Shelby Austin admits that her career has moved at “warp speed.” In 2009, at 28, she made partner at Davies. Then, in 2010, she quit to found ATD Legal Services — a start-up taking on outsourced legal work, such as document review, for a fraction of the average billable rate on Bay Street.
It took off. And last year she sold the business to Deloitte for a tidy sum. These days, Austin oversees the accounting behemoth’s 12-person out-sourcing team and more than 100 contract lawyers. In the last five years she also got married and had a daughter. (At press time, she was days away from giving birth to her son.)
How does she do it? We break down a typical day in her whirlwind life.
Austin wakes up, showers and gets dressed, “usually in boring black or grey.” All in 15 minutes. (She saves time in the morning by getting her hair blown out at Blo a few times a week.)
Along with her husband, Graeme Cooper, a VP at the Carlyle Group, she wakes up their 19-month-old daughter, Simone. The trio kicks off the day with a full hour of playtime. “She plays a ukulele, that she calls her guitar,” says Austin. “She’ll rock out, usually singing about letters: the alphabet is a pretty big deal right now.”
Their nanny, Yojanna, arrives to look after Simone for the day. “She’s been with us since Simone was three months old. She’s fabulous. She teaches our daughter Spanish.” Then Austin and her husband hop in the car and head downtown to work.
Austin arrives at Deloitte Canada’s head office. But, before taking the elevator up to her office, she makes a pit stop at Starbucks for breakfast. “I eat a lot of those Greek honey yogurt parfaits,” she admits. “Like, a lot.”
Austin walks into the office and quickly checks in with the outsourcing team, keeping small talk to a minimum. “At Davies, I used to walk down the hall and kill an hour in somebody’s office because we were going to be there ’til four in the morning anyway,” she says. “Now, I’m like, ‘I’m leaving at 5:30 no matter what,’ so that puts pressure on the day.”
A typical morning consists of a series of calls with clients — which include most of the big firms in Toronto. Because law firms typically only hire Deloitte once they have a major case or merger, Austin has to “stay in touch with clients even when there’s nothing going on.” This is the biggest part of her job: finding new business. And she likes making calls in the morning when her mind is at its sharpest.
Every single day, she has a lunch date with a client — a habit Austin developed early in her career. She’s a regular at The Gaberdine, Bymark and Ki, and she always opts for the healthiest dish she can find. Her favourite at Ki, for instance, is the maple teriyaki salmon with wilted spinach, and she usually forgoes potatoes.
Back in the office, Austin handles basic admin: writing performance reviews, planning her long-term strategy and meeting with the Deloitte upper brass.
Although she holds a managerial position, Austin often spends her afternoons in Deloitte’s open-concept work area, sifting through emails or marking up financial documents with the rest of the outsourcing team. “I’m more actively involved than one might think.”
“No matter what, no matter what,” Austin stresses, “I leave the office at 5:30.”
Austin picks up her husband and they head home together to relieve Yojanna, who first gives them a run-down of Simone’s day.
Cooper always makes dinner. “If I didn’t have a husband who was so amazing, I would be happy eating take-out seven nights a week,” Austin says. “I outsource anything that does not give me joy.” After dinner, the couple spends another hour of playtime with their daughter.
She puts Simone to bed with the three Bs: bottle, bath and book.
Three times a week — Monday, Wednesday and Friday — Austin does an hour of exercise with a personal trainer at the house. In a makeshift gym area in her basement — with a yoga mat, dumbbells and a few resistance bands — she does a mix of aerobics and strength training.
Austin cracks open her laptop, checks her email and gets back to work. “I’m not going back online because I have to. Or because I feel that the business needs me to survive,” she explains. Rather, she genuinely wants to work. “I’m very lucky that I’ve always loved my job. And that’s not bullshit.”
Austin winds down at the end of the day by nerding out on business books. Or, sometimes she’ll watch business classes offered online by Stanford University. (At the moment, Austin is binging on a course called “How to Start a Startup,” which features lectures from the founders of PayPal and LinkedIn). “It sounds more hardcore than it is,” she says. “It’s actually quite fun for me.”
Austin flicks off the lights and goes to sleep. At least, that’s the goal: “If a client emails me at midnight,” she says, “chances are I’ll respond.”
This story is part of The Precedent guide to getting it all done, from our Spring 2015 issue.
Photography by Daniel Ehrenworth