When it comes to balancing a senior management role with bringing up two young boys, having a job you really enjoy is critical. So says Katie McQuaid, Director of Fulfilment by Amazon (FBA), the logistics operation allowing independent companies selling on Amazon to tap into the company’s global delivery network. “My rule has always been that my job has to be exciting enough to leave the kids at home for. That’s a high bar.”

There’s no better guard against procrastination than wanting to get home for the bedtime story.
Katie McQuaid

Katie is no stranger to high bars. Prior to Amazon, she spent eight years at one of the UK’s leading supermarkets where she held a number of senior roles, including running the world’s biggest loyalty programme and helping to launch a marketplace business. “I’d been watching Amazon for years as a competitor and quietly admiring it. When they offered me the job, I jumped at the chance to be part of something so fast growing.”

Establishing a balance between work and home was a priority from the start, so Katie took on her new role part-time, working four days a week and spending Friday with her young family. In 2015, that led to her being named as one of Management Today’s 50 most powerful part-time executives. “Finding the right mix is something very personal. In my case, having a full day off helps me connect with my boys in their weekly routine. That’s what works best for me.”

At the office, meeting sellers is the part of her job she enjoys the most. “There are many incredible entrepreneurs with very inspiring stories out there. They’ve set up their business, they have the passion, but for whatever reason they’re struggling to grow as quickly as they’d like… that’s where I hope FBA can help. It’s so rewarding to be part of that journey.”

Katie knows that many of the sellers she works with have had to make important work-life decisions to start their own businesses, and this is something she can relate to. “FBA allows them to outsource their operations to Amazon,” she explains. “They send their stock into our warehouses, we store it for them, we pick, pack and ship it to customers, we handle all of their customer service. They get to have a Prime badge on their items, customers get a great delivery promise and sellers get to focus on what typically they love best, which is sourcing and developing great products. I like to think that FBA helps them get some of their time back. I feel very proud.”

The biggest toy store in the world

It’s not just a team of 50 employees that Katie manages. She is also a mum to James, 7 and Ethan, 4, and says working part-time has been a prerequisite since she had children.I’ve only got so many years before my kids work out it’s not cool to hang out with their mum, so I need to make the most of the time I have with them!” Her part time is a joint family arrangement: “My husband is very supportive. He looks after the boys in the morning, he is there when I travel for work. It’s a big family effort.” For their part, the boys certainly see the value in mum’s role: “They basically think I work at the world’s biggest toy store,” she smiles.

Spending fewer hours in the office is a challenge, but it has also brought some unexpected benefits: “Having children really focused me. My days can get pretty manic and, with fewer hours in the week, you absolutely have to be efficient. There’s no better guard against procrastination than wanting to get home for the bedtime story.” Friday mornings are sacred me-time: a few short hours with a coffee and a magazine in a local café or a trip to gym is the weekly sanity check. But by Friday afternoon it’s back to being mum. “I pick my boys up from school, and we’ll either go to the park or have a playdate and then it is movie night.”

So, what’s Katie’s advice for everyone trying to balance family time and career? “Focus on what you want to make time for in a positive way. It’s difficult to set constraints around when you’ll leave the office or what you’ll have to achieve if you’re not focusing on something that you want to enjoy. You have to start from what’s really important to you.”