Sally Jones Evans, newly appointed NED at The Principality Building Society and former COO at Lloyd’s, recently came along to speak to Glass Lift members at an evening event. We were all inspired by her professional approach and enthusiasm about her successful career. Forgoing the expected University route she started in banking at the age of 18 and soon established herself as a one to watch as she enjoyed taking on all the many challenges handed to her.
One of Sally’s stories was about a time when she was really keen to take on a new role and the job was given to a colleague. Only when the successful candidate was announced did Sally realise she had not told anyone it was her dream job! She learned that it’s important to be open about your career aspirations and in fact soon after she secured the role she wanted most. She advised our Glass Lift members to always make it known what you want from your career.
We asked Sally a few more questions after the event, here’s what she said:
What’s your current role?
I am currently building a portfolio career. I am a Non Executive Director (NED) on the Board of the Principality Building Society, I sit on an advisory panel to Welsh Government, I am a NED for Welsh Athletics and Chair and Trustee of Station Hill Baptist Church. I also do occasional freelance advisory work and public speaking.
Describe your career to date and how you got there?
I spent almost 30 years working in retail banking and general insurance and was privileged to work my way up from junior branch roles to senior executive level. I had really broad experience on the way and worked in almost every division of the bank. This breadth and depth of early experience was invaluable later in my career, and has also given me a good grounding for Board work now.
What have been the highlights of your career?
I loved running my own business units as Managing Director and my most satisfying period was the 4 years I spent building and growing Telephone and Internet Banking. I led it through major transformational change including shaping its strategy, aligning all its people and objectives, implementing new technology, and improving financial performance.
Have there been any specific difficulties you as a woman have had to overcome during your career?
I’ve never faced any direct discrimination, but I have needed to be very resilient in a male dominated world. For many years it was common for me to be the lone female on courses or in meetings. I had to make the effort to integrate myself into the conversations and socialising that is part of the culture of an organisation. Sometimes it has been helpful though – I was visible and memorable to senior leaders I came into contact with!
With hindsight are there any things you would have done differently in your career?
I’m always learning lessons, so of course I could look back and think ‘I wish I’d realised that earlier’. Like the importance of building a network before you need it, or being savvy about the occasional terrorists you come across pursuing their own agendas. But overall I’ve loved the variety, have worked with some amazing people, and have very few regrets.
What in your mind defines a successful leader?
I’m strongly influenced by the concept of servant leadership; that leaders need to serve their organisations, their customers and their teams. This doesn’t mean being meek and subservient – many people like to follow strong and clear leaders who are prepared to stand for something and be visible – but it does mean you’ve got to be clear about your values and why you are doing it, and make sure that you invest time to bring everyone along with you and focus on the right outcomes.
What as a leader is the best advice you have ever received?
To be yourself, and not try and be someone else or something you have read in a textbook. You can still try and hone your leadership skills; I have tried to focus on being my best self as often as possible, and have tried to be a more conscious and capable leader.
Have you had any role models/sponsors/mentors that have helped in shaping your career?
I’m an avid people watcher, so I would say I’ve learned from every boss I’ve ever worked for (some good things to emulate and some bad things to avoid!) and lots of colleagues too. In my early career I was blessed with a couple of great sponsors (although I never recognised it as that at the time), and as I’ve got into more senior positions I have really valued some wise mentors as sounding boards.
What would your advice be to other talented women who are aspiring to take on senior leadership roles?
Go for it! What’s the worst that can happen? The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.
THANK YOU Sally for your wise words we wish you every success with your new portfolio career and in particular your board role with the Principality Building Society.