International Women’s Day – Sara Grinstead, Chief Innovation Officer, RAKBANK

March 11, 2018

Past Progress

If you could tell your younger self one thing what would it be and why?

When I was at school, I remember being told in many an assembly that the friendships we made at school would be some of the most rewarding and important relationships that we would have in our lives and that as we embarked in life beyond school, continuing to invest in building friendships, relationships and networks was one of the most import things that we could do.

At the time it wasn’t something that I fully understood understood and for many years wasn’t something that I invested in.

It’s only really been in the last three or four years that I have realised the wisdom in those words. Moving first into a start-up environment and then to a new country has continually reminded me not only how important and supportive some of your oldest friends and former colleagues can be, but also how important making time for new ones is. From being a great support when I’m outside of my comfort zone, to providing insight and information when I need it, to opening doors and sharing laughter – my friendships and professional network are now probably the most valuable part of my life.

So I guess I’d say to my younger self, invest time in building relationships with people, you’re never too busy to have a coffee with someone and stay open to new people and ideas – we’re all ultimately more similar than we are different.

What action or decision are you most proud of making in your lifetime?

One of the things that I have increasingly done through my career is to take risks, to push myself to undertake roles or experiences that put me outside of my comfort zone and stretch my own understanding what I am capable of achieving. They haven’t always led to glowing success, but in aggregate each one of them has led to opportunities, friendships and experiences that have been invaluable.

The first big risk that I took in my career was probably in 2007, when I decided that I needed to take a break. I was moving away from the security of the corporate world and pay cheque to embark on a career break that would see me travel the world with a back pack and work in developing countries through Raleigh International. Whilst my employer at the time promised to keep a role open for me, looking back, I had no idea not only how much I would change, but also how much the professional world I knew would change during that time frame.

In my 12 months away from life as I knew it, I had experiences and learned new skills that no management training course could ever give me. From a sense of perspective when the going gets tough, working with people from different cultural backgrounds and finding ways to communicate even when language was a barrier, resilience to deal with the unexpected, and appreciation not only for the vast differences in resources available to people around the world but the approaches that people had to make much from little.

In 2008, I returned to the UK and to a financial services industry in the midst of financial crisis. I could never have appreciated how much building a water supply for a remote village in Nicaragua, or trekking in the remote jungles of Borneo could equip me the personal resilience required not only to weather that storm, but also to change careers from banking to consulting in the middle of it and to help large organisations in their response to what was a seismic shift in the industry.  

Present Progress

Of the people that inspire you, what character traits do they have which you admire?

My dad always told me that it was really important to stay true to yourself throughout life. Financial services is an industry that has been hit with a number of scandals in recent years, where perhaps people have not done this – either due to cultural pressure within organisations or due to personal ambitions.

Honesty, integrity and a commitment to doing the right thing for the people that you work with – even when it is difficult to do – are the values that I see most consistently in the people that I respect and have as role models.

If I were to ask people in your workplace for three adjectives that best describe you, what would they say?

I cheated and asked a colleague. Her response was integrity, accountability and caring for my team.

How do you motivate yourself and stay motivated?

It took me a few years to really understand where I got fulfilment from in the work that I did. For me it breaks down to three things, solving complex problems, helping my teams to develop and making a real difference. I now make sure that I do roles that I am passionate about, that are challenging and that give me the opportunity to invest in the people around me. This includes in my career but also through the volunteering roles and networking opportunities that I participate in. If you enjoy something and are fulfilled by it – then the motivation comes quite easily.

Future Progress

What would you say the top 3 skills are needed in order to be successful in your industry?

We are in a world of incredibly fast paced change right now, regardless of industry.  So at the moment, I’d say the ability to deal with ambiguity, the ability to adapt and re-invent and the ability to leverage your network are the most important things. People who are able to respond well to change to take the opportunities that it presents will always be well positioned to advance in their careers.