Inspirational Woman: Sara Hassan | Group Associate Director, Dhand Capital

Sara HassanSara Hassan is the Group Associate Director at Dhand Capital, working across leading UK property businesses Mayfair Group Investment, Penguin Facilities Management and Dhand Construction.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

After graduating I worked for a large advertising agency in Leeds, for clients including ASDA and Greggs. This awakened my passion for consumer marketing and I then went into shopping centre marketing, which gave me a real hands-on experience which saw me manage everything from retailer campaigns to Christmas lights design, whilst remaining connected with shoppers every single day.

In my shopping centre role, I connected with global broadcaster and consumer expert Kate Hardcastle MBE and in 2019 I joined Kate’s global consultancy Insight with Passion. Here I was fortunate enough to travel the world, supporting global clients in media, retail, tech and logistics. We worked across Europe, EMEA, the US and Australia delivering transformative strategies on digital integration and consumer insight. It was a fantastic experience – I learned so much from Kate and her mentorship is something I’m still fortunate enough to have in my life today.

In 2021, I put down roots back home in Leeds and took on the role of Group Associate Director for the Dhand Capital Group. Based in our Leeds and London offices, I work across the company portfolio which includes construction, property investment and facilities management. My role is focused on growth and process development and I oversee operations, people and marketing to ensure everything is running smoothly. Our core focus is medical centre development and it is particularly rewarding knowing we’re building vital spaces for communities across the UK. As a ‘newbie’ in the construction industry, I’m learning so much, with no two days the same.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

As a child, I either wanted to be an actor (I loved theatre and film) or a doctor (like many members of my family). Both dreams died once I hit my teenage years and discovered I was actually quite shy and very squeamish!

I was an all-rounder at school and was never drawn to any particular subject.  I therefore opted for business and marketing at university as I felt they’d give me varied experience whilst I searched for my true calling.

I’m still searching for that calling, but I’ve always just aimed to be happy and fulfilled in whatever role I’m in.  For me, this means working for a company with strong values, being challenged and surrounded by good people, whilst also having the opportunity to give back in some way and I’ve been lucky and enjoyed all of these throughout my career.

In today’s world of manifestation and visualisation, I’ve never been too hard on myself regarding goals – if I’m happy in the present and adding value to my company and those around me, that’s all what matters and in my current role I genuinely enjoy every single day,

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

COVID-19 was particularly challenging for me as it was for many. I was working internationally for the consultancy Insight with Passion and when travel restrictions came in force, we really had to adapt and work all hours of the day to stay virtually connected with our clients. We gave additional support to our clients which they really valued, and we also set up a free business mentoring scheme for SMEs across the UK, as we knew there were small businesses facing significant challenges. Knowing we were helping so many businesses in addition to our clients really kept me going during lockdown. 

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

My work has been recognised in the past with industry and company awards but now when I reflect on my achievements I tend to look to my team – there’s nothing better than seeing the people you lead thriving and achieving their goals.

I mentor an apprentice at Dhand Capital, she’s just about to complete her course and take on a new full time role with us. Seeing her build her confidence and plan her own path and career with us has been wonderful to be part of and for me, those achievements mean more to be than any award or PR accolades.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

I’ve always had a ‘listen first’ approach. After all, we have two ears and one mouth for a reason.

This has always stood me in good stead when it comes to understanding people – whether that’s been consumers, clients and colleagues. In order to engage people in any situation, you have to first understand them and empathise with them, that’s something I learned very early on in my career.

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?

No matter what level you reach, you will always benefit from a mentor. I’ve been fortunate enough to have some brilliant mentors and mentor some great people too – it’s something I’ve always tried to instil in my colleagues. Here at Dhand Capital, we work with other organisations on cross-company mentoring too, which adds a new dynamic to it. I always encourage our teams to engage in mentoring, as both mentors and mentees.

If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Equality, what would it be?

I don’t think one thing can solely make a difference – a completely holistic approach covering education, raising awareness of opportunities in underrepresented sectors, greater transparency around pay, more open conversations to challenge biases and greater engagement between industry and education are things that will make the difference.

As a woman working in the construction industry, I’m shocked to see the stats around the lack of females in senior positions -a recent study by Keepmoat found that nearly half of construction workers had never had a female manager! I have personally found my company and the industry in general to be welcoming to women and socially diverse too – the focus really is on talent and if you’re good at what you do, you’ll receive recognition based on your results. This is refreshing but we need to do more engagement as an industry with schools to showcase the wealth of opportunities in the sector and attract more girls too. Dedicated networks are also hugely valuable – I’m a member of Women in Property and it’s a brilliant support. We need to extend these industry-specific support networks though, to ensure more representation in industry specific settings e.g. LGBTQ+, those with disabilities and people who are neurodivergent too. Giving proper support to more groups ensures that everyone thrives and this can be hugely beneficial in enhancing the talent pool. 

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?

People may tell you that things aren’t possible and if you’re a junior you may feel forced to accept this. But don’t be afraid to challenge something, just make sure you’ve done your homework and you’re thorough in your research and ideas. If the answer is “no”, ask “why not”, “why not”, “why not”.

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

We’re on a huge growth trajectory at Dhand Capital and it’s my aim to sustain strong growth over the next 5 years and build some really strong teams, nurturing our people from all levels and backgrounds so that they each forge successful career paths which enable them to thrive in the sector and make a difference for the Group businesses and our local communities.

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