Inspirational Woman: Sarah Kelly | CEO, Stagecoach Performing Arts

Sarah KellySarah Kelly reached senior management level in just eight years into her career, and has more than 25 years of experience in commercially focused business and marketing.

Since joining Stagecoach Performing Arts as Managing Director in 2013, Sarah has led the growth of the Stagecoach network, supervising the opening of schools around the world and a major rebranding of the company. She has also led the expansion of the network into new international markets, including China, increasing the worldwide reach of Stagecoach which led to her promotion to CEO.

With previous experience as the marketing and sales director of Warner Brothers, Sarah has proven herself to be a true patron of the arts. This year she is overseeing the 30th anniversary celebrations of Stagecoach , which include a Guinness World Record attempt with kids performing around the globe.

Her vision for Stagecoach was realised through rebranding efforts which led to a focus on ‘Creative Courage for Life’, the strapline which Sarah pioneered as a way to modernise the brand and draw focus on the power of the arts as a way of equipping children with fundamental skills necessary in life. After initially trialed on a small scale, this rebranding was adopted by the worldwide network, all as a result of Sarah’s vision.

Sarah continues to manage a network of over 700 schools and more than 3,000 teachers which instruct over 45,000 pupils. The company now spans 10 countries and 6 continents, and has recently partnered with the mental health charity Young Minds, as part of a wider effort to be a means of support and growth for young children.

Minds, as part of a wider effort to be a means of support and growth for young children.

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

Growing up, I wanted to be a doctor or a nurse, but quickly realised I couldn’t stand the sight of blood! I am now CEO of Stagecoach Performing Arts, which is a demanding but wholly rewarding role. My background is in marketing, and I have brought my expertise to the company by heading the rebranding effort and introducing the strapline Creative Courage For Life, which has been adopted across the network on an international level.  I believe creativity is the key to success, and although this is naturally something at the heart of what we do in our schools, I wanted to spread this ethos across all levels in the company. I’m proud to say this is something I achieved.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

When I was younger, I spent a year immersing myself in a hotel and working in every department. It was only when I started working with the sales and marketing team that I realised I had a passion and flair for business, which is what ultimately drives me. A lot of my success comes from my interest in marketing, and my career choices have reflected my drive for converting consumer insights and ideas into something appealing for everyone.  Over time, I made a natural progression into more managerial positions, but I wouldn’t say that I had a master plan in mind, except to always do something you enjoy and you will be naturally good at it!

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

Joining Stagecoach Performing Arts as a CEO, I was taking on a role that had previously been led by the founders of the company.  This posed a challenge as I had to assert myself as suitable for the role, and build connections with the extensive network of franchises which had great relationships with the founders.  I found that engaging with everyone in the business and allowing them to voice the ways in which they wanted to see the company make changes meant that something which had started out as a challenge quickly became an opportunity for progress and change.

How can performing arts help grow women and girls?  

The performing arts are a fantastic way to encourage a lifetime of confidence in girls, as it allows them to practise acting, and feeling confident in a setting where this is the expectation, rather than the anomaly. At Stagecoach Performing Arts, we believe that encouraging Creative Courage For Life is the key way to empower children to ensure that they have the confidence to tackle the world head on as adults.

If you could change one thing for women in the workplace, what would it be?

Women make fantastic leaders, but female CEOs are still unfortunately quite rare. I would love to have had an impact on gender equality, and encourage women to apply for roles that may intimidate them. It’s so important to encourage more women to take up leadership positions in the workplace.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

My biggest achievement to date is establishing a work and life balance which suits me, and allows me to do the best job possible. It can be very easy to become addicted to your job. Whether I am meeting different franchises face to face, or working from home, I am actively engaged with the business, but still manage to get some ‘me’ time on a weekly basis.

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

The challenge now lies in continuing to grow Stagecoach Performing Arts as a lucrative business, and establishing the network as a key feature of children’s lives around the world. I strongly believe in the power of performing arts, having seen first hand how much of an impact the schools have on the younger generation. I did not know much about performing arts when I started, but having joined the company I have become completely converted to the ethos – Children thrive from having access to what we offer

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