Interviews, Marketing & Comms

Balancing the Grind With Nicky Whichelow, Chief Marketing Officer of Foundation Holdings

September 11, 2019

Nicky Whichelow is the Chief Marketing Officer of Foundation Holdings, which encompassing The Australian Institute of Personal Trainers, Foundation Education (RTOs), Australian College of Physical Education and The Institute of Emotionally Focused Therapy (Higher Education).

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

My background and career are varied. Never one for a traditional anything, my career has followed suit.

Shunning full time university straight after school to get real world experience while deciding what my calling was, meant that I got to try on lots of different hats in different sectors.

This included not for profit, education, finance, legal and agriculture in some really cool companies, Astra Zeneca, Marks and Spencer’s and BP to name but a few, before knowing that the science behind marketing was where I wanted to focus.

Completing my MBA in Marketing while working full time meant that I’ve always burnt the candle at both ends. Not because I thought I should but because I wanted to.

I adore services marketing as its more complex than product marketing and most of my roles have been because I wanted to refine those skills; from youth employment to funerals and much more.

Those who have worked with me, know me as intellectually curious which has also helped me tackle some key marketing adventures at work, leading to a stint in NY, Detroit, Lyon and Helsinki culminating in a trip to the North Pole where I met Father Christmas.

Now that’s not a treat many marketing fellows can add to their resume.

My defining moment was studying at Sandhurst Military Academy in Sandhurst (UK). Walking the same corridors as Wills and Harry was an eye opener but the biggest takeaway was the concept of followership not leadership which has resulted in my development of a collaborative and collegiate style rather than a typical command and control mentality often seen the higher up the ranks you travel.

2) What is your current role and what does it entail on a day to day basis?

I’m currently Chief Marketing Officer for an education group that includes two Vocational Training brands and two Private Higher Education brands, which means that I have a lovely work family as that is where I spend most of my time.

With a focus on profitability, most of the day is spent on data analysis and refining activity as well as developing the team to identify new ways of making marketing budgets go further.

I introduced Think Days a while ago, where all team members get to spend a whole day working through something that is not directly work related, but on work time once every quarter. In other words, if its on their work to-do list, its off the agenda for the Think Day.

When budgets and deadlines are tight, that approach might seem counter-intuitive but it’s a great way for the team to tap into their creative juices and reconnect with their work challenges.

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

My typical day starts around 4:30am (as the dog usually needs a wee) and after the first coffee and a trip to the gym I’m back at the home desk, planning the day and mapping out non negotiables for the day including saying no to meetings that don’t really need me there.

Managing a large team means having visible dashboards and really clear expectations on KPIs and Targets, so much of the planning is checking and challenging progress as well as coaching where needed.

Once the day is locked in, I listen to a podcast on the way into work and undertake the first “team huddle” where we discuss numbers and any rectification for the day.

The rest of the day is spent moving projects along and being available for whatever might crop up and something usually does. I tend to work on a philosophy of being no more than 80% fully occupied otherwise you might miss a great opportunity as you are just too busy”.

It also means on the days that I need to put in 150% I’m not burnt out and resentful at always having to operate at that level.

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

I’ve developed a few tips and tricks over the years to try and achieve my own personal balance. My advice is to be ruthless with NO.

Spend more time in your day getting things on your to-do list done rather than moving everyone else’s priorities forwards and subsuming yours in late nights and weekend working.

Be kind. To your team, your colleagues, your boss. Remember what is important to other people around you. You don’t live in a bubble.

Use whatever works for you to keep you on track. Don’t be led by the latest fad if it feels really uncomfortable to use a spreadsheet for your task list, use a notebook.

If you like to tap away on your computer and schedule in tasks. Do it. But don’t force it on other people too.

5) In between your job, life and all your other responsibilities, how do you ensure you find some sort of balance in your life?

I get my life balance in many ways. I’m doing a PhD in Social Isolation, so I get my academic fix from that and I go to the gym for about 30 mins a day so I get my elevated heart rate fix that way.

Spiritually, I’ve tried hundreds of mindfulness podcasts and books and thought nothing would ever work for me, but I’ve recently fallen for Ten Percent Happier, a great app for simple meditation that doesn’t make me feel guilty when my mind wanders off.

As to the meaningful life balance part, I’m also a professional Voice Over artist and love getting away from everything by providing voice overs for good causes like Talking Books and Newspapers for the Blind.

6) What does work life balance mean to you?

Work life balance to me, means whatever works. Some people get their balance by watching TV and going deep sea fishing. Some from 6 hours of window shopping on a Saturday. Find what works for you.

But most importantly – step away from your phone whatever you do.

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

Some of the best habits I’ve developed (although I don’t always stick to them) are:

  • Find your worth in areas outside of work.
  • Volunteer.
  • Remember that balance is a bit like blood pressure. Everyone’s is different and your normal might be completely out of whack with the next person’s. So, stop comparing yourself to everyone else and find your balance, your way. Don’t be afraid to experiment!

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

My latest fave book, is The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*k. Some great principles.

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

Make usable lists. (Oh, and get up early)

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

My last thoughts on work, life and balance is that you need to acknowledge that one person and one job cannot possibly fill everything a single person needs.

So, don’t expect your partner to be everything to you. Connect outside of that relationship.

And most importantly, don’t expect your job to be everything and always be there. Find your worth in areas outside of work.

Always have a side gig and savings – you never know when you are going to need it.

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