Directors, Interviews

Balancing the Grind with Amy Ward, Managing Director & Principal Consultant at OTM.

September 17, 2019

Amy Ward is the Managing Director & Principal Consultant at OTM, a management, strategy and brand consultancy. She also offers her expertise as a mentor and as an advisor in a volunteer capacity.

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

You might say I kicked of my entrepreneurial career at about 10 years of age when my dad encouraged me to set up the town’s only BMX bike hire business (operating out of the holiday units my family managed in the 1980s in Port Douglas).

The bike hire business didn’t see me through to super early retirement though. Instead I finished school, did a degree in International Business at Griffith University and then kick off my career in earnest as the Asia Pacific Marketing Manager for a Queensland owned telecom software company called BHA Computer.

Landing my first ‘proper’ job at the height of the dot.com boom was an exciting, amazing and somewhat whirlwind experience.

I travelled extensively throughout the world and in a period of about eight years I was involved in a half dozen mergers, acquisitions and divestitures whilst also leading regional and global marketing teams from bases in Brisbane, Minneapolis, Toronto and Singapore.

The learnings were immense and I’ll be always grateful for the trust placed in me by my managers and colleagues from a very young age. To outsiders it may have appeared that I had no work life balance – on the contrary though, everything was perfectly balanced at that stage of my life. I loved my job and I loved the people I worked with and the energy was great.

Fast forward to the present and whilst the travel has reduced, the variety hasn’t. I moved back to Australia in the mid-2000’s and set up my own marketing consultancy (OTM).

Over the past 15-years we’ve grown the business from a one-woman band to a successful full service marketing, strategy, branding and now digital marketing experience agency of which I am the Managing Director.

I love running a business where we get to be at the forefront of strategic and creative thinking for our clients and their industries; and being able to foster new talent into the industry through mentoring and internship programs.

I also love giving generously of my time to social and community initiatives. I’m a member of the Brisbane City Council Inclusive Brisbane Board, a mentor for the Queensland Government Mentoring for Growth program and I was previously a board director with Communify.

I’m also a big supporter of women in business and am pleased to be a champion of Business Women Australia in Queensland, as well as a corporate member of Femeconomy.

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

I typically wake quite early to take advantage of a small window of time to organise my day in my head before the family is up and I’m bustling around getting two kids ready and out the door before I head off for work.

Most days I work at OTM’s Brisbane CBD office, although as projects require I might find myself facilitating onsite client engagements.

In any given day I could spend time with my team, engage with clients and partners, meet with new customers, develop new relationships with suppliers, partners or contractors, speak at industry events, mentor other business leaders or give advice to community development organisations. The list goes on.

We’re a small but busy agency so one minute I can be focused on administering operations and the next I’m making sure I’m across the very latest techniques in digital experience. It is really important to me that I’m leading a team that is always learning and always striving – myself included.

Whilst some work days can be long, family time is precious so I’m very disciplined these days in being present when I’m home and not merging into work mode before I leave in the morning, or when I come home at night.

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

Yes. I cut my teeth in an industry where working remotely and managing teams across different locations and time zones was just business as usual. We’ve taken those practices with us as we’ve built OTM and we offer our team the flexibility to come and work in our collaboration space in the Brisbane CBD, or to work from their own home offices as required.

We trust our team to do their best work and to deliver on promises no matter where they are located on a particular day. For me for example, this flexibility means that on certain days I can be at home in time to meet my kids when they get home from school. Or, on other days I can work at home if I need to be totally focussed on a task.

Offering our team a central location to come together, plus having the digital technologies to make it possible to work remotely or collaborate even when we’re not physically together has benefits for productivity, creativity and for our overall mental health.

4) Do you have any tips, tricks or shortcuts to help you manage your workload and schedule?

Breath. Pause.

When your workload or schedule seem to overwhelming it is really important to take a minute to pause and reflect so that you allow yourself the perspective to organise what is important on any given day. And if you can’t figure out what to prioritise, talk to the people you are working with whether that be a client, partner, boss or team mate.

Sometimes a quick conversation can help make clear the most important things to do first; or even help you to see that it is ok to ask for help or to delegate. And don’t forget, it is ok to say no or to negotiate a deadline if your plate is full. People will respect you for your honesty.

On a practical note – use a calendar, set reminders and make a realistic list of what you can achieve each day. Map out your time blocks in your schedule. I often divide my day into 15-minute slots and try to keep meetings short and focussed.

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

Work life balance is an interesting concept. Work is one part of life, along with family, friends, health, leisure time and more. Work is something I like doing and it is important to me. So too is spending time with my family and friends and leaving room for creative pursuits.

Time, money and energy are not endless resources though and so for me work life balance means being clear on the purpose of work (paid or pro-bono) and ensuring that I spend time on things for the right reasons.

For me it is about being conscious and present where I am. When I’m at home, I’m at home. When I’m at work, I’m at work. When I’m with friends, I’m with friends…you get the picture.

Having said all that, I don’t always get it right. There are still times where there seems to be a bit of imbalance and work is overwhelming; or there is stuff going on with kids or family that takes priority. Being mindful to take care of my health and mental health in those imbalanced times goes a long way to easing the pressure.

6) What do you think are some of the best habits you’ve developed over the years to help you strive for success and balance?

Always be kind, even when you’re not happy about a situation.

Be organised. Take notes. Use a calendar (for me I live by the calendar app in my phone).

Be curious.

Create clear briefs for any project or task that you ask a staff member, supplier, partner or client to work on. Communicate clearly and often.

Ask for help or advice when you need it.

Be authentic and don’t be afraid to show a little vulnerability. It is ok to not know everything.

Don’t always look at the world from your own perspective. Be empathetic.

7) Are there any books that have helped you improve over the years?

I’m not a big reader of self-help or non-fiction work/life balance books. Every day I’m doing ‘big-thinking’ for our business or that of our clients so when it comes time to read, I prefer a little escapism with a good fictional novel. One of my recent favs was Trent Dalton’s first novel, Boy Swallows Universe.

Having said that, a non-fiction book that really resonated with me in recent years was Gumption Trigger by Dr Catherine Ball. It is a compilation of real stories of resilience, grit, and determination by award-winning Australian business women and it really hit the mark with me.

Grit is an incredibly important trait to have when you’re running a business. As is clarity, empathy and determination.

8) What is the number one thing you do to make sure you get the most out of your day?

Start the day with kind words at home with iPhones and iPads on do not disturb.

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

Make time to do what you love, even if it is just a small thing every day.

Spend time with the people that matter to you.

Don’t be afraid to try new things.

Give more than you take – it feels great and it comes back to you in spades. Pause. Breathe.

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