Born in Derbyshire, Sarah is married to a Scot and when she moved with him to Scotland, she initially took a role as a strategy consultant within Scottish Enterprise. She has developed her career through strategy, marketing and business development roles in international companies and has held senior management and board positions with: Rexam plc, LinPac Plastics International, Fort Sterling, RBM Europa and Airport Advertising (Europe). She is a director of the Scottish Youth Theatre, a trustee of the Bank of Scotland Foundation and an Executive Coach.
Her current executive position sees her leading a number of Scottish Enterprise’s key initiatives. These include the ‘Scotland Welcomes the World 2014’ programme, which seeks to maximise the business legacy from the Commonwealth Games, Ryder Cup and Homecoming in 2014. As Chief Executive of Co-operative Development Scotland (an arm of Scottish Enterprise that works in partnership with Highlands & Islands Enterprise) she champions the contribution that co-operative and employee ownership models can play in Scotland’s sustainable economic development.
I caught up with Sarah the week the Queen’s Baton was revealed to the world and the Commonwealth Games tickets finally went on sale, to find out what’s occupying her mind and how she got to where she is today.
Clare Logie How did your career develop over the years, have you followed a definite plan?
Sarah Deas I have always been driven by the desire to grasp new challenges, opportunities to stretch myself and achieve my potential. However, I’ve been opportunistic, rather than planned, in my approach. I have led a wide range of initiatives that were new in concept or substance, for example, e-business projects in the very early days of digital media. I appreciate the importance of goal setting, but also believe it is important to remain open to opportunities.
CL You have clearly continued to study throughout your career. What draws you to combine further academic study with bigger and bigger roles?
SD I am committed to lifelong learning, personally and for Scotland. I like to stretch myself and benefit from new experiences. And I also believe it is important to refresh yourself and your thinking if you are to remain balanced and effective.
CL So, would you say you have a fairly intellectual, or academic, approach to your thinking generally?
SD Not exclusively. For me there is a richness that comes from studying and I do enjoy it but I also learn by doing.
CL What are you most proud of through your career?
SD Combining a career and family life and for that I have to give great credit to my husband and daughters. I’m proud of our joint achievements.
CL Are you optimistic about Scotland’s economic outlook?
SD I’m very optimistic for Scotland and our ability to punch above our weight on the world stage.
CL Can you tell me more about what you mean when you say it can ‘punch above its weight?’
SD Scotland is a relatively small country in a peripheral location, so if we are to meet our potential we need to exploit our key capabilities and have a global outlook. The most effective way to do this is to employ a ‘Team Scotland’ approach, bringing private and public sector together, with shared goals and clarity of direction that is forward-looking and focused on success. We have real strengths in sectors like renewable energy, financial services and food and drink. We also recognise that innovation often happens on the edge and we need to be alert to such opportunities.
CL Should we, in Scotland, be excited about 2014?
SD Oh, absolutely! The eyes of the world will be on Scotland with the Commonwealth Games, Ryder Cup and Homecoming, which are all amazing opportunities for us to shine as a nation. There are three main areas of focus for us:
i) Showcasing Scotland on the international stage
ii) Promoting Scottish businesses and securing commercial opportunities
iii) Presenting Scotland as a tourism destination and our ability to host international events.
CL Are you concerned that the success and national hysteria over the London 2012 Olympics sets a tough bar for the Glasgow Commonwealth Games to match?
SD No, not at all. I don’t even think of it that way. I look at it entirely differently. It sets an example of how we too can benefit from the national pride and commercial benefits. It’s a huge catalyst for economic development. 122 Scottish companies won Olympic contracts worth £200m. In terms of the Commonwealth Games, 413 contracts, worth £250m, have been awarded to Scottish businesses. Scottish businesses have won 85% of contracts; that’s a fabulous message. And there is still £50m worth of contracts up for grabs! Scottish Enterprise is delivering 20 different projects that will help generate a long term business legacy. Many of these are focused on those sectors that have the greatest potential to grow.
And more widely, just look at the enthusiasm that’s been generated: we had 50,000 applications for the 15,000 available volunteer positions.
CL For you, personally, who or what has/have been your greatest inspirations?
SD My father, for inspiring me to reach my potential, to stretch myself to achieve more. And my Christian faith, which directs me to do the right thing, in life and in business.
CL What inspires you now?
SD I feel inspired by our Olympians and Paralympians: their commitment and focus and the way they let us share in their success. That drives me to want to develop similar values to achieve positive change.
CL Do you support any kind of affirmative action to improve the numbers of women in influential roles or do you believe the lower numbers to be a legacy issue that will resolve itself over time?
SD Equality of opportunity is most important and I believe that equality of outcome will follow. Scottish Enterprise is an active supporter of equal opportunities and women are succeeding on ability. In addition, we have developed practices that enable both women and men to balance work and home responsibilities. Similarly, good progress is being made in business, some sectors more than others. I feel that we’ll soon be reaching a tipping point.
CL Speaking of legacy, what would you like your personal legacy to be?
SD Championing positive change. The crucial word here is positive, not change for change’s sake or which is in any way detrimental to society.
CL What are the most challenging aspects of your current role?
SD Balancing priorities; I am leading relatively small teams that are delivering big agendas. There is so much happening at such a pace. The main challenge for me is to continue to be strategic but also hands-on when required; being able to stand back and see the bigger picture but also to be close to the detail.
CL And the most rewarding?
SD The power of working with and supporting other people. Collaboration is the most rewarding and exciting aspect of my work with Co-operative Development Scotland; supporting people and businesses to achieve more together. For example, employee ownership is an innovative approach that empowers employees, increases engagement and boosts performance. I enjoy being a catalyst; helping others to achieve success. That’s why I also enjoy coaching and mentoring.
CL What is still out there that you might like to do?
SD I want to continue to help others to reach their potential, to have that catalytic effect. I’m driven by self belief and would like to help others have this positive outlook. “Think Positive” is my life motto.
CL What is the character trait you most admire in others?
SD Loyalty and respect. I am committed to my teams and value them treating me in the same way.
CL And the trait you most deplore?
SD Negativity. I hate the word ‘but’. I consciously try not to use it.
CL What three things would you put in Room 101?
SD These three things came to me immediately, as they all epitomise negativity:
i) Big Brother: the televised culture of bullying
ii) Guns and knives: the culture of violence in society
iii) Fly Tipping: the culture that destroys our environment
CL When you do have some downtime, where in the world do you most like to spend it?
SD On the West coast of Scotland. I just love that coastline. Waves splashing on the shore, with the islands in the distance. It’s magical!
CL Does the weather matter in that vision?
SD No, not at all.
CL What are you currently reading?
SD ‘Misdirection’ by Barclay Price. There are three reasons why: I know the author, so that adds something to the desire to read it; it’s about a theatre director living his dream and I am NED of the Scottish Youth Theatre (I believe in the power of theatre to build confidence in individuals to achieve their potential) and finally because he raised the money to publish it via crowd funding, so it’s a collaborative project!
CL And finally, what is your favourite song and why?
SD ‘Caledonia’ by Dougie MacLean because it taps into a positive ethos, a belief in self and country.
Clare Logie is a regular contributor to the3rdimagazine.