THE BLOG
10/14/2014 08:08 am ET Updated Dec 14, 2014

Women in Business: Claire Davenport Managing Director, VoucherCodes.co.uk

As Managing Director of VoucherCodes.co.uk, the UK's largest voucher website, Claire is responsible for driving the strategy and growth of the online, mobile and in-store offerings for the site.

Claire joined VoucherCodes.co.uk in January 2014 from eLearning start-up FutureLearn, where she acted as Commercial, Marketing and International Director for the organisation's global launch. During her 20 year professional career, Claire has held a number of leadership roles including Chief Commercial Officer at Bigpoint, Chief of Staff at Skype and Head of Strategy for RTL Group, Europe's largest broadcasting company. Prior to entering the world of corporate management, Claire worked as investment banker for Goldman Sachs and J.P. Morgan.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
During the 20 years of my professional career I've been extremely lucky to work with a wide variety of senior leaders and CEOs from whom I've learnt a lot. As my career's evolved I've tried to adopt and adapt the leadership techniques that have most inspired me and to avoid those that have been less effective.

I've also been fortunate to work for a number of companies, both big and small, which has given me a range of operational viewpoints: From JPMorgan Chase, one of the biggest investment banks in the world, where professionalism and process were key, to start-ups with fewer than 10 people where I needed to execute quickly and be prepared to change direction often as the business and market evolved. The consistent lesson I've taken away from every job is how important it is to have good people with great attitudes in business with you and how important it is for leaders to provide a vision or goals that will inspire the organization to achieve.

As far as my personal life goes, my parents were extremely egalitarian and supportive, which gave me the self-esteem, confidence and reassurance to aim for success. Today I'm lucky to be married to someone who is empathetic which means I get another point of view and perspective on things, tough as it may be to hear sometimes (it also helps that he has professional management development experience).

My children have also played a big part in shaping the leader that I am today. They have certainly made me kinder and more patient. They've helped me to better understand that people are very different in their drives, motivations, temperament and empathy. In a nutshell: my children have helped cement that when it comes to getting best out of people and discovering what motivates them, no two people are the same - everyone has different drives.

All these things have taught me to try to communicate the bigger picture and priorities but create an environment where people can execute quickly, to take time to hire well, create opportunities for everyone to develop and celebrate successes big and small - I believe that's what an effective leader needs to do well.

How has your previous employment experience aided your position at VoucherCodes.co.uk?
I like to think that my varied experience across finance, strategy, marketing and operational roles all stand me in good stead - helping me understand how the different teams across the organization are contributing. But to answer your question more specifically: VoucherCodes.co.uk is in the process of transitioning from a founder-led start-up company to a mid-sized organization, a process I've been involved with at other companies twice before. The change relies on empowering the management team to make decisions that will take the company into its next phase of development and establishing an operating rhythm that supports this. I feel in a good position to guide this process and add some new thoughts and ideas to the mix. Fortunately I'm working with a great team.

I've always worked for companies that are challenging industry status quo with digital developments so it's nice to feel at home in a fast-paced, changing market environment. As part of our growth at VoucherCodes.co.uk we're introducing new features and potentially market-altering technologies, so my previous experience hopefully helps here.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at VoucherCodes.co.uk?
The biggest highlight is that I have a team of talented, passionate people who work together incredibly well.

The energy in the office is always high; everyone is great at execution and takes real pride in what they do. Importantly everyone is completely engaged with the brand and the product - which makes my life far more interesting as everyone has ideas on the strategy and direction of the business; this helps facilitate some great discussion and thinking.

It's also been a big highlight coming to a place where company culture holds such importance. The company has evolved to maintain that 'start-up' feel which means everyone is supportive of one another and will join in when celebrating someone's achievements regardless of team and position. This loyalty is evident in the team's willingness to get involved with company events, whether they're helping to load a van for a trade show, working the room at one of our blogger parties, playing rounders or cycling from London to Paris for charity - as more than 30 of the team did in September. We do our bit by ensuring the staff are looked after with free lunches, regular chances to let their hair down and a great programme of rewards.

As far as challenges go, the transition from a founder-led start-up company to a mid-sized organisation is the biggest. Particularly, by empowering the next layer of managers to independently make decisions and ensuring future business leaders are nurtured. This of course is in addition to introducing agile product development, keeping ahead in a competitive market and adapting to being part of a public company for the first time.

What advice can you offer women who are seeking a career similar to yours?
I'd offer them the same advice as I would offer men seeking a career similar to mine: Go for an area where things are likely to move fast - this leads to opportunities to gain great experience. I was extremely lucky to be around at the time when digital was disrupting each of the industries I've worked in.

If you have good ideas, speak up. Be confident and always look to gain transferable skills. It's better to broaden your skills range by taking on new challenges than to get more specific and risk becoming pigeon-holed. It can really limit your options in the future.

And on a personal note, choose a partner who genuinely supports your career and life ambitions.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
I haven't always. There was a time where I considered a year out to do my MBA a chance to relax more! As a single woman in my 20s, I worked 24/7 and was either at my desk or on the road. I lived on company canteen food or Ryvita and Marmite which was all I had in my cupboard with no time to shop.

Now, though, I have a family life too and there's no question that developments in broadband and technology help. It means I don't need to be in the office to get the work done, which has made it possible to raise my children in the countryside while working in London.

I enjoy my commute and make the most of it. The house is two minutes' walk from the train station and I always get a seat. That means I can do a good hour of work, emails and thinking each way to and from the office.

I've learnt that I don't need to check my emails over the weekend, though it took me 10 years after leaving banking to learn that. Upon joining VoucherCodes.co.uk, my references gave me some very valuable feedback. They said they'd like to see me stop sending emails at weekend because it made my colleagues feel like they needed to check emails. For all those years I never realised; I created that culture in my team. I've since stopped sending emails during weekends. While I might still write them, I won't hit send until Monday morning.

Getting home at a reasonable hour is important. I try to leave the office early enough to arrive home by 8pm which gives me an hour or so before the children go to sleep. I feel it's important for parents to hear about their children's days, and to read to them.

Exercise is also key. I have a treadmill at home, and I've learnt that if I don't exercise I don't sleep well and I get stressed.

I've learnt to be kind to myself too. If I didn't see my kids last night, and I am running late tonight, then I'll get take a taxi to the station to make sure I catch the right train to be home on time.

And last but certainly not least: I'm very lucky to have a husband who is extremely supportive of my career. Not only was he prepared to give up his own career to look after our children, he also looks out for me and my stress levels, and ensures I spend time with the kids or go for a run.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
Whoever takes on the primary responsibility for childcare in a partnership can find their career options limited while their children are young. While it's not my own experience, it's a fact that this is the mother in most cases. Thus I'm sure it's no coincidence that many successful senior career women I know either have no children or, if they do have children, they often have a partner who works from home, works part time or stays at home with the kids. I see more companies trying to be flexible now than 20 years ago - and technology helps by allowing remote working - but there's it's still an issue in too many roles.

The second issue is the loss of confidence that primary carers, often women, experience when returning to the workforce after raising a family. As a hobby, I help people update their CVs and I continue to be surprised at how people returning to the workforce discount their early experience and then play down the experience of raising a child. The reality is they've honed their soft skills like patience and empathy while they've been at home. Another fear is that they won't be able to catch up with the changes in technology. Yes, it might be a challenge for a few weeks, but it's no reason to handicap your whole career.

The third issue is casual sexism. Every woman I know has stories about things that have been said by people they wouldn't have thought of as sexist, but who - perhaps subconsciously even - have pre-formed ideas about a woman's role in society.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
I haven't really had any formal mentoring. However, I do have people - friends in leadership roles or former bosses of mine - who I can go to when I am facing a dilemma or difficult situation and talk things through. They're honest but they also have my best interests at heart.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
The first is Alex Mahon, CEO of Shine (News Corp's production company) because she is bright and energetic and a goes straight to the issue. She is clearly a great person to have leading a business, but I admire her because she makes time for people - friends, colleagues, team members. She takes interest, remembers, gives advice and asks good questions, even with a large company to run, four children, and a busy travel schedule.

Dawn Airey, MD of Yahoo Europe, is the second. She has an incredible ability to make everyone feel special. By making time and listening she makes people feel interesting, clever and confident in their abilities. People I've met who work for her would follow her to the ends of the earth.

What do you want VoucherCodes.co.uk to accomplish in the next year?
To continue growing strongly by retaining our leadership in the voucher space - with the best codes, content and partnerships, and by making our offering even more personalised, relevant and useful. We need to ensure VoucherCodes.co.uk leads the way in mobile and expand into new areas (watch this space). We also need to continue bridging the transition from a start-up to a mid-sized company with a publicly listed parent.