Can you give a brief description of your career to-date?
I left Sydney for Europe (not confessing how many years ago!) as a history graduate and landed in private banking after eighteen months of travel. An extraordinarily supportive American mentor (and head of the Berkeley Square business) nudged me into training and recruitment. After the birth of my daughters, I took a career break but was later enticed back to work on the BBC’s period drama location research service. It was a dream job for a historian! When my husband was unexpectedly transferred to Geneva, some nimble career reinvention followed.
I qualified as a business English teacher and worked for a language school, developing syllabi for presentation and writing skills modules that I then taught across the UN, NGOs and financial sector. I eventually moved into freelance editing before embarking on a doctorate in English literature. I submitted my dissertation in 2014, but after four years of intensive research, I really craved a new challenge. And it was during a career counselling session in London that the epiphany occurred: executive coaching engaged with my repertoire of communication skills and natural empathy with people. So, I retrained as an ICF coach with the brilliant Gillian Brown’s Full Circle Centre for Transformational Coaching and rather nervously, I must say, established my Geneva coaching practice. This supports face-to-face clients in the UK and Switzerland, and more geographically remote clients in Australia and Africa, via Skype).
As a Career Development Coach, you help professionals to re-evaluate and define their career development. What advice would you offer to clients reaching a turning point in their roles?
I counsel my clients not to make rash or emotional decisions when confronting transitions. Turning points can be life-changing, so they require, and deserve, scrupulous attention if they are to yield positive, fulfilling outcomes. Take time out to research options and then, perhaps more important, to forensically examine them. This is where a good career consultant can help! Above all, be honest: what do you really want from your career and how can you transform desire into reality? Sometimes, a complete sea-change is in order, rather than a mere career shift.
You must meet numerous high-flying professional women through your work. What’s the best piece of advice another woman has given you?
I have indeed been immensely privileged to meet many inspiring women with remarkable personal and professional narratives. The best piece of advice came from my Phd supervisor, Dr.Joy Wallace, in Australia. Joy is a role model for me: a brilliant scholar and talented c-suite executive who blends intellectual rigour with grace and humour. She always said, prior to delivering vigorous feedback on a chapter draft, “Susan, steel yourself…for criticism”. It was robust advice because if we cannot accept constructive criticism, designed to transform “good” into “excellent”, then we will never advance beyond mediocrity.
You currently serve as a volunteer coach for The Coach Initiative in New York. Can you tell us more about your work and the initiative?
In a nutshell, the New York Coach Initiative supports non-profit initiatives worldwide, through coaching, to make a greater positive global impact on projects that range from anti-violence, education or ameliorating poverty. The Initiative provides vital coaching support to personnel involved in global programmes and it recognises that their own professional needs are frequently eclipsed by the urgency of fieldwork. I have been supporting a Program Manager for an NGO in Tanzania since June and it is rewarding, if emotionally draining, work. My client’s commitment, both to her team and to the anti-violence programmes that protect women and children in mining communities, is humbling. Coaching in this sphere provides a glimpse of the invisible stresses on humanitarian workers and, above all, the courage that is required to operate in deadly conflict zones.This world is far removed from cosmopolitan coaching in London and Geneva. So, yes, I am enormously proud to be a volunteer for the Coach Initiative.
What professional goals did you set in 2015?
I set two goals that were closely linked to my two professional hats.
Firstly, I wanted to ensure that my new executive coaching business became a viable and vibrant entity. I am delighted that hard work is beginning to achieve this. I have a clear brand, strong mission statement and have started to publish articles in business journals. I am keen, for example, to support a new initiative being globally spear-headed by senior women directors and academics in the Family Business sphere that acknowledges a new paradigm: an influx of wealth is being channelled into women’s hands and it must be matched by opportunities for them to assume powerful leadership roles at the high table. Coaching can play an integral role here. I have some excellent networking lined up at a Global Family Business Conference in London, this October. This is wonderful for my business development and professional profile.
Secondly, as a feminist literary scholar, I was determined that my academic profile would continue to develop, particularly as my dissertation will be nursed into publication in 2016. So, I set goals for lectures and academic conferences. I will be presenting lectures at Kings College in November, and then again, in Sydney in December. Obviously, wearing a Fold dress!
Susan wears The Astor Dress in navy
In your role as a Career Development Consultant you help clients to evaluate their life-work balance. How do you go about achieving a balance in your own life?
There is a wonderful synergy between my work as a literary scholar and my enterprise as a coach. As a scholar, I write about the struggles of 19th century women to grasp meaningful identities beyond the domestic sphere, while as an executive coach, I help their 21st successors to optimise professional profiles that also cherish and respect personal wellbeing. One of my opening gambits in a Blending Life with Career workshop comes from a poem by Edith Wharton. I share it here, because it is so beautiful and answers your question.
“Set wide the window. Let me drink in the day…:”
And that, for me, is the key to that blend you mention: savouring the beautiful things in one’s life, each morning. It might be a beautiful view, or a special moment with a partner, friend, or a child. A healthy, reflective mind and a strong body make us dynamic beings, capable of transcending challenges, whatever their provenance. I work hard, obsessively so, but I make time for my fitness and I do, indeed, drink in the day, during my morning run along the lake. This attitude keeps me centred and grounded, and thus better able to support my clients.
How do you go about dressing for work? What are your go-to outfits?
I am my own brand. So when clients or delegates meet me, I have to project the values of my practice and my personal leadership. I need a wardrobe that reflects my integrity, femininity and professionalism. Dresses really do achieve that goal for me: I love The Fold’s sleek look – being petite, it is heavenly to have dresses that fit like gloves. I love the Astor in navy blue for networking because it exudes Paris chic and elegant feminine authority. If I am leaving a conference for an evening reception, the versatile Grosvenor in black jersey is perfect – it doesn’t crease after a day of work and still looks sublime.
And finally, what’s your favourite piece in the Fold collection?
The Arlington, red and blue painterly print. I love wearing it: the three-quarter length sleeves are so practical and elegant. The jersey is perfect for podium work – it is very forgiving of my energetic movements and that gorgeous mini-peplum has a Victorian resonance that I adore.
Pictures by David Nyanzi
Hair by our partner salon Easton Regal