Leaders with Ambition - Sue Staunton

Leaders with Ambition - Sue Staunton

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One of the best quotes taken from the latest episode of the Leaders with Ambition podcast comes from Nicky Acuna Ocana’s.guest, Sue Staunton, who states that "it’s not a question of whether you’re going to encounter unexpected roadblocks along your professional journey. You absolutely will! The only question is, are you prepared to embrace them?'".

Sue Staunton’s highly successful career has been built on openness and flexibility – a formula that has led her to James Cowper Kreston, where she is Joint Managing Partner & Head of Life Sciences. An esteemed leader within a sector that was decidedly male-dominated not so long ago, Sue embodies what it looks like not only to scale the heights but also to very deliberately bring others along. Ensuring everyone feels like part of a team and has access to advancement opportunities is a central corporate and cultural value at James Cowper Kreston and aligns perfectly with Sue’s passions – including her focus on creating space for diversity.

In this podcast you’ll learn about how attending Oxford shaped Sue’s career landscape and ambitions as well as how her time at Grant Thornton influenced what was to follow. “It’s really important not to be rigidified in your plan about what you want to do and how you want to do it,” she says. “You should be open to diversions along the way.” An expert at navigating unexpected twists and turns, Sue is here to share career highs, lows, words of wisdom – and to celebrate the evolving journey!

Listen to the full episode with Sue Staunton here:

If you enjoyed this discussion, please click here to find previous episodes of Leaders with Ambition.

Starting Out

Sue has exceled throughout her career by the belief her parents (in particular her father) instilled in her. A series of inspiring school teachers were also key to her development.

The Oxford Effect - Sue explains how she navigated the transition from state schools into a more socially networked world that was new to her. She found her footing and leveraged the institution’s great assets and resources to her advantage!

Sue studied history but was driven by life circumstances to make herself financially viable, which put her on track to become a graduate trainee in a world that would give her an overall business qualification.

A key mentor and early supporter introduced Sue to a holistic view of what accountancy could really be about for – and offer to – her.

The Drive to Achieve

  • Sue has always wanted to do her best and be at her best – as well as make her own way in the world without undue vulnerability.

  • While she “hated” her first years training in accountancy, Sue did come to understand it as a very useful skill to understanding how businesses thrive or fail.

  • She describes how it felt and the armour required to be one of very few women within Insolvency and Restructuring at Grant Thornton or even in the world of accountancy generally at that time.

  • She constantly assesses risk and the environment in which her teams are operating.

  • Why Sue is very deliberate about carving out a work-life balance as a critical component of bringing a fresh perspective and productivity to the equation.

  • How exploring the “technology arc” engaged Sue and became a “lovely place to be” as well as an exciting global initiative full of opportunity.

  • Why Sue is invested n helping everyone in the practice advance towards their goals and find within the firm the career they want.

An Unusual Pivot

Drawn by the “amazing” team at James Cowper Kreston, Sue explains how she has seized the opportunity to develop her specialisation in a competitive global environment and support clients with a new vision for client care.

Sue’s maps her career satisfaction to variety, opportunity for growth and doing the sort of strategic business consulting she’d ideally envisioned as a university student.

Today’s workplace culture

Sue reflects on how workplace culture has evolved from forbidding women to wear trousers to a diverse and inclusive firm enabling people to reach their potential.

  • Dressing in whatever way feels comfortable.

  • Respecting people as individuals.

  • Allowing space for people to express themselves authentically across the full spectrum of gender, race and identity.

  • Making sure that all activities are inclusive rather than exclusive.

Diversity among leadership builds into those coming up through the ranks, a sense that there is a space for them and that pursuing promotion is desirable and achievable.

Sue’s Career Highlights

  • Managing Covid19 while keeping the whole team connected and interactive through innovative programs like “Group of Six” gatherings that helped maintain and reweave the fabric of the firm.

  • A magical sunset champagne event with staff that fostered community through adversity.

  • Working with clients who are passionate about providing tools and services that transform lives, such as developing a successful Covid19 vaccine.

Sue’s Career Challenges

  • Finding the balance

  • Learning how to create boundaries and have the difficult conversations, fostering pragmatic leadership decisions while also maintaining a healthy, realistic culture internally and with clients.

Words of Wisdom

  • 'Stay flexible! It’s important not to become rigid or attached to specific outcomes.'

  • 'You will encounter roadblocks. Embrace the diversions and see what they bring!'

  • 'Things evolve and change. New opportunities are emerging all the time!'

Key quotes 

  • “Achieving success in your career is very much about having a belief in yourself. That’s really important and I was very fortunate as a child that that was very much inculcated.”

  • “I say to young people to use your education because that’s a way to get where it is you ultimately want to be. It’s the very foundation of where I am today.”

  • “It very much saddened me that I was at school with some very clever people who basically... didn’t achieve their full potential and I think that’s such a shame.”

  • “(The insolvency profession) was a very male cultural environment… (and) you did have to be assertive because the sort of work you’re doing is with business leaders who are in distress.”

  • “No job is ever the same and I think that you have to be very careful to make sure that people don’t feel vulnerable. And also I think that it’s about creating a very open environment so that people can talk about it.”

  • “It’s really important to respect people and respect people’s space … To keep pushing on and pushing on with a piece of work doesn’t necessarily achieve the best results.”

  • “Very often you do better to bring a fresh view or influence and that’s why it’s very important that have an outside life.”

  • “I’ve been very, very fortunate in my career in that … I have had new opportunities offered to me all the time and I’ve never been bored – and that to me is really important.”

  • “If we look at the practice and profession now, it’s miles more diverse in all senses. When I started, it was incredibly male-dominated.”

  • “It’s really important not to be rigidified in your plan about what you want to do and how you want to do it. You should be open to diversions along the way.”

  • “You’re going on a journey … Don’t close yourself off to things and don’t put up barriers.”

About Sue

Sue has been within the accountancy profession for over 30 years as a business adviser, auditor and licensed insolvency practitioner, specialising in advising entrepreneurial businesses and those within the technology industry. She is Joint Managing Partner and Head of Life Science at James Cowper Kreston , delivering service and support to over 200 technology-based businesses ranging in size from the earliest stages to international groups. Her work restructuring work encompasses a wide range of businesses from professional partnerships to manufacturing businesses, from retail and leisure to international groups.

About Nicky

Nicky has led high performing recruitment teams for over 20 years. As the Regional Managing Director of Ambition UK, Europe and US, she leads a team of highly-skilled recruitment consultants who are experts in their niche specialist areas. 

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