Leaders with Ambition - Sadie Baron

Leaders with Ambition - Sadie Baron

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Sadie Baron, Chief Marketing Officer at Reed Smith.

When all is said and done, the basis of any successful career is believing in ourselves. That’s the message shared by Sadie Baron, Chief Marketing Officer at Reed Smith, who shares her fascinating journey on this episode of Leaders With Ambition. Without a university degree, she has climbed through the ranks of professional services firms due to her relentless work ethic, intuitive communication style and an array of savvy management practices.

Host Nicky Acuna Ocana elicits Sadie’s thoughts on everything from the difference between mentoring and coaching to strategies for combatting Imposter Syndrome. The conversation also covers the personal toll taken by the pandemic and how Sadie’s willingness to be vulnerable inspired solidarity and gratitude among her team.

You’ll learn about Sadie’s approach to work-life balance – which includes embracing the fact that there won’t always be equilibrium. It’s about choices, she says, and accepting inevitable consequences with grace and a sense of humour. Although her career took time away from some of her two children’s activities, she recognises that she has given her son and daughter an enduring and inspiring example of the power of growth, curiosity and engagement.

In her role both as a Chief Marketing Officer and board member at the Legal Marketing Association, Sadie motivates others through her emphasis on authentic communication and candour with kindness. She has also developed a well-articulated set of management principles that include:

  • Assume the best of others.

  • Refrain from micromanaging.

  • Exercise values of equality and fairness.

  • See each person as real and individual – embracing diversity in its many facets.

  • Encourage people to bring their most authentic selves to work.

  • Never believe the first version of anything. There are always shades of grey.

  • Share feedback on an ongoing basis.

  • Remember: It’s never personal. It’s a job!

​In wrapping up the episode, Sadie reflects on her career’s many highlights, as well as challenges. She encourages a growth mindset to keep things fresh (up to and including a change of job venue) and emphasises the critical importance of seeking help from mentors and coaches. The networks we cultivate in many ways determine the quality of our professional journeys. “I’m a girl from Norfolk with no degree who looks after a $1.4 billion+ global law firm with a team of 100+ around the world,” says Sadie, whose future is clearly boundless!

​​Listen to the podcast here​

Key takeaways:

​Starting Out

Sadie deferred university to start out as an apprentice, working in a variety of marketing-related jobs at Norwich Union Society (today known as Aviva) – a fantastic introduction and learning opportunity that quickly turned into permanent employment.

Events planning quickly emerged as one of Sadie’s core competencies – and gifts! After a stint at home with two young children, Sadie came to the realisation that she wanted to return to professional pursuits, at which point she went to work at Eversheds.

How she did it

For many years Sadie managed a four-hour commute to London through discipline and a non-negotiable commitment to her schedule. Plus one other firm rule: Work was allowed in the morning but the trip home was decompression time. Thanks to a nudge, Sadie eventually stepped into a high-profile role as Head of Marketing at Eversheds before moving on at the 14-year mark to a role at PWC.

To consider

If you’re feeling uninspired or progressively less effective, a move to a new job may be in order. Sadie found her move into forensics re-energising – despite the steep learning curve. It was the perfect stepping stone before her ultimate transition to Reed Smith.

Taking over as Director of BD & Marketing and, in time, as Chief Marketing Officer at Reed Smith has been a “pinch myself” experience for Sadie, who is helping to steer a $1.4 billion+ global law firm with a team of 100+ worldwide.

How she did It: Hard work, leveraging a robust network, as well as a bit of good timing and luck!

About communication

Sadie has over the years honed her “Barometer of Personality,” which helps her gauge and accommodate intensity levels. Curiosity is another key ingredient for fruitful collaboration. Sadie believes the reason that she has scaled the heights to CMO is that she stayed open throughout her career to learning a bit of everything, i.e. anything that came her way. It’s the quickest way to locate strengths and shed jobs you don’t excel at or enjoy.

Sadie loves the apprenticeship route that she has taken and doesn’t regret missing university. That said, her son’s recent experience earning a liberal arts degree had merits of its own that she appreciates.

The calibre of people has been a primary driver in Sadie’s passion for professional services workplace environments.

Life experience as teacher

Sadie believes that “nobody comes to work to do a bad job.” She starts from that premise and stays flexible in adapting jobs to her team members’ skill sets and vice versa.

Sadie's core management principals:

  • Assume the best and start with trust.

  • Refrain from micromanaging.

  • Exercise values of equality and fairness.

  • See the real person – embrace diversity in its many facets.

  • Encourage people to bring their most authentic selves to work.

  • Never believe the first version of anything. There are always shades of grey.

  • Share feedback on an ongoing basis.

  • Remember: It’s never personal. It’s a job!

Giving feedback

There is an art to reaching others with tips and observations. It’s important to:

  • Bring facts.

  • Be kind and respectful.

  • Provide a safe environment.

  • Always be face-to-face (even if only virtually).

  • Welcome the receiving party’s views and feedback.

  • Highlight opportunities to change and improve.

Sadie’s advice for aspiring leaders

  • Head down! Do the work!

  • Own your own career 100% (i.e. Don’t expect others to run it for you).

  • Put in the time that demonstrates a commitment to excellence.

  • Cultivate your network.

About mentoring

Sadie believes that coaching should be mandatory. It has played a pivotal role in growing her career to the current day. Coaching, mentoring and networking are a holy trinity that will benefit anyone navigating their career.

The difference between coaching and mentoring

Coaching can be blunt and uncomfortable. You’re looking hard in the mirror. Mentoring is a supportive, advisory role based on sharing wins and failures. Sadie has taken a high-profile role at the Legal Marketing Association, focused especially on mentoring and a UK membership growth.

Work-life balance

It’s about making choices and understanding that there will be consequences. Sadie acknowledges sacrifices (missed events) but also huge upside benefits (modelling engagement and ambition for her children).

The pandemic took a significant toll. Sadie (and others in senior management) felt responsible for the welfare of her whole team. Being vulnerable and transparent about it enabled employees to feel connected and seek support.

Personal career highlights

  • Rebranding of Norwich Union’s logo.

  • Implementing a new CRM system at Eversheds.

  • Rebranding Reed Smith as a purpose-led brand.

  • Hiring and nurturing team members who have gone on to great things.

  • Being asked to take over as CMO at Reed Smith.

Career challenges

  • Keeping her mojo by staying fresh (even if it means moving jobs).

  • Creating responsive, agile functions.

  • Knowing when to pivot to maintain optimal engagement.

  • Learning when and how to use personality to the greatest effect.

  • Learning to listen, even when it’s hard!

  • Maintaining the work-life balance.

  • Learning to listen has been a focus throughout Sadie’s career – something she has lately better understood through her training (and the gratifying interactions she has had) as an Appropriate Adult.

Words of wisdom

  • If you don’t believe in yourself, then you can’t expect anyone else to.

  • Claim your confidence, even in the face of Imposter Syndrome.

  • Don’t be afraid to ask for advice.

  • Embrace feedback, collegial relationships and lifelong learning. They will stand you in good stead!

Key quotes

  • ​“I had no errs or graces. I did whatever needed to be done on the job and learnt on the job.”

  • “To be honest, I had lost a bit of my mojo towards the end of my time at Eversheds and I was a little bit broken. And I’d definitely lost that sparkle.”

  • “I’m a girl from Norfolk with no degree who looks after a $1.4 billion+ global law firm with a team of 100+ around the world.”

  • "I’ve always just wanted to really understand why I’m doing something and how it fits into the picture. And curiosity drove that willingness to be open.”

  • “Learning is really important. Working out the right source of learning – whether a traditional degree course, an apprenticeship, foundational or whatever – I strongly encourage people to (pursue education).”

  • “I operate on a position of trust. I trust people to do what they say they’re going to do. I’m not going to micromanage them while they do it.”

  • “If you empower and trust in people it brings out the best in them.”

  • “I genuinely love people being their most authentic selves. I learnt a long time ago that the minute I’m not authentic Sadie I’m stuck. I can’t be something that I’m not.”

  • “I will help anybody try to do what they want to do. But I’m not your mum. I’m not your work mum.”

  • “I think there’s a bit of stigma; that people have somehow thought that coaching meant that you were failing. I actually don’t see that at all. I think coaching, mentoring and networking are three really powerful things you should have in your toolkit. If you can get them, embrace them!”

  • “It’s really important to be honest and show vulnerability.”

  • “I chose to tell the team that I was struggling and what came back to me was mind-blowing. I probably had 20 or 30 of them reach out and thank me for being open and showing my vulnerability.”

  • “I get my greatest kick when I see the team doing something phenomenal and I see a Partner or – better still a client – send a piece of feedback saying, ‘This is amazing.’ You can’t bottle that stuff!”

  • “Embrace feedback. All it will do is make you more aware. It will make you able to believe more and make you a greater success.” ​

About Sadie:

Sadie Baron's mission as Reed Smith's Chief Marketing Officer is to tell the world the Reed Smith story as it’s a story she is very proud to be part of. Using her 20 years' experience in marketing to develop a vision for her function that is light years ahead of the competition, she empowers her team to make a difference together.

About Nicky:

Nicky Acuna Ocana has led high performing recruitment teams for over 20 years. As the Regional Managing Director of Ambition UK, Europe and USA she leads a team of highly-skilled recruitment consultants who are experts in their niche specialist areas across Business Services for a range of Professional Services firms.

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