Interviewee Name: Sarah Speake, Strategic Marketing Director
Company Name: Google UK
Avil Beckford: Tell me a little bit about yourself.
Sarah Speake: I have a significant year this year. This year is my 40th birthday. I live in London, I’m married and I have two small children, I work full-time and I’ve always worked in the technology sector. Currently and for the past 4 ½ years I have worked for Google. I recently started a new job as Strategic Marketing Director for the UK and Ireland, and prior to that I was our Technology Sales Director.
Avil Beckford: How do you integrate your personal and professional life?
Sarah Speake: I try and separate it in so much as I have two different phones for example, so I have a personal and a work mobile. My work mobile does not come on holiday with me. I separate it in terms of my time allotment. I don’t think I separate it in terms of the person that I am, so I very much integrate the two in terms of the people that I socialize with, and choose to spend my time with. I think it’s important that my colleagues and people that report to me see and meet my family and get to see the other Sarah Speake. And I genuinely believe that if you asked my direct reports or boss, my husband, my girlfriends, anybody that knows me, I’m pretty positive that you would get exactly the same description of who I am as a person. So although I separate it in terms of time allocation, I think the two are integrated in terms of the crossover of introducing people to one another.
Avil Beckford: When you have some down time, how do you spend it?
Sarah Speake: It depends on my mood and the time of year to be honest. I actually schedule in time for me, and time for me can be lying in the bath with a candle and glass of wine reading a very good book, and having the bathroom shut so that my kids can’t get in and I genuinely have peace and quiet. Equally, downtime is spending time with my kids, spending time with my husband on our own. So I guess it depends on a number of different influencing factors, but me-time for me is about zoning off from anything at all work-wise, or related to the charity work that I do, and switching off properly.
Avil Beckford: What process do you use to generate great ideas?
Sarah Speake: Two different ones, so if I’m generating great ideas on my own, I lock myself in a room where no one can find me and I scribble on white boards. Here at Google we have huge rooms full of white boards so I’m able to do that and I personally find it very helpful to get things out visually and then work though how they can be delivered or implemented. White board space for me is absolutely critical and having peace and quiet and thinking time, so my chilling time that you asked me about earlier is also when I try to think about things differently and try and come up with ideas that I couldn’t certainly do if I were surrounded by the normal level of noise.
I also think bouncing ideas off other people is a great way of generating fabulous ideas, so brainstorming whether it’s a brainstorm that’s planned, or whether it’s a conversation with a friend, or mentor or whoever it may be, and certainly with other women in my network, I think is a fabulous way of generating great ideas.
I guess there are two different areas when I’m thinking for myself and on my own and the other is far more about being stimulated by being a part of a group of people bouncing ideas off one another.
Avil Beckford: What’s your favourite quotation and why?
Sarah Speake: “Life is not a rehearsal.” I don’t even know where it came from but it’s something that my father quoted quite a lot during my childhood and I think he is absolutely right. But for me it encourages a real seize the moment mentality and encourages one to take calculated risks. Equally, I hope it minimizes the regrets that people may have down the line in that for example on nobody’s tombstone do ever see, “I wished that I’d worked harder.” So “Life is not a rehearsal,” is my favourite.
Avil Beckford: How do you define success?
Sarah Speake: Success for me can mean a number of things. In essence it’s achieving what you’ve set out to accomplish, whether that’s personally or professionally. It may be in keeping with a particular goal in terms of learning a new skill. It ma be in terms of changing your behaviour because of feedback. It may be in my sales role for example over delivering on target. It can be a whole host of things, but for me it’s achieving whatever you set out for yourself, not necessarily what’s been set by other people for you to accomplish.
Avil Beckford: In your opinion what’s the formula for success?
Sarah Speake: In part it’s about maintaining a sense of perspective, but also as I’ve talked about it’s challenging one’s self on a regular basis to take the time to check whether you are on track. I also think that taking time to reflect is really critical for succeeding. And then definitely asking for feedback so that you are aware of other people’s perception of your ability and your progress because I think women in particular are not great at sharing their successes and one of the other brilliant pieces of advice that I was given by a mentor about 10 years ago was, “People aren’t telepathic, they don’t know what a great job you are doing,” and I think women in particular are often guilty of sort of getting their heads down and working terribly hard and expecting people to notice and that’s just not how things work. I think that factually sharing successes, it doesn’t feel like bragging, it’s a core part of being successful because of the associated recognition.
Avil Beckford: What are the steps you took to succeed in your field?
Sarah Speake: I guess three different things: One was networking and I can’t ever play down how important networking is, and in fact my first boss said to me, and I’m sure he regrets it to this day, we were going to a work event in the evening and he said, “You need to get better at networking,” and I was very early in my career in that stage and I networked so well that I ended up headhunted by a competitor firm, so networking I think is critical because it gives one a perspective of how other organizations work, how other job functions work, what other people think, how they operate, and also give you an ability to potentially further your career by introducing yourself to potential mentors, potential employers, and potential friends as well. So I think networking is really key.
I think over delivery without over effort is really important so I worked hard but I think I’ve learned over the years, and particularly after my daughter’s death to work efficiently and effectively rather than slogging over silly work hours. So I think ensuring that you are constantly delivering if not over delivering is important.
Being authentic, which I talked about earlier, but I think that for me having worked in the tech sector for the majority of my career, I have statistically always have been in the minority and therefore tried different ways of behaving in a male dominated sector, none of which worked because they didn’t fit very comfortably, so I think the piece around authenticity is absolutely important in career success because only then it brings in my view proper self-fulfillment.
Avil Beckford: What advice do you have for someone just starting out in your field?
Sarah Speake: I would give them the three areas that I mentioned above, but I would also encourage them to ask as many questions as possible. I think that particularly early in one’s career there is a feeling that you have to be brilliant immediately and learn the ropes quickly and I think that’s unrealistic. So I would encourage people to ask as many questions as possible, and also work out which behaviours one admires and would want to aspire towards, and which skills you see other people possessing that you don’t necessarily have yourself and if you think that’s appropriate to further your own career, then go for it and find someone who can help you acquire those skills.
Avil Beckford: If trusted friends could introduce you to five people that you’ve always wanted to meet, who would you choose? And what would you say to them?
Sarah Speake: I have to say that I haven’t really put any thought into how I would answer this, because I kind of went off track in thinking about it and it kind of stems back to being in a privileged position of working for an organization like Google, in that many of the people who I have wanted to meet, I have met as a result of being a Google employee. For example, here in the UK there is a famous technology presenter who presented a TV programme called Tomorrow’s World in the 70s and 80s. It was the first technology and science programme that I was ever exposed to as a child, and the woman who presented that is a lady called Maggie Philbin who is now doing a lot of work in encouraging more girls in school level and further down the line to become involved in science and technology courses and subsequent careers. So I’ve been very lucky in being able to meet people like her, and actually asked her the questions I would have wanted to ask, which are questions she couldn’t answer in full like for example, “How do we get women and girls involved in and excited by the field of technology,” which is something that I feel very passionately about. So what came out of that is a joint work project which is really exciting, and she is one very good example.
Equally hearing people like Archbishop Tutu speak live at one of our events has been absolutely inspirational, so in that sense there aren’t five specific people that I would pinpoint at this stage. It’s actually made me look back retrospectively and feel very privileged as I said to have met some of the people that I’ve wanted to meet in person.
Avil Beckford: Which one book had a profound impact on your life? What was it about this book that impacted you so deeply?
Sarah Speake: This might be an odd answer, but it’s actually the book I wrote myself and it’s called Where Did I Go Wrong? and it is the book I wrote after my daughter died. It’s a very harrowing story and is an autobiographical account of what happened to me. And the reason I think it’s the book that had the most profound effect on my life is it was very cathartic to write, and as I reread it over the years it gives me a sense of how I continue to change, and how I continue to grow as somebody at the time of writing was in a very deep, dark place and very grief stricken. So I have been influenced by many books over the years but I think the one that has probably influenced me and had the most impact was the one I wrote myself because of the impact it had on me in terms of my own recovery if you like.
Avil Beckford: What excites you about life?
Sarah Speake: A whole hot of stuff excites me about life. I love being at the top of a mountain in glorious blue sky and skiing down it at high speed surrounded by beautiful scenery. I love being a mother, I love taking risks, calculated risks within the workplace possibly less so outside work, I love spending time with my favourite people, I love very good food and wine, so in some ways I’m very easily excited and I take great pleasure in being alive actually because I nearly wasn’t a few years ago.
Avil Beckford: How do you nurture your soul?
Sarah Speake: That’s about me-time again. And that’s usually about me-time in a very different place geographically, so you asked the question about books earlier and things that have had a profound impact, for me. The best way of nurturing my soul is being in a very isolated place, ideally on a beach in very hot weather with a very good book and I can’t think of anything better than that.
Avil Beckford: If you had a personal genie and she gave you one wish, what would you wish for?
Sarah Speake: To be healthy for the rest of my life and my children’s.
Avil Beckford: Complete the following, I’m happy when…
Sarah Speake: The people around me are really happy.
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