Fold Woman: Sallie James

Fold Woman: Sallie James
May 29, 2019 Marie

On her childhood: I was born in Canberra and grew up in the suburbs of Adelaide. My father was a civil servant turned businessman who instilled in me a great love of music and reading. My mother gave up her career to look after us – she always managed to be loving and fun while setting firm limits. They raised three kids with very different personalities and career choices (my brother is a hotel manager and my sister is a primary school teacher) but we have common values; we’re all honest, loyal, conscientious people with a healthy sense of humour.

Sallie James wearing Ellerby dress

On her early career: I’ve always loved economics – not just as a vocation but as a discipline. I did a Masters in economics at the University of Adelaide, followed by a PhD in agricultural economics and international trade policy at The University of Western Australia. About two-thirds of the way through my doctoral programme I was feeling burnt out and a bit lost – I’d been studying non-stop since the age of five. So I took a year off, during which time I lived in Rome and did some work for a UN agency there. I came back with renewed focus, finished my course and then bagged a job as a policy advisor for the Australian government. I learned a lot from clever people, but when the opportunity came to move to Washington DC to work as a trade policy analyst for the Cato Institute, I took it. A US think-tank, Cato’s mission is to promote a free society based on limited government and individual liberty; it seemed to comprise the best of academe and public policy without some of the more tedious parts. Plus I was single with no kids and no mortgage. This was the perfect time to take a risk.

On her current role: After several years as a policy scholar, a couple of Cato donors set me up on a blind date with one of their colleagues from Philadelphia. It worked out: six months later, we were engaged. I moved to Philadelphia and Cato offered me a role as director of development out there. I’m either working from home; communicating with our sponsors, writing grant applications, prospect researching and planning events. Or I’m on the road; attending our events and donors’ retreats, or meeting with sponsors or prospects to update them on our activities and to ask them to invest in our programmes. It’s a privilege to work with interesting, successful people committed to building a freer, more prosperous and peaceful world.

On her go-to style: My style tends to be quite conservative, classic and understated: I’m not into logos or anything too trend-driven. When I’m in front of sponsors, I’ll wear suits or smart separates and dresses. If I’m working from home, I’ll go for jeans or trousers with a shirt. You’ll never find me in PJs or athleisure; I need to feel “put together” to get in the proper frame of mind for work. Over the years, I’ve learned of the transformative effect of clothes; they change your mindset, your attitude and the message you transmit to the world.

On her power suit: My power suit is whatever gives me the confidence to perform at my best and concentrate on the task at hand. I bought a pinstripe dress from The Fold a few seasons ago that always makes me feel great, and I’m pleased to see trouser suits making a comeback – they’re so easy to wear and don’t have to look stuffy if you accessorise them creatively and with a feminine twist.

On her inspirations: There are a few women whose careers I admire, such as Kirsten Green, founder of Forerunner and a founding member of All Raise, the group of women venture capitalists working to change their industry from within; and my namesake Sallie Krawcheck, who rose to the top of the banking world and now works to promote financial literacy for women. Ethelmae Humphreys, one of our donors, is also a big role model for me. She inherited her father’s Missouri-based building products manufacturing company, TAMKO, when she was still in her early 20s. It was a very male-dominated industry and she ran the business with great success, stayed involved while she raised her children, and is still working today. Now in her 90s, she is so humble, gracious and stylish and always conducts herself with such integrity. She’s an incredible woman.

On her toughest challenge: My son was born in 2015. I found those early days extremely difficult and suffered from post-natal depression. It didn’t help that my family were so far away in Australia. We’re presented with all these picture-perfect images of motherhood on social media – and I thought there must be something wrong with me because I found it so tough. We need to change the conversation from “oh, it’s all so wonderful” to “it can be really hard”. I would still say that juggling my different roles of mother, wife, friend, daughter and employee can trip me up sometimes. I don’t always get the balance right but I’ve started to accept that I’m going to make mistakes. It’s OK – and normal – to struggle sometimes.

On staying sane: I’m very introverted so I’ve learned to get better at saying “no” to social engagements if I’m feeling overstretched, without feeling guilty about it. Exercise – a mix of weight training, yoga and kick-boxing – helps with my mood and energy levels, and I need at least nine hours of sleep every night. I love learning: I’m usually enrolled in some kind of online course or another (I’ve just finished one on buying and merchandising) and I read The Economist cover to cover every week – I have done since I was 19 years old, when my dad bought me a subscription.

On her most powerful piece of advice: Don’t buy into – or promote – the idea of a perfect life, including on social media. We’ve all got unique strengths and vulnerabilities, we all make mistakes sometimes and face challenges.

Interview: Kate Bassett

Photography: Harry Borden

Accessories: Sallie’s own

Shot at The Fold store, Chelsea


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