Inspirational Woman: Sarah Vawda | Non Executive Director and Board Advisor at Hamlet Protein

Sarah Vawda is a Strategic Adviser and Consultant at Vawda Associates.

sarah

She is experienced in leading international strategic initiatives to position global business for accelerated growth, improved performance and enhanced profitability across expanding geographies. Vawda has key leading capabilities with direct interface with the Board and Executive Team. She is also a Non-Executive Director for Hamlet Protein.

Tell us a bit about yourself

I am an ethnically Indian woman born in the east end of London to immigrant parents who arrived from India in the 1960s. My father worked in a factory for 30 years and my mother was a housewife. I start with this as this background has fundamentally shaped and driven me in my whole life and has been a key driving force in my career.

I am forever grateful for my parents and upbringing and I have never allowed my background, which many would say was disadvantaged, to hinder me in the pursuit of my goals.

Lacking traditional role models when growing up and understanding of the corporate world or possibilities open to me, I embraced all opportunities that were provided to me and strove to achieve with no real sense initially of what I was going to do. I have been driven by the need to succeed and achieve, something that I was born with.

I have been lucky to have been successful in my corporate career doing something that I have truly enjoyed, initially training as a Chartered Accountant with PwC and then successfully pursuing a career in M&A, strategy and corporate development across multiple industries and global companies culminating in Executive Board positions.

I now have a portfolio career encompassing Non-Executive Board positions with Board Advisory roles working with businesses looking at their next stage of development, within both corporates and private equity owned businesses.

I am keen to use my background to mentor women going through the corporate ranks and also hopefully inspire the next generation of girls for whom such a career may seem aspirational but is truly achievable and available to all.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I did not and really did not know where I was going when I started. Becoming a Chartered Accountant was because I had a vague view that I wanted to “be in business” without really understanding what that meant at the time! I learnt as I went along and always aspired to achieve and be good at what I did. I was lucky to find a career that I truly enjoyed and that made aspiring for the next stage easier.

Have you faced any challenges along the way and if so, how did you deal with them?

I am a strong minded, passionate, highly energetic woman who has worked in male dominated environments and roles, especially M&A. I have high standards for myself and expect that from those around me. This has not always been easy, especially during middle management, as I do not conform to what is regarded as the female stereotype.

Knowing who you are is key to adapting to the circumstances and I have been lucky to have worked with some amazing people and teams who have allowed me to be me.

What advice would you give someone who wishes to move in to a leadership position for the first time?

Be true to yourself and do not try to conform to what others feel you should be. Have confidence in your abilities and never forget you are there for a reason. Many women do not see that. Always be open, transparent, honest and inclusive. Remember leadership is about leading and inspiring but if no one follows you then you can never lead. It is all about the team and how you galvanise the collective. My experience is that the more open and inclusive you are the more you will get from your teams. Ideas come from the most unexpected place!

When faced with two equally-qualified candidates, how would you decide who should have the role?

Qualifications are a given when you interview candidates. I am looking for the passion that person has in the role and company, whether they aspire to go beyond the role and how they will fit within the wider team. I am always looking for aspiration beyond obvious capability.

How do you manage your own boss?

I believe in being open, transparent and honest and working in partnership with them. I am keen to get to know the person. Work must also be enjoyable so if the relationship works well, the job is that much easier!

On a typical workday, how do you start your day and how does it end?

As I now have a portfolio role, no two days are the same or typical! Depending on what I am involved with, this could be travelling abroad to a Board meeting or possible meetings with an existing company that I am undertaking some work for.

I am also in the enviable position to be able to be very flexible now on my time including spending more time with my two teenage boys.

What advice can you give to our members about raising their profiles within their own organisations

Get involved outside of your immediate responsibilities wherever possible. Increasingly careers are becoming very deep but narrow. This is not necessarily a good thing and you should try to broaden your experiences wherever possible. In my experience, organisations welcome people who want to do more. Create opportunities to speak or give presentations or to learn about areas outside of your core specialisms. Getting involved in cross functional teams is also very useful in broadening experience and gaining exposure.

How have you benefited from coaching or mentoring?

I have never had any formal mentors or coaches during my corporate career but have benefitted from some amazing relationships both with peers, team members who worked for me as well as more senior individuals. A lack of formal mentors does not mean that you cannot learn from those around you and I have built some exceptional relationships which continue to inspire me.

Do you think networking is important and if so, what three tips would you give to a newbee networker

Networking is vital in this highly connected world! But do not network for the sake of networking as this is pointless and will not achieve anything except waste time. Build relationships with people as much because you like the person as to possibly provide opportunities and potential future access to others. Work is all about people but make sure you also make connections and help people and not just to get something for yourself. In my view your informal networks of like minded individuals are as important as the formal ones.

What does the future hold for you?

I am keen to broaden my NED portfolio and continue to expand my Board advisory roles, transitioning over time to an NED only career. I am also very keen to get more involved in the wider diversity debate around ethnicity and gender and use my experiences to help people who are trying to go through the corporate ranks.

I am keen to mentor women from diverse backgrounds who may find my experiences helpful as they pursue their corporate careers and aim for the top. I am also keen to mentor girls from disadvantaged backgrounds and help them develop and reach their aspirations and potential.

Please also feel free to add any others that you feel would be relevant.

I would like to tell all women, whatever their background, that anything is possible. Be confident. Have aspirations and go after them. There will inevitably be barriers and knocks along the way but that should only make you more determined and stronger. I am a single mum of two teenage boys and if I can do it anyone can!

 

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