The Work/Life Talk Show – a balancing act

Last Thursday night saw the EPIC launch of our newest event, The Work/Life Talk Show, as part of the Leeds Digital Festival, held at Dukes Studios in their very rustic event space. Graham Norton-style we had an armchair and sofa on the stage, ambient lighting and yummy food from the heroes at Grub & Grog (thanks guys!).

We had an amazing line-up of Leeds-based guests too who did not disappoint; Craig Burton from The Works Recruitment, Achille Traore from Top Screen Media and Sarah Khan-Bashir MBE from Shire Solicitors. We had pre-warned our guests that this wasn’t just another “so tell us about your business and how you became successful” interview. We wanted to ask them questions others haven’t to see what really had happened and how they had made themselves and their respective businesses a success. We hear the phrase “blood, sweat and tears” bandied about, but we wanted to know about this in its gory detail! What exactly made them cry? What (or who?) did they have to sacrifice on their journey to success? Did they have any regrets? With our own Dan Akers acting as compère, the guests were in good hands and the stage was set for a truly interesting evening.


The evening began with our usual format of networking over wine/beer and free food (always a winner), with the bonus of Dukes Studios having a BAR! The lights were dimmed and Dan kicked off proceedings by inviting Craig Burton, MD of The Works Recruitment, onto the stage. His career is well documented online, having been reported on enough times – he started The Works in 1991, then retired and returned twice. We didn’t ask too much about that. We did however talk about what he wanted to be as a kid – the answer was an Actor or a Teacher – I can totally see that though, arguably, he does a lot of both on a daily basis now anyway! We heard that he sold bulrushes and pampas grass at a young age to hip 70’s homeowners. We also discussed books, one of his recommendations to the audience being “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie (we second that!).

So what about his work/life balance? Well, Craig stressed the importance of doing something you enjoy and calling it your job. Early in his career, he had a job for 9 days but quit because he didn’t like it, to which the response was “you’re not supposed to like it, it’s your job”. So, as Craig said, if you find yourself in a job that makes you happy, then is your work/life balance, well, balanced?

Life goals

After a short break/alcohol refill, Dan called another successful local entrepreneur, Achille Traore from TopScreen Media, to the stage. Having already promised Achille that, unlike other interviewers, we wouldn’t be focussing heavily on his previous career as a professional footballer, we obviously HAD to touch upon it briefly as it was the reason he originally found himself in Leeds (to play for Barnsley FC for those interested).

After injury scuppered his football plans, Achille started his entrepreneurial career in the very early days of translation service provider, The Big Word, as their sales lead and boy did he do well! Regaling stories of HOW he made stacks of money for both himself and the company, the audience was hooked. However, what was most astonishing was actually what happened at the end of the event when he left the stage… A lady in the audience who used to be a Psychotherapist at Bradford District Care said that through his work at The Big Word, Achille had literally saved lives. Pretty humbling.

When discussing his childhood in Sweden and his family life, Achille stressed the importance of education, which explains his Masters in International Business and Economics from Stockholm university and SKEMA Business School. No easy feat! This is something he will promote to his daughter, as he has recently taken on a new role as a Father. From one father to another, Dan asked him how it had changed him? Well, he works less, but more efficiently, he said. Now, more than ever, he’s keen to find that work/life balance – that coming from someone who grew up in Sweden!

Recently acknowledged as one of the top 100 Retail Technology Entrepreneurs in UK in “Fresh Business Thinking’s Shift 100” list, associated with KPMG, he’s launched a few new platforms and innovative technologies that are running alongside TSM. So what next for Achille? Well, he announced an absolutely HUGE exclusive on stage…but we’re going to let that come to light from him.

“I might only have one match, but I can make an explosion”

With Achille still on the sofa, Dan invited Sarah Khan-Bashir MBE onto the stage. Sarah is a conscientious solicitor with a strong desire to give back to the community. She established Shire Solicitors in 2007, specialising in defendant and claimant civil litigation and conveyancing. She is also a Director of 2:16, a West Yorkshire based training company providing specific training to the local Muslim communities, as well as cultural awareness programmes. As if that wasn’t enough, Sarah is also the Yorkshire Chairwoman for Mosaic, a Princes’ Trust Charity that encourages young people to realise their potential and to raise their aspirations. All in all, she’s pretty busy!

So, the key question, how does Sarah achieve the work/life balance? Faith, she said, was a huge part of that. She goes through a 4-step programme each morning, which includes prayer and listening to her own power song on the drive to work – “Fight Song” by Rachel Platten. A classic – I might steal that idea. In the evenings she switches her phone off – simple but effective. We should all do that, right? If something comes in she asks herself “do I need to answer this now?”. The answer, she said, is largely no. With three daughters and a husband at home, she knows the importance of being ‘present’ in the evenings. Everything else can wait.

Sarah was awarded an MBE in the 2014 Queen’s Birthday Honours List for her work with Mosaic in the region. A truly deserved accolade! 

The night ended as it had begun – people drinking, eating, networking and chatting away about their work/life balance struggles or triumphs. The speakers had a queue of people wanting to connect with them! The event was a huge success. We’re not just saying that because we like to blow our own trumpets, but because people genuinely TOLD us how good it was! We were asked when the next one might be…so, due to popular demand, we can confirm that the next Work/Life Talk Show will be on Thursday 27th July.

Open call for speakers! Do you know somebody who’d be an interesting guest for us to interview? Would they let us pry into their personal life and be willing to share their real experiences to a group of supportive and engaged people? If so, please email us at and nominate them! Even if you don’t know them, who would YOU like to hear from? Let us know and we’ll approach them. We’re good at that. See you at the next one!