Jo Redman joined SACO in 2004 as Marketing Director, working with the owners to grow the business. There were around 15 members of staff and the annual turnover was 3.5 million. Today SACO has a payroll of nearly 200 team members and their turnover in 2013/14 was 23 million.
How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
I have been privileged to lead a very full and rewarding life in and out of work - that said it has not been without its challenges - some of which I would never wished to have experienced. But if I stop and look back and reflect on Jo Redman today v Jo Redman 20/30 years ago - I can see that I take a more measured approach to leadership, whilst hopefully still retaining an energetic, upbeat outlook. This more balanced approach - rather than pure enthusiasm and zeal I like to think is more infectious in terms of engaging and bringing people on the journey. I have also learnt that a more reflective stance is very valuable at times and to really listen to people - you have two ears and one mouth - use them in that proportion!
How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure at SACO?
Prior to working at SACO, I worked for significantly bigger companies such as Orange (now EE) and BT. Both were fantastic organisations to work with in terms of learning how big companies run and having exposure to subject matter experts in many commercial areas - such as HR, Training, Communication, Project Management, Technical etc. Joining a smaller business such as SACO - I have been able to bring some of the best learning's and as a generalist manager (which is what I was when I first joined SACO) able to translate them into practical, useful and creative concepts that have helped SACO to grow and become the business it is today.
What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at SACO?
My very first challenge was perhaps the hardest "we would like you to join SACO and help grow the business - but please don't change the culture". A tall order and it has remained a constant but fascinating challenge over the past ten years. We believe that a vital part of SACO's success is it "family feel" and values based culture - so important is this approach to our business that I have recently enjoyed working collaboratively with a huge number of the SACO team to confirm and communicate our values as a business. These values provide the daily framework for how all SACO people make decisions and constantly strive to do the right thing and have provided us with the platform for our continued growth.
Lots and lots of highlights - some of them are:
• SACO winning The Serviced Apartment Company of the year at the Buying Business Travel Awards earlier this year
• Being recognised as Best Company to Work for seven years running by "Best Companies" in conjunction with the Sunday Times
• Bringing all the SACO team together once a year for our annual communications event and recognising and celebrating teams and individuals achievements
• The feedback that many of our customers and guests provide on platforms such as Trip Advisor, Booking.com and via our own customer survey platforms
What advice can you offer to women who want a career in sales and marketing?
Be clear it's what you really want to do - sounds obvious but both disciplines require focus, energy and resilience. Sales in particular is a highly visible role in any business - if the numbers aren't good - the first place the finger tends to be pointed is at that team and the in particular at the leader. You have to be incredibly articulate and accountable to explain why the numbers aren't stacking up. You also need to be very resilient in terms of winning new business - lucrative deals rarely happen overnight - you've got to be in for the long game and take an emotionally intelligent approach to keeping in touch with the prospective client.
Marketing also requires a steel backbone approach at times - everyman and his dog will have a view on design, preferred colours and content. Smile and take all the feedback on board! Best bet is to absolutely make sure the brief is clear at the start so that you can gently remind those who choose to change their minds at a later stage. You have to have a real passion for story telling if you are going to succeed in marketing - whilst there are many aspects to the role - at the core your job is "to tell the story" in the most appropriate way to the right audience. Sounds simple - and at times it is, some marketers try to overcomplicate things.
How do you maintain a work/life balance?
A great question and I have to be honest and say that I go through phases of maintaining a better approach at times than others. My top tips (when they work) are:
• I rarely drive when away on business, I find time on the train to catch up on business reading and work on detailed pieces of work very valuable.
• I walk to and from work (about two miles each way) - I find this space really helps to really clear my head and also gives me space to come with some great ideas for work.
• I used to quite often work at weekends from home - I have become much more disciplined at not doing this and concentrating on family and friends instead. Mind you it doesn't stop me thinking about SACO a lot!
• My I Phone - I have become its number one fan - all my emails and calendars in one place and I use the notes function to jot down all my thoughts and things to do - so that I don't spend time fretting that I may forget things. I would be lost without it
What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
I have been very lucky to have not really experienced any issues from this point of view in my working career - at times my total lack of interest in sport in any shape or format has prevented me from being able to join in social chit chat - which can prove very valuable when you are networking and building up relationships to win new business. My football knowledge is marginally better these days, as my partner is a full on Fulham supporter - some of his football ramblings seem to be filtering into my consciousness!
I also think that women who use the "I don't do technology" card do themselves no favours at all. I have often mentored female team members to say " wake up - technology is the now and the future - learn how to use whatever is at your disposal - love it or hate it - it's hear to stay and that includes social media." Opt out in your personal life if you wish to do so - but in the workplace - get with it!
How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
Mentorship occurs in both a planned and spontaneous manner. When I worked for EE I was lucky enough to be given a business mentor - who really helped me understand my strengths and development areas as a leader. But I would have to say that it's the impromptu mentorship moments that have made the most difference - which has involved me really listening to people I work with - peers, team members and the wider team , and taking on board feedback when it's given - particularly change feedback. I was given this advice once "when you are given change feedback, treat it like an unwanted Christmas Present, politely say thank you and then put it away till you are ready to get it out and decide what you want to do with it".
What other female leaders do you admire and why?
Lesley Freed the CEO and founder of SACO - inspirational in terms of starting a business from nothing and building it up to what it is today.
Anita Roddick for her vision for developing a main stream ethical beauty business
Karen Brady - now there is a business leader who knows a lot about football and been incredibly successful!
What do you want SACO to accomplish in the next year?
We have ambitious plan to push ourselves ahead of our competitors in terms of our digital footprint and making our brand very distinctive and memorable via our people. I am leading on both these projects and if we deliver on both - SACO will be very well placed to not only lead in the serviced apartment industry but achieve recognition in wider circles for its innovative approach to staff engagement, brand and all things digital.