Sally Clark is a portfolio Non-Executive Director at Bupa, Citigroup, Metro Bank and ACIN.
She has an extensive career in the banking and finance sector, leading up to her final executive position of Chief Internal Auditor (CIA) of Barclays from 2014-2020.
A qualified Executive coach, Sally also works with senior leaders as a coach and mentor to improve and develop leadership performance.
Tell us how you got to where you are today
I had a very normal childhood. Two parents and two sisters growing up in Harpenden, Hertfordshire. I attended a comprehensive school and was the first to go to university from my family. I studied English literature. So it's fair to say I didn't follow the typical route that people might imagine for a Head of Internal audit in a major bank.
I think the first time that I saw an opportunity for something different was when I answered an ad for graduates wanting roles with international travel. The role in question was in internal audit at Chase Manhattan Bank and whilst it was a direction I hadn't considered up to that point, I decided I was going to take the leap. This was probably the first "seize the moment" opportunity I had presented to me, and I was very lucky to have friends and family around me who urged me to apply for and take the job - support networks are so important.
I have to say I never really looked back. This career move completely suited my natural curiosity, my big picture thinking and my enjoyment of working in a team. In Internal Audit, you take a helicopter view of how well the company you work in manages their risks and how well the controls that they have put in place work. Being able to combine a firm independent stance with building good trusted relationships played to my strengths. Being able to motivate, manage and then lead others has contributed to my progress.
Subsequent job moves happened into RBS and then into Barclays through the reputation I had established and the relationships I had worked hard to build. Twenty nine years later, and having worked hard on my technical skills and my leadership and coaching skills over the years, gaining an MBA and a Diploma in Coaching, and having gradually formed a strong sense of who I was as a leader, after some really commitment to getting myself ready through being coached and mentored, I became the Head of Audit at Barclays.
I spent the next 5 years in a role that I loved, able to innovate and change how we worked, able to influence the top of the firm (Board and ExCo) around risk and control and able to inspire and motivate an amazing group of people to deliver the audit work to the highest standards.
At the end of 2019, I knew it was time for a change and time to move on. So, I took a gap year and travelled the coastline of Spain and Portugal in a camper van with my husband. This taught me how to step back and get perspective on what I had achieved and on what kind of a retirement I wanted. And I concluded, I wasn't quite ready to stop doing what I had enjoyed in my career to that point.
So, since the beginning of 2020, I have been combining board roles with advisory work and executive coaching, helping other leaders to believe in their ability as leaders and to do the stepping up that I had done in my career. I love the mix of work that this brings and the fact that I can be involved in things I am passionate about.
What keeps you up at night?
Not a lot any more, if I am honest. But it was a long road to get here. In the past, I had moments of high stress and was really fortunate that I recognised it immediately, went straight to the doctor and was off work for only a month. My doctor told me that many people he sees with the same issues left it a lot longer before seeking help and therefore needed much more time to recuperate. This was a good wake up call and reminder that self-care, rest, mental and physical good health are all vital to maintaining your equilibrium in your personal and professional life. Getting a proper night's sleep is one of the most important things that you can do for your health and so I now ensure I to do everything I can to maintain this.
How do you define being a leader?
My overriding view of leadership is that a great leader's main role is to create an environment where other people can thrive. And if you aren't explicitly investing your time in doing this, then you aren't managing your time correctly. A leader creates a vision and purpose for the team with clear goals and a clear path to achieve them - this creates the environment that other people want to be part of.
A leader hires great people who can deliver the work of the team much better than they can. Then they trust them to get on with it with periodic check ins to confirm the trust is well placed. Giving the team as much autonomy as you can allows real motivation of people to happen. A great leader nurtures the team, giving them the opportunities to develop and become skilled at what they need to do.
What will you never compromise on?
I think the key thing I have really strong principles about is that other people don't damage the people they work with and who work for them. This has always been a key mantra for me and my team have always known that this is sacrosanct. So treat people with kindness and with respect at all times. I used to say to my team that it is inconceivable to me that one might walk out of the house and kiss goodbye to those you live with and then walk in to the office and treat your colleagues with any less care and respect.
If you could offer your younger self one bit of advice, what would it be?
Go For It! I think my younger self was rather more timid than I am today and would have worried about whether she could really do bigger, more exciting things. In hindsight, I can see that I put too much expectation on being perfect and ruled myself out of great opportunities because I just didn't believe that I was good enough for them.
It is so important that we understand what makes us special and the value that we bring to the places we work for. Don't try to tick every box on a wish list of attributes but instead know that you are probably better than you think and therefore should make the most of the opportunities that come your way.