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10Qs with… an ocean kayaker and mortgages expert

09:00am November 29 2021

Westpac’s managing director for mortgages Anthony Hughes' has taken up ocean kayaking to stay fit. (Supplied)  

Anthony Hughes, Westpac’s managing director for mortgages, opens up about what makes him tick for Westpac Wire’s “10 Qs with…”.  

What do you normally do first thing in the morning?

I’m an early riser and, I know it’s a bit of a bad habit, but my phone’s by the bed and the first thing I do is trawl through emails and check on the news around the world. Then it’s exercise. 

The new hobby is ocean kayaking, which I do three times a week, often with a 5.30am start. 

I'd been doing it casually for a few years, renting a kayak on the weekends when my kids were sailing. But I recently started lessons and joined a club at (Sydney’s) Middle Harbour, and now go out with groups and a few friends that are mad paddlers. 

We’re on what I call the “proper” kayaks – the fancy carbon-fibre ones – they're the wobbly ones, which are quite tippy in the harbour. I end up in the drink almost every single time! When I recently did my first trek around to Manly, the swells were huge – some of the waves up to 4 meters going past the heads – and there were a few moments when I thought maybe I should turn around. But it was a great challenge and I love being out on the harbour. 

Coffee: first thing, on the commute or in the office? 

The habits have changed – in the old, pre-COVID world, it was always to grab the coffee on the way to the desk; now it’s to get out for a little walk to the cafe – but the coffee hasn’t: I'm definitely a macchiato drinker.  That, and vegemite sourdough, is the routine.

Are you a WFH fan or not so much? 

I'm a bit of a fence sitter – there’s pros and cons.

Having said that, last year I had someone who transferred into my team. He said he’d work remotely from Greece, which I thought was a joke. I found out a few months later it wasn’t. He really was working from Greece, just during Australian hours, and I couldn’t even tell the difference! 

It shows how well it can work – it’s really opened our minds to new ways of working, but there are challenges and as we move to a hybrid model there will be more that we’ll need to work through. 

The pros are no commute time and more time with family. I must admit I've become a trackie dack afficionado – I’ve gone very relaxed in my work attire. Even when I’ve had to present to the board, I’ve loved seeing no ties. 

On the cons, some days I think, “get me out of here!", because the pattern can get so monotonous, it’s hard to keep the energy up. And the “COVID kilos”! I feel like there's less incidental exercise – like walking upstairs to a meeting or getting to and from work – on top of the structured exercise. And we’ve lost a bit of human connection. 

Have you had any virtual meeting gaffs? 

I always say some of the best things while I'm on mute! I thought “you’re on mute” would be the 2020 quote we'd leave behind, but it's still alive and well.

Are you a 9-6 or work at all hours sort of person?

COVID has blurred the boundary of start and finish times, but I think technology was doing that to us anyway with “always-on” devices almost becoming an extension of our bodies. I always try to protect the weekends – I'll put more in during the week if it means taking a break to switch off on weekends.  

Do you enforce any technology-free time?

Mainly it’s when I’m kayaking. I’m in the drink so often, I typically don’t take my phone. 

What do you do if you get super busy or feel a bit overwhelmed?

There's no better medicine than fresh air and sunshine or a rigorous workout. If you've got a tonne on, sometimes it’s counter-intuitive because you think you've got to grind away, but even a simple walk up to the coffee shop is a wonderful way to recentre and renew.  

What would we find you doing on a typical weekend?

I love getting out and about. Sydney is a beautiful city and there's so much to do, but I’m also mostly a “dad taxi” to my three teenagers. In the summer, my two girls normally double up on their sports – they play touch football all over Sydney and sailing in the afternoons – while my son has summer soccer or cricket. Then when it flips over to winter, I'm a netball dad and have spent many years on the side of the court. It obviously all changed during COVID and, while I haven’t missed the traffic, I’ve missed the kids’ sport. 

What’s the best thing you’ve read, watched or listened to recently?

I loved “Money Heist”, the Spanish crime drama on Netflix. Many years ago, I learnt Spanish and spent six months in South America and a couple of months in Spain going to Spanish school, so I know the English dubbing wasn’t great, but the show was. It's about bank robbers – a bit ironic that I liked it so much.

What career advice would you give your younger self when just finishing school or uni?

The trinity in life is when you get a really good balance between your professional career, being in a good space personally, and having strong, high-quality relationships with family and friends. Often in life you can get one or two of the three pieces humming – like the job’s going really well but personal wellbeing and relationships are sacrificed because you're working crazy hours. 

It’s important to invest in all three, because setbacks can happen at any time – so when one part of the trinity goes, the other two will help you stay resilient.

Emma Foster is a freelance writer. Previously, she led Westpac Wire and was a key contributor until December 2022. Prior to joining Westpac in 2013, she spent almost 20 years in corporate affairs and investor relations, primarily in large financial services and consultancy firms, in Australia, UK and Europe. She is also a photographer and podcaster.

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