Suresh Raj is the Chief Business Development Officer at Vision7 Communications, a fully integrated marketing communications company headquartered in Toronto.
1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?
In truth, I’m a failed musician. Well, I use the word ‘fail’ loosely. My passion for music – singing and songwriting in particular – got me onto the very first music reality TV show with MTV back in 1996.
The day after graduating with my BA in Media & Communications, I attended a live audition with MTV who were forming the first ever pan-European boy band. It resulted in five guys being thrown together for six months, touring major cities and performing cover songs.
I was one of the lucky five. But two years into the business, I realized that it was all glamour and no actual money. So reality hit.
What I particularly did enjoy was the engagement with the media – broadcast, print, radio, etc. during interviews, so combining my media degree and later MBA, I plunged into the world of communications and never looked back. Best part is I started to earn money to pay bills!
23+ years later, my career moved from handling clients and telling stories about their brands, to being a ‘hunter’ in the marketing communications industry.
What do I mean by ‘hunter’? Simply put, I am responsible for growth across the businesses within my portfolio:
- building relationships internally with our multidisciplinary teams to ensure we have the best talent in the business
- building relationships externally by courting, nurturing and successfully engaging clients to help tell their brand stories that influences and shapes popular culture.
2) What does a day in the life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?
A ‘work day’ in the COVID-19 reality is very different to a ‘work day’ pre-COVID-19. So I’ll tackle both.
What has remained pre and post COVID-19 is some element of routine. It has helped keep me on track in terms of management professional and personal commitment.
As is my routine, my day starts at 5am with an intense workout – in a gym pre COVID-19, and at home during and post COVID-19 – which meant investing in a number of home gym equipment.
The workout is not just about health – that’s a positive byproduct – but it is my ‘me time’. A time for me to switch off from the world and just connect with my mind and my soul. My form of mindfulness so to say. This time is particularly important for me as it helps me set the day ahead in a very positive way.
A good workout is followed by an excellent breakfast. I have an incredibly high metabolism so am constantly hungry, so breakfast is often boiled eggs, a lot of fruit, cereal or toast with peanut butter (or both!), juice and coffee. Post-breakfast and a refreshing shower, it’s work time.
My detailed weekly to do list keeps me on track of expectations and deliverables. Multiple meetings a day takes up most of the work day, but I have actively built in time in the diary to ensure time to actually ‘do’ work – to ensure deliverables actually meet deadlines.
In truth, I am currently having Zoom fatigue, because I am very much a people-person and I do miss the in person interaction, but for now, work is dominated by video conference calls and digital platforms of engagement e.g. google drives, slack channels etc.
Because my role is global, I am required to work across multiple time zones – North America, Europe and Asia primarily, so the work day often ends late or starts very early. But I’ve been in a global role for many years now, I’m quite used to juggling the demands of multiple time zones.
On that note, pre COVID-19, I spent a considerable amount of time traveling to key offices around the world to work directly on the ground with our teams and prospects. I really enjoyed this aspect of my job and somewhat miss this.
But the travels did in fact impact the home life so we ensured that we managed expectations at home, on the relationship and life in general. Ultimately, it’s about balance and expectations and we managed it in that way.
3) Does your current role allow for flexible or remote working? If so, how does that fit into your life and routine?
Broadly yes, flexi and remote working is very much a staple ‘benefit’ of most businesses these days, and in fact, is the norm during this COVID-19 period. And when I did travel a lot for work, remote working was simply necessary. The daily routine – exercise, diet, to-do list – broadly remains the same.
Successful remote and flexi working really depends on one important thing – being accountable. Respecting and appreciating my own accountability ensures I am on top of my responsibilities and deliverables, so this is particularly important in my life and routine.
4) What does work-life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?
It’s hard to define a work-life balance in a digital world where you can be reached 24/7 anywhere in the world. So the more relevant question I think would be how to juggle work-life balance in a digitally dominated world that operates 24/7.
In my opinion, you need to have boundaries and IMPORTANTLY, respect those boundaries. And by respect, I mean you yourself need to respect the boundaries you’ve put in place, because it’s for your own health and sanity.
Devoting time for important things outside work – family, loved ones, friends, leisure – all helps with nurturing a healthier mind and heart. And that in turn helps ensure a more focused mind, which benefits your work environment.
So boundaries – professionally and personally – is symbiotic. Each one, when respected and adhered to, helps the other.
An additional aspect of my life that really drives this work-life balance is my commitment to purpose led efforts, particularly in the areas of equality, diversity and inclusion.
This effort is over and above my day job, and is driven primarily from passion and personal belief, but the fruits of this effort is so fulfilling that it actually gives me fuel in everything I do – professionally and personally.
5) In the past 12 months, have you started or stopped any routines or habits to change your life?
The only major change has been the lack of business travel (and some personal travel). I do miss that! Other than that, being focused on a routine, I’ve kept everything going as best as I can to ensure continuity in this COVID-19 period especially.
But I am really looking forward to getting back to an office (and separating home and office!), as well as traveling for work again.
6) Do you have any favourite books, podcasts or newsletters that you’d like to recommend?
I spend many hours in work mode most days and have a staple of reading material – Time, Fortune, Forbes, FT, CNN, BBC, Sky News, industry trade magazines like Campaign, PR Week, PRovoke, AdWeek, AdAge, etc.
So any additional reading outside work is really to help take my mind off work. I particularly love fiction that is rooted in history e.g. Wilbur Smith and his tales of ancient Egypt.
And for occasional inspiration, I find TED provides such interesting, thought provoking bite sized material so that’s my other alternative. Other newsletters I really enjoy reading – Change.org and The Hustle.
And for some light relief – Funny Doggy Memes on Facebook. Seriously life saver on days that just don’t go my way!!
7) Are there any products, gadgets or apps that you can’t live without?
I try to disconnect from technology whenever I can because I am so bound to it for work (two iPhones, MacBook, iPad). But broadly, my phone is key because it contains all my necessary apps for work as well as personal life (banking, groceries, travel, etc.) – and I try to be as ‘light’ as possible when traveling hence the iPhone has become key as it contains a lot of work/life apps.
8) If you could read an interview about work-life balance by anyone, who would that be?
I would most want to read about the Dalai-Lama. Why? I am sure his schedule is ridiculous, but I am more intrigued to learn about how he manages to remain so at peace with life, with himself and with those around him whilst dealing head on with the atrocities he / we witness in our humanity. That’s a tough act to follow.
9) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?
Be meaningful when committing to a work life balance, if that’s what you want. Follow through with an action plan and stay on track. And if you begin to deviate from it, remember why you started it in the first place. It will help keep you focused.
And importantly, have a purpose in life. It helps keep you focused – personally and professionally – and it helps make a difference to others in life.
Photo credit: TED 2019
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