Sara Dickinson is the Chief Financial Officer at Expedia Partner Solutions.
She has over 25 years’ of experience in financial roles, successfully evolving travel and consumer businesses digital presence and delivering sustainable growth. Prior to joining EPS, Sara was previously Commercial Finance Director at Costa Coffee, Group Financial Controller for Sage Group PLC and Vice President and European CFO of ebookers, the online travel agency.
Sara is currently a non-executive board member and chair of the Treasury Committee at A2 Dominion Group, a residential property group that reinvests its profits into building affordable homes around the UK.
Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role
I would classify myself as focused, curious and imaginative. I am currently the chief financial officer at Expedia Partner Solutions (EPS), the global B2B partnership brand within Expedia Group. As part of my role I am responsible for steering EPS to meet its commercially focused goals, whilst achieving significant and sustainable growth.
Prior to joining EPS in 2017, I was Commercial Finance Director at Costa Coffee, Group Financial Controller for Sage Group PLC and Vice President and European CFO of ebookers, an online travel agency.
I have been in finance for 25 years and worked in a good mix of industries which has really helped me hone my understanding of how different business models can work successfully. I believe having this varied experience has been beneficial to my career and I would recommend anyone reading this to gain as much experience as they can across different business models.
My early life also set a path to where I am today as I got to see the world from a unique lens. From when I was a baby until the age of 18, I spent most of my school holidays on cargo ships, as my father was a merchant seaman. This is where my love for travel began; I was lucky enough to visit parts of the world I could never have imagined and experienced so many different cultures.
So, when I was recommended by a personal connection for the role of CFO at EPS, a brand which powers the business of global travel companies, I didn’t think twice.
Did you ever sit down and plan your career?
I wouldn’t say that I have ever sat down and mapped out my full career, but I do periodically review where I am in my career and think about what will keep me curious and moving forward. I think this has been a good way of figuring out where I would like to be and see if that aligns with my current experience, before reviewing if I need to make some changes to reach my goal and planning how I will achieve it.
I have an MSc from Loughborough University and graduated from the University of York with a BA (Hons) in Economics, and I knew early on I wanted to go down the finance route.
Have you faced any challenges along the way?
When I first began my career in the 1990s, I was a working-class woman in a very male dominated industry – a subdivision in British aerospace manufacturing. That first job really helped me to learn not to take things too personally.
Since then, I wouldn’t call them challenges, but I would say there have been times where I’ve needed to review where I am and make the decision to take a lateral move. I think it’s really important that you challenge yourself on what is right for you, and realise that you don’t always need to be going in an upwards direction to achieve your goals.
About 15 years ago, I took a career break for six months and went to Cambodia to participate in voluntary work. I can safely say it was the best thing I could have ever done. I knew at that moment in time, I wasn’t in the right work zone, so I decided to press pause and regroup what I wanted from my career. I had a great support network of friends, family and work colleagues who encouraged me to take this step and helped me believe that taking this chance would be ok.
What has been your biggest achievement to date?
My biggest achievements come from when the businesses and teams that I’m working with have been able to achieve their highest potential, through my support and mentoring. There have been a couple of times in my career where I have seen amazing growth in both the business and my team and it really is a career highlight for me to see not just growth in the moment but sustainable growth for the long term.
Eighteen months ago, EPS merged three different finance teams across six global locations. These three teams were extremely different from one another and all worked for different Expedia brands before coming together to work for the B2B partnership brand EPS. I feel really proud that they have developed to become a team that really connect and to know that effort has been achieved through supporting them and encouraging them to step out of their comfort zone and see what more they can achieve.
What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?
It’s all about how I approach doing my job. I’m mindful of the fact that I see my role as CFO as being a business partner for EPS. What I mean by this, is that I care as much about the business and its success as those I report to. Having this type of mindset makes me passionate about my job and really focus on the direction that the company is heading in.
It’s also not all about numbers, you need to focus on the long-term business goals. I know if I’ve done a good job or not, if the organisation I’m working for will still be thriving even if I were to move on. For me, that’s my definition of success.
How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?
I think mentoring is great, not only for the person being mentored but for the mentee too. It really allows you to tap into talent and for me personally, it has really helped me to hone my coaching skills. Quite often you can be mentoring people outside of your discipline, so you’re not always going to be able to tell them exactly what to do, but what does end up happening is you work together to unlock what they’re trying to achieve.
What’s key is finding the right mentor for you and picking someone whose judgement you really trust. I would say over the last 20 years I have had three or four mentors who have helped me through my career. When I joined EPS, I was given an ‘onboarding buddy’ and two years on, I still, from time to time, ask for their judgment on a situation.
If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Parity, what would it be?
I believe in fairness for all. For me the most important thing to accelerate change would for everyone to be treated fairly and for women and men to know their true worth. It’s important for leaders to be treating their teams in this way, valuing everyone’s worth equally, so that they set an example.
If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?
I would tell myself to not ever waste an opportunity to network. Over the years there have been times when I have attended networking events where I had the opportunity to mingle with people both in and out of my industry, but instead spent the time talking to people I already knew because that was familiar. Sometimes you can also feel too busy with work to attend but looking back I wish I hadn’t turned down those opportunities as it’s so important to create a good network for yourself.
I now try and instill this in my team and have become evangelical about the benefits of mingling and networking.
What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?
I’m loving my current challenge as CFO at EPS. Since I’ve joined, we’ve seen considerable growth and I’ve witnessed three finance teams coming together as one. My role is to make sure we continue to grow and, to work together with the President of EPS, to make that happen.
What I hope for the future is that I can look back on my team at EPS and see that they have taken the knowledge I’ve shared with them and are able to create their own organizational vision and business partnering teams in the future.