CEO - Sarah Smith - Q&A
What are some of the challenges you have experienced as a woman throughout your career/life?
Being taken seriously. And it’s shocking that that can still be an issue, I definitely still experience it today but not to the same extent as when I first started out. One of my first product areas was very male dominated and I met a lot of resistance and attitude that I was just a silly little girl when I was working with partners on projects. The irony of that type of behaviour is it makes you tougher, stronger and more determined! Mary Portas’ book “Work like a Woman” reminded me how subtle sexism can be in the workplace, red-flagging countless inappropriate moments, unnecessary comments, crass jokes and double standards that I’ve encountered throughout my career. It still exists today, but we live in changing times, the “Me Too” movement shows how powerful we can be when we speak up, and how necessary it is to say enough is enough. The recent viral video “Be a Lady They Said” celebrates women challenging the stereotypes and mixed messages bombarded at us. It’s exciting to see a growing momentum and a seismic shift in challenging the huge double standards levelled at women.
What's your proudest career/life moment?
There are three pivotal moments for me. I took a risk very early on in my career to move to a job that was temporary (I ended up with the company for 7 years) and I honestly believe that was career defining as it gave me the early confidence to take risks. My dad was instrumental in championing that decision and he still offers me great career advice, tells me some tough home truths and helps bounce ideas around on tackling issues I haven’t come across - it really helps me to think differently.
When I picked up the key to my first flat I felt so proud opening the door and then promptly burst into tears when I looked at the massive job I had taken on - it was such a state! I saved for two years, often having to sit things out so that I could afford a deposit. It was a great buy, an amazing home for many years and holds many great memories of brilliant times in London.
The most recent is being asked to take on the role and responsibility of CEO here at Soak&Sleep. It's a huge pleasure and privilege to do that for Charlie Hunt who has been my boss, champion and challenger over the last 7 years and to work with such an amazing team. I remember my recruitment agent telling me that the role I first interviewed for at Soak&Sleep (then DAPW) was ‘the’ role for me and she was 100% right. I can honestly say that I love my job, I love working with our team and enjoy coming to work every day.
What women have inspired you?
I’m most inspired by the women around me leading real lives and I’ve been fortunate to work with and for some amazing women. The lasting lessons are always those that teach you to challenge convention or stereotypes. Being in touch with your emotions and using your Emotional Intelligence; challenging the status quo and achieving results without aggression are some of the best lessons I’ve learnt and often counter to some of the conduct I’ve experienced or been asked to display.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
To speak up: I was talking to one of our team recently, recalling an experience I had had in one of my early jobs in retail. I sat in a meeting thinking of ideas in my head, only to hear others offer the same thoughts up 20 minutes later. I was afraid to share my ideas in case they weren’t good enough. That meeting sits with me still, as I realised I was only going to get noticed if I started to be more confident, but more importantly not be afraid of failing.
To feel confident in your own skin and personality: I think that’s easier said than done. I recognise that experience helps your confidence develop, or it certainly has in my case. I find it very difficult to read the negative influence that social media is having on the mental health of generations beneath me, I often feel grateful that I’m of a generation that remembers a life without that influence. Growing up was tough enough without the need to present an image of a perfect life and to have it critiqued so easily in an unpoliced environment. Equally as a generation, I see and hear my contemporaries feeling they are simply not good enough when they are juggling a career, a family, a jam packed life whilst trying to attain the perfect house and body! We were taught to be fiercely independent but to want it all - and it’s exhausting. I think that’s an important dialogue we can have with the generations beneath us, it is ok to say I don’t want that for myself.
To have the conviction to follow your gut and your own path: I’m still shocked by the outdated views and opinions that define a woman’s worth and success, my journey hasn’t taken a traditional route and that is still viewed with suspicion and judgement, sometimes surprisingly from fellow women. We should be celebrating the success of all around us, whatever path is chosen in life and encouraged to do what makes you happy. I’m really grateful to Teresa Tideman (then VP/Joint MD at The Disney Store Europe) who magnified that for me one day in a one to one meeting - it was a profound lesson for me and one I will never forget. I definitely have her to thank for being brave enough to just go for it, be myself and follow my own path.
With a good night's sleep, how do you feel/what can you achieve?
On fire, especially if combined with an early morning workout. I have bags of energy and a very clear mind and I’m probably very annoying on mornings like that! It’s not always been that way though, I’ve suffered from Sleep Apnea for about 7 years and until it was diagnosed I felt like I was living in a fog. I also had no idea at the time how detrimental it was to my health and was quite frightened when I understood the impact it was having on my brain and body. It’s improved a lot over the last year and a half with treatment and frankly, losing a lot of weight.
I really used to suffer with poor sleep earlier in my career and I’ve developed tricks to keep my mind clear of concerns on most nights, but it’s not fail safe. A poor night of sleep can feel devastating, the lethargy feels like walking through treacle. I still have nights like that and I have to push hard through the day to run the business - there isn’t an option to opt out!
What are the essential items in your sleep wardrobe?
Just like my clothes wardrobe I rotate my sleep wardrobe to suit the season, in winter I love the cloud-like lightweight warmth of my Canadian Goose Down duvet, as the temperatures warm up my wool duvet or a french linen sheet give optimum comfort and temperature control. One of my greatest discoveries in joining Soak&Sleep was the temperature regulating benefits of wool, especially when sharing a bed with my then partner as he and I were opposite ends of the temperature spectrum, it definitely brought on better sleep and reduced any duvet related disputes! I have a huge selection of our bed linen and I love layering up patterns, fabrics and colour from our linen, hemp and patterned ranges to create a casual co-ordinated look. I’m definitely not a crisp white bed woman! My favourite of all time is a black Swiss dot fabric that looks great and washes so well you can just throw it back on the bed - we love it so much here that it’s coming back in our summer range.
I’m a product geek at heart and I love user trialling new products before we bring them to market. When we first discovered Hemp bed linen a couple of years ago on a buying trip I was really excited to try it, not just for its amazing temperature regulating properties, outstanding quality performance but it’s list of eco credentials. It’s always very exciting when we find a new, unique product that we can bring to market before anyone else in the UK.