At least once a week, someone will tell me they don't believe in work life balance. This week it was Maryam Banikarim, global chief marketing officer of Hyatt Hotels Corp., a risk taking, change maker with two teenagers at home.
When I began my conversation with Maryam, one of the first things she said to me was: "I don't believe in work life balance."
Then, she added: "I think we juggle lots of different things, and make different tradeoffs at different times in our lives so we never really have balance." Balance implies there is an equilibrium, she told me. "At different times something gives. I recognize family is important, but there are moments when I make a different decision because something is urgent at work."
In other words, Maryam believes what I do. That balance isn't about a moment in time but rather about the big picture in life. It's about fast forwarding to when you turn 100 and you ask yourself, "Was my life fulfilling?"
Yet, balance is something all of us chase. And we should.
For her new job with Hyatt, Maryam has relocated her family to Chicago. For now, her work and home lives both present a challenge, particularly with her son and daughter in high school. "Kids need different things at different times. When they get older, your presence is required in a different way," she explained to me and I agreed.
Maryam says in the first few months of her new job, she tried not to travel for work while her husband and children acclimated. "It's a challenge when you move your family for your work. You have to be empathetic to the people who are part of your journey."
Opportunities to make purposeful change at companies have always presented themselves to Maryam who says she uses this motto to guide her career decisions. "You only live once so I want to have left the world in a better place than I found it."
Maryam made her recent leap into hospitality after working in the media industry, book publishing, consulting and sales. Her prior job was the chief marketing officer at Gannett Co. She says jumping into a new industry is easier than one might think. “You just have to have confidence your skills will translate."
Throughout her career, Maryam has held leadership roles and navigated through common challenges many women in executive positions face. Now as Hyatt’s CMO, she is responsible for bringing the company’s brands and experiences to life while initiating innovation around the guest experience and driving growth. Her main task has become differentiating Hyatt’s nine brands in the hospitality marketplace.
“When you come from the outside you look at things from a different lens. You might see different opportunities,” she said. “But it’s a combination of the view from outside, plus the expertise of those who know the business coming together that help you see a new path forward.”
Her secret to leadership: "You need to have people around you who have different backgrounds … people who aren’t afraid to voice their opinions.”
As a leader, she has no qualms about voicing her opinions — or taking risks.
Because she grew up in Iran during turbulent times, Maryam says she has a higher risk tolerance than most people and excels at ushering companies through purpose-driven change. For her, an ideal job is one where she can learn and have significant impact. She once told a former boss: “I will work hard while I’m here, but if there is nothing new to learn I will have to find another job.”
As a mother, Banikarim offers her teens this advice: “Pick something you care about, something you really want to do because you will end up spending a lot of time at work.”
So do you agree with Maryam about work life balance? Do you think there are times when the scale needs to tip one way — or the other – toward work and a personal life? Can you be successful in your career and as a parent?