My Working Day – John Owen – CEO of Mastek

As the leader of a company, you are there to set an example, to lead and inspire a team of individuals to achieve a series of business goals. But, how do these business leaders go about their daily routine?

Business Leader spoke to John Owen, CEO of Mastek, about his working day.

What time do you usually wake up?

I’m an early bird. I normally wake up at 5.30am, ready to be at my desk at home for 6am and start my day from there. My father was a Fruit Merchant for the family business and he and my brother used to get up at 1am every day, so by their standards I have a lie in and then have the luxury of going to a nice air-conditioned office.

What do you typically have for breakfast?

A cup of tea – I can’t function without one, but maybe that’s typical of anyone born and bred in Lancashire and now runs an Indian company! I’m afraid to say that despite being aware of the health advice to ‘breakfast like a king, lunch like prince and dine like a pauper’, I’m a creature of habit and don’t eat until around lunchtime. It’s working for me so far.

What is the rest of your morning routine before you start work?

Once I have an all-important cup of tea in hand I go straight to my inbox and check the emails which have come in overnight. Mastek’s headquarters is in Mumbai, and we have an office in Dallas, so I could easily work around the clock. However, I try not to do that unless necessary as I value time with my family in the evening. Instead I have to simply trust the team in the region to make the right decisions, for the right reasons, in the right way and at the right time.

It does mean there are always things to catch up on from the moment I wake up. The different time zones of my colleagues mean I can make use of my commute to work. I will often take calls from around the globe while travelling to make sure I’m up to speed and responding to overnight queries that need quick attention.

What is the first thing you do at the start of your working day?

My priority is to check emails to see if anything has developed overnight that could impact stakeholders, customers, employees or shareholders. If there’s nothing urgent it’s been a good night, but I must have capacity to deal with the unexpected if needed.

These unforeseen events are part and parcel of business. For example, at the moment a key concern for everyone is Brexit, I therefore often receive calls to ask what the impact might be to Mastek.

It’s not up to me to comment geo-politically, so all I can do is reassure from a Mastek perspective that our programmes aren’t going to be impacted negatively in any way. Brexit or no-Brexit, the opportunity for Mastek in the coming years is huge.

How do you prioritise your day’s work?

I make sure I understand exactly where the organisation is strong and where it might need additional attention and support. Knowing that means I can give my attention to the right areas at the right time.

Key to this is having the right team to scale the organisation without my direct input. I have to use my time wisely and focus on certain areas in order to succeed.

Do you plan meetings or are they a waste of time?

Meetings are beneficial, so long as they are planned and structured in a way that makes them useful. If someone suggests a quick catch up over coffee it can often end up being half an hour of chat and without focused conversation or outcomes.

Having said that, I’m very much a people person and I find information much easier to digest through discussion. It’s far better to tell me something face to face than send me a twenty-page report to sift through, especially when other seemingly more interesting priorities are trying to distract me.

Ultimately though, meetings are critical for Mastek. I have to be able to communicate daily with our colleagues across three time zones. For that communication to be successful it needs a meeting with a plan and structure, it can then be incredibly productive.

Do you have a working lunch or is it good to take a break?

I don’t normally carve out time for lunch. I prefer to just grab a sandwich and carry on working. For as long as I’ve worked, I can’t remember a time, at least not in the last fifteen years, when many people go out for lunch, unless they’re in the city.

When does your working day finish?

Officially 6pm when I get in the car to go home, but unofficially around 8pm when the US office and our colleagues who are working on the latest time zone, finish for the day. I then have time in the evening to be with my family without my mobile or emails. That time is incredibly important – to have dinner with family, enjoy a glass of wine and relax – hopefully.

How do you prepare for the next day’s work?

I don’t! I’m always up awake early in the morning, which allows me to prepare for that day’s work before others start. When I finish work I try to switch off and enjoy spending time with my family.

Favourite piece of technology?

An ‘off button’! I’m not the type of person who needs the latest phone, watch or gadget. They all deliver email, voice and text and the latest features and benefits don’t interest me. Instead, I think an off button is the most useful (and precious) piece of technology I have. Why others haven’t found it I don’t know. I think more people should use it.

How do you switch off?

I don’t find it hard to switch off. I work extremely hard in the best interests of the company, and I am dedicated and passionate, but I’m never stressed.

I have to be confident that I’m making the right decisions at the right time, and that I’m working to the best of my ability. At times as CEO you have to make difficult decisions and take the consequences for them, but stressing about it just hinders performance.

My father used to tell me to do a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay, and I always think that as long as I live by that principle I don’t need to worry too much.

Best piece of advice you’ve received?

The best piece of advice I’ve received was from my parents, who told me “For any decision you make, be prepared for your parents to read it on the front page of a newspaper. If you’re happy for them to do so, then you’ve made the right decision”. I think that’s pretty sound advice for anyone, especially in today’s digital world where the feedback loop and scope is now immediate and global.

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