Advising future business leaders to 'go for it, be brave, learn from your mistakes – and be kind to yourself', Sarah Perry talks to BQ about being the managing partner of Wright Hassall.
What is it the company does?
As the largest firm in Warwickshire, and one of the largest in the Midlands, we have been providing our clients with strategic legal advice for over 170 years. We act for businesses and individuals locally, regionally and nationally across a diverse range of sectors (agriculture, charities, housing, advanced manufacturing, financial services and technology to name but a few). Top-ranked in the legal directories, and Lexcel and IiP accredited, our legal services cover the spectrum of commercial, corporate, property, dispute resolution and private client matters.
Describe your role in no more than 100 words
My role is threefold: first to oversee the effective management of the firm which provides a solid basis for the firm’s growth and profitability; second, to develop and oversee the strategic direction of the business that will deliver that growth; and finally (and arguably most importantly), to be an effective leader by inspiring and motivating my colleagues to give their best, both to their clients and to each other. Of course, in addition to my management responsibilities, I am still a practising lawyer with a caseload!
Give us a brief timeline of your career so far – where did you start, how did you move on?
I trained with the firm, so have spent my entire career at Wright Hassall. Notable progressions during my career include being appointed partner in 1998, before becoming head of the commercial litigation team. I was then appointed to be head of the dispute resolution group, which is responsible for around a third of Wright Hassall’s business. I’ve been on the management board for nine years and in January 2016 I was delighted to be appointed Managing Partner.
What do you believe makes a great leader?
Someone who creates a clear vision, living and communicating that vision, and inspiring others with energy and enthusiasm. I strongly believe that this firm has a very particular ethos, something I was keen to encapsulate and communicate to ensure it was not lost as the firm grew. This led to the development of our FAIR values (Flexible, Ambitious, Inclusive & Respectful) which are designed to govern how we behave; the working environment we create; and the way we deal with opportunities and challenges. It is my responsibility to lead by example by putting these values into practice.
What has been your biggest challenge in your current position?
The biggest challenge has been implementing change within the business in the context of our ambitious, robust growth strategy for the firm. Over the last 18 months, we have made a number of strategic investments in both people and staff engagement programmes in order to make the most of the talent we have within the firm. We’ve had to make changes to the way in which we operate so, inevitably, people are being challenged to think differently about the way they work. However, I am pleased to say that our staff have responded really positively and there is a real enthusiasm for the firm’s forward momentum.
How do you alleviate the stress that comes with your job?
Weekends away, cinema and cycling.
When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I love maths - in fact I still do - and I wanted to be a maths professor! I knew I wanted to be a lawyer from about the age of 14. The reason behind the change from maths to law is a bit bizarre. I remember reading about a musician who had trained to become a lawyer and it was that article which sparked the idea.
Any pet hates in the workplace? What do you do about them?
I’ve got a few! The biggest one is people committing to doing tasks and then not delivering. It’s important to give people responsibility but also accountability so that projects are delivered on time.
Where do you see the company in five years’ time?
That’s a big question. I see Wright Hassall being widely recognised as one of the leading UK law firms in the UK. We won best regional law firm at the Lawyer Awards 2017 and in five years I expect us to be a significant nationally-recognised law firm. I am determined to make sure that Wright Hassall continues to be a great place to work and continues to attract great people and great clients.
What advice would you give to an aspiring business leader?
Go for it, be brave, learn from your mistakes – and be kind to yourself.
What do you wish someone had told you when you started out?
I wish someone had told me that I can give myself a break and enjoy the moment, and that working at breakneck speed isn’t necessary all of the time.
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