The HR Director for Ricardo, Sarah’s championing of best practice in business started early in her career, thanks to her exposure to exemplary managers and mentors at British Rail.
What led to you pursuing a career in engineering?
Having been sponsored to study metallurgy and micro-structural engineering at university, I started work with my sponsor company, but quickly discovered that the job did not seem broad enough in its remit or sufficiently focused on business. I had spoken to British Rail while on the milk round at university, and was awarded one of only 10 national places on their mechanical engineering graduate scheme.
How was the work/life balance during that time?
I had to combine full-time work in this job with studying for a masters degree in advanced mechanical engineering design. What got me through was the support of my mentors and managers at British Rail – who schooled me very early on in her career as to what best practice in management looked like. At the time, British Rail was recruiting a wide spectrum of employees from technical gurus to management who had a sound grounding in engineering. I quickly realised that I fell into the latter category, with a skill for analysing how people could best do particular jobs or how people’s skills fit different contexts. My mentors and managers had already recognised this themselves and were willing to support me in my career progression down this route.
What did you do after leaving British Rail?
After tremendous experience at British Rail – where I worked both pre-and post-privatisation – I went to work in a manufacturing organisation where I ran production lines, looking after the complex environment for the operations management of equipment across electrical, chemical and mechanical engineering. I was involved in front-line engineering management for 10 years, by which time I wanted to be involved in broader business, ultimately either as a CEO or Managing Director. I realised that to achieve this, I would need to broaden my skill base.
And that brought you to Ricardo?
This eventually led me to the role of HR Director at Ricardo, yes - I manage the people strategy to support the rolling three-year business strategy for the company. Each year, Ricardo undertakes a review of the strategy, and working collaboratively with directors, managers and employees, I analyse and deliver improvement in the people development, processes or infrastructure required to deliver long-term business goals.
Why did you become a Fellow of the Institution at this point?
When you look at the workforce of a company like Ricardo, there is a broad spectrum of roles from leaders to real technical experts, each of which is responsible for setting best practice. The Board of a company like Ricardo takes its duty seriously to set a high standard for engineering by helping the junior members of staff in the organization to aspire to and meet that standard. It’s a real opportunity to lead by example, and to show to everyone that I’m continuing to learn even at this stage of my career. It’s not good enough for business leaders to say that there are not enough engineers coming through from university, if you’re not doing anything yourself to address this. You do what you can to support the profession and the next generation.
What was the process leading up to Fellowship?
I was approached to be a Fellow, which surprised me because I thought, having left the mainstream engineering route, that perhaps I wouldn’t be considered. The good thing about the process of applying for Fellowship was that not only could I get a sense of the contribution that I had made to business, but also it gave me the opportunity for a constructive critique to see where I should be focusing more. Being a Fellow is not a "nice to have": my sponsors for Fellowship are people filled with integrity, so for me, my respect for who they are and what they do made me value my application even more and instilled a sense that Fellowship is not something to be taken lightly.
Find out more about becoming a Fellow