13 Career Lessons From This Female Powerhouse

13 Career Lessons From This Female Powerhouse

It might not be as rock'n'roll as running a fashion brand, but there are plenty of women out there doing impressive things. The youngest and only female chief executive of a London broker, Sam Smith has transformed finnCap into one of the leading and fastest-growing independent brokers in the city – masterminding its debut on the London Stock Exchange junior market in 2018. Here she tells us some of the lessons she’s learnt throughout her illustrious career…

Getting a job when you’re young will help prepare you for the world of work. I grew up in a small town called Selsey in West Sussex and studied economics and accounting at Bristol. But I’ve always worked since my mid-teens – starting out by serving breakfast at the Tesco canteen to working in my grandparents’ bakery running the lunch service. In reality, it was these experiences which were far more helpful in preparing me for work, rather than university. 

Giving a great interview requires a lot of preparation. Try to figure out some interesting and insightful questions that will help you stand out, too. When you’re in the room, build rapport with the interviewers and learn about the importance body language – first impressions really are very important.

Building a good business is a marathon, not a sprint. Having started my career in finance at private client broker JM Finn where I set up a corporate finance team, in 2007 I led a partial buy-out of that division which formed finnCap and became the CEO. Three years later, when we became the number one broker on AIM, we completed the buyout of the rest of JM Finn’s stake, going on to pursue an IPO on London’s AIM market in 2018 by merging with M&A firm Cavendish Corporate Finance

Motivation comes from loving what you do and feeling valued. It’s why developing a culture that’s flexible, supportive and nurtures talent is crucial. Regardless of where people sit within the company, everyone has helped to transform finnCap into a firm that, in 2007, was made up of just 10% women. Today, 40% women make up our workforce. To foster this kind of progress you really have to believe in your gut and don’t give up. 

Setbacks are inevitable – it’s how you deal with them that counts. Be open and honest and take ownership of your mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes, but it is what you do about them and how you move on that is important. All setbacks teach you something about yourself and help you to improve. If you can, try to take a positive from every negative.

Commitment, hard work and resilience are the main drivers of success. Networking also allows you to get as many different views as possible to help work out what you think is the right thing. Sometimes the smallest piece of advice can make the biggest difference.

Treat people like you want to be treated. Being the bigger person can be extremely hard in some scenarios at work, but even when you feel hard done by, kindness and compassion will come back to you later. It’s much more satisfactory to prove a point through a calm, rational approach. It’s also not worth falling out with anyone – you never know when they’ll reappear. As for new joiners? Just get stuck in and make the effort to get to know the team and the wider organisation. Being friendly really does work wonders.

Motivation comes from loving what you do and feeling valued. It’s why developing a culture that’s flexible, supportive and nurtures talent is crucial.

Being a woman at work has its pros and cons. Speaking from my own experience, in some ways it has been harder, but in other ways it has been easier being one of just a few females in the office. Even so, I’ve always had the determination and mindset to get where I wanted to go and that has been driven by having a purpose – to help ambitious companies and to fuel ambition in others. Having a purpose and doing what you love makes getting through the hurdles much easier. 

Speak up, be calm, be persistent and prove your point. And keep proving it until someone listens. Remember that, as women, we have the power to do things differently. When I first became CEO, I felt I needed to do things in the same way as my predecessors and other male CEOs in the role. I soon realised I could do things differently, although I’m sure I would have had more confidence about doing so if there had been more female role models when I first started out.

When asking for a promotion, stick to the facts. Be calm, ask what is required to get to the next level so you can use it in the conversation to plan the next stage of your career. In this way, both sides understand what’s needed. If it applies, having an early conversation about buy-in is hugely important, too.

At work, it’s important to look professional but still be you. In reality, it’s much more important to be able to listen and be self-aware, both of which have allowed me to improve and grow personally – not to mention push myself out of my comfort zone.

If you’re a working mum, then the guilt will always be real. I have a seven-year-old daughter and I’m a single mum. It takes time to find your own – what I call ‘guilt threshold’ – of what you are prepared to sacrifice in your life but a good balance for me is starting work from home so I’m able to do the school run. I drop my daughter off each day and together we manage my job around what works for us. I love what I do, so I work a lot, but I enjoy it and it’s an important part of my life. I also get as much help as I can with the house and childcare to help me manage things better. I’m also extremely good at planning in advance – you have to be super organised if you want to enjoy a good work/life balance.

Speak out more, believe in yourself and trust your gut. These would be the three things I’d tell my younger self. Also, know that magic only happens outside of your comfort zone, so do something every year that pushes you. But most importantly – be yourself and be as confident as you can.


Visit finnCap.com and follow @SamSmithfinnCap on Twitter

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