Sam has come far from washing up at the local pub to becoming Commercial and Operations Director at the Roundhouse in Camden.
In 2018 Sam joined the Board of Camden Town Unlimited, one of the UK’s leading Business Improvement Districts, which is exploring the potential of using the BID model to foster inclusive growth and community innovation alongside traditional place-making and BID member services.
Welcome to the Leadership Interview
How do you start your day?
I put Absolute 80’s on the radio, check my diary, read my emails, read The Guardian, have a banana and check the live travel information!
What was your first job and what is the worst job you’ve ever done?
My first job was washing up in a pub kitchen at 14. I loved it!
I Iearnt a lot about working as part of a team, under pressure, with tight deadlines. Both the pub and landlady were legendary and I have lots of great memories.
I got a summer job in the school holidays with my sister ironing nightwear for a well known high street store before it was put on the shelves. Unfortunately, I wasn’t very good at ironing and I kept melting the acrylic clothing.
At the end of a stressful and humiliating week, they asked me not to come back. I was both relieved and devastated at being sacked although when I look back I do wonder why a 16 year old was given an iron with no training… It was the worst job I’ve ever had.
What advice would you give to others about furthering their careers?
Don’t ever stop learning. Even if you think you know a lot, there’s always more or new information to be gathered. And, educate yourself in the subjects you don’t know too much about because you never know how you will be able to apply that knowledge to something else.
Who inspires you and why?
JK Rowling. As much as I love the phenomenon that is Harry Potter, I find her as a person, rather than an author, quite remarkable.
I often remind myself of her quote:
“It is impossible to live without failing at something unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.”
I think many people know of her back story before her success and it’s a true lesson in never giving up and coming back stronger and more determined.
Also, I hugely admire Doreen Lawrence, Michelle Obama, Noor Inayat Khan, Casey Stoney for many reasons but mostly for their incredible strength and bravery.
Do you think a talent to lead is nature or nurture?
I think it’s nature. For me, leaders are born. You can definitely become a more accomplished leader with training, experience and learning from lessons but I feel it’s something from deep inside me.
How can a leader fail? Do you have a personal example?
Years ago I was involved in a challenging gig and the person in charge lost their way, and control of the situation, quite noticeably.
In the debrief, that person blamed everyone else for the mistakes they had actually made. My team was looking to me to stand up for them and as that person was more senior than all of us, I tried to placate rather than steer the conversation away from blame, and into a learning environment.
My own fear meant my team took a bit of a battering which was completely unacceptable, and not their fault.
It was a painful lesson for me to not allow myself to be bullied but more than that, by me, not being brave enough to oppose the blame culture, it left people feeling defeated and unmotivated.
A leader can fail by not being courageous.
What are your greatest strengths and weaknesses?
I include people in my ideas and vision and want to know theirs.
I play to my own and others strengths, encouraging new ways of doing things without barriers. I’ve built some brilliant teams which I’m very proud of.
Weakness wise I’m not very creative so depend on others to drag me through creative processes! I don’t have a strong relationship with Excel which doesn’t benefit the commercial side of my role.
I’m not good at having a work/life balance either and I have a tendency to overthink and then dwell on things.
What do you find most challenging about being a leader?
Finding enough time in my day to work with my team and develop and support them when I’m busy with projects.
They are the most vital cogs in the wheel!
What are you most proud of?
Last year I left an organisation after many years. I was overwhelmed by the number of cards, emails, letters and texts I received.
I’m so proud of the ones where I’ve been thanked for my guidance, help and support or the notes from people who said I had influenced them to become the leader they are and changed their lives.
I also had a number of people thank me for inspiring them to think about strategy, and I’ve kept every single one of them.
What’s your biggest self-indulgence?
Nike trainers. I have loads of pairs and I’ll be looking on eBay once I’ve finished this…
You can follow Sam on LinkedIn