Sarah Smart

1. Details of the Board Appontment
Non-Executive Board member (remunerated): Director UK Athletics and Chair, Audit Committee since May 2012. Sarah talks to Rachel Gwyon about her new role

2. What attracted you to the role?
Sarah’s background in financial services and professional skills were relevant to the role of Audit and Risk Committee Chair. But more importantly she was positively attracted to the challenge facing the organisation in preparing for the Olympics and the World Championships in 2017 and the transition for athletes between the two international events.

Sarah thought the role looked fun. She already enjoyed sport as a spectator, and welcomed the opportunity to broaden beyond her previous pension-related roles.

3. What did you highlight in the interview process?
Sarah had already caught the eye of experienced operators in some of her earlier Board roles and was initially approached to consider this opportunity. She stresses the importance of credibility in NED roles and recalls that the person who recommended her had come across her four years’ earlier. She reminds colleagues of the importance of networking and that you cannot afford to burn bridges – you do not know where a recommendation may come from. People talk – and a good impression, enthusiasm and a helpful, credible contribution to any board may count in your favour in the future.

Her personal skills include knowledge of finance and governance as well as risk management. When she was asked at interview to describe herself she was reminded of a colleague who had summarised her as “smart, but sassy”. This snappy summary helped make her memorable to the new board – and for the right reasons!

She reminds colleagues that board appointment are all about “fit” – can you take the temperature of the meeting and help steer the board in a good direction? As well as her sofa enthusiasm for sport Sarah showed genuine interest for example in the contemporaneous Edinburgh cross-country championships.

Sarah had researched the role and read about the interests of the organisation and Board. She said “don’t be afraid to be yourself – or to challenge” . She gave as an example an interview question about whether she had children and her challenge to the relevance of that to the role. She also highlighted real examples of handling board-level challenges in her interview, drawing on her previous experience as Chief Executive of the Pensions Trust.

4. What were the benefits of approaching the role with the help of CtC?
Sarah pointed to the inspiration she drew from fellow CtC members – not least that there is no harm in trying and if you want something you should go for it. She also learned that seeking NED roles is not like many successful people’s experience of executive positions – it may take many attempts before initial success and no-one should give up or be disheartened.

5. What do you hope to achieve in the role?
Sarah wishes to help UK Athletics to become a sustainably governed UK body – indeed the most successful in its sector. She points to the need for board members to aspire to improve the overall governance of their organisation. Indeed she wishes to go further and assist the wider network of sports bodies. To do this she has introduced a self-assessment pilot approach within the ARC.

In personal terms Sarah looks to this role to help her continue to broaden her board career beyond pension-related roles.