, too.
8) If you could read an interview about work-life balance by anyone, who would that be?
Shemara Wikramanayake, CEO of Macquarie Bank. She is someone I admire greatly, not only as a brilliant banker and trusted colleague, but also as a fantastic mother, devoted daughter, and amazing wife. I would love to know how she does it.
9) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?
It’s just as important for men as for women. I think this is something the next generation is starting to realise, and I hope our children will build work-life balance in to the world they choose to create and live in.
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