Sarah is a Director and founder of SmartCats Consulting and holds a number of non-executive postions. She is Independent Chair of The Pensions Trust, and a Board member for the London Pensions Fund Authority, UK Athletics and Social Investment Scotland.
Having studied Classics at Oxford University, Sarah moved to Edinburgh and qualified as a Chartered Accountant in 1998. In 1999 Sarah moved to Standard Life Investments, where she remained until 2008 working in a number of different roles covering a wide variety of asset classes, including real estate, hedge funds and derivative strategies.
Sarah began work as a pension trustee in 2004, when she was elected as a member nominated trustee of the Standard Life Staff Pension Scheme. Since then she has acted as a trustee for six other pension schemes, ranging in size from £5m to £3bn. She is currently a board member of the London Pensions Fund Authority.
Sarah currently runs her own management consultancy business, SmartCats Consulting, which specialises in improving financial and operational effectiveness for organisations. She is also a director of Social Investment Scotland.
Latterly she was responsible for building the infrastructure to support a multi-billion pound liability-driven investment business.
Sarah recently shared her board journey with a group of women in Scotland who hold NED positions and who are actively supporting others to take this step.
Sarah pegged the start of her journey with her ‘Strengthfinder’ work … which identified her as ‘an achiever’. From her early 30’s Sarah had the desire to work part time and not get into a fulltime work commitment. She has certainly achieved this goal.
Sarah has experienced a number of different roles, first with Standard Life and then with other organisations. She has the ability to quickly assimilate technical information coupled with a high EQ enabling her to get on well with people.
Although a Chartered Accountant with a background in investment, Sarah didn’t want to work with investment companies. Over the last 4 years, Sarah has found roles that play to her core strengths (e.g. Chair of the London Pension Authority) and others which satisfy her desire to do something different (NED of UK Athletics).
Sarah has built a compendium of CVs and she advocates tailoring your CV for every opportunity. She believes that if you are actively looking for positions you should be in a position to despatch a relevant CV for an interesting opportunity within one day. Sarah is very disciplined about updating her CVs on a regular basis .
When discussing barriers to becoming a NED SArah explained, ”
I was perceived as too young and too female to be doing pension trustee work. Also I was not a ‘face’ and did not have ’30 years experience in the city’. I did at times feel like giving up, but I hung in there and kept applying for things. And eventually I was lucky enough to be interviewed by an organisation (The Pensions Trust) that had the bravery to appoint someone they thought would do a good job rather than appoint someone the rest of the industry would expect them to appoint. Once you get accepted by one big organisation, it becomes much easier.”
On occasions Sarah’s opportunities have sprung from individuals or a sponsor in her network who has worked with her and has been impressed with her experience and approach. Sarah advocates always keeping in touch with individuals in your network. Sometimes it can be years before an opportunity arises.
When asked about advice to other women looking for NED positions Sarah added, ”
Plan early. I think it is difficult to do if you want to leave work one day and then start building up an NED portfolio the next. NED work needs different skills to executive work, and it is useful to be able to demonstrate you have these from things you have done (pro bono if necessary) alongside your day job.”
Many thanks to Sarah for sharing her journey with us.