Interviews

A Journey Insight with Sue Fox

Sue Fox

CEO, HSBC Channel Islands and Isle of Man

Summarise your career journey so far?

At 18 I joined my local Midland Bank (as it was then) branch at the lowest clerical grade. I didn’t join on any special trainee scheme but I worked incredibly hard. I did jobs like sorting cheques and data preparation, the type of jobs you did then before you were even allowed to be a cashier. Because my parents taught me to say ‘yes’ to every opportunity, I soon took on more responsibility and progressed.

Early on, a manager saw potential in me and gave me the confidence to apply for an internal management trainee programme, which I was accepted for. It was a five year programme.

Seven years after joining the bank I got my first management role as Business Banking Officer for the NorthWest (England) region, based in Birkenhead.

I was spotted as someone who was good at planning and strategy and was asked to put together the area’s annual operating plan from scratch, which led to me being headhunted to work in the Divisional Head Office, my first HQ role. I then wanted more leadership experience so I became a Branch Manager.

My next big move was to the Bank’s global HQ in London looking at Service Quality. That’s where I learned about the service-profit chain and the importance of the right culture.

I’ve been very lucky to have the chance to travel globally during my career. A few roles later, at the age of 35, I landed a post in New York. Three years’ later, I came back as a Regional Director in the UK which was a large scale leadership position and a new role at the time. I was able to shape that role which was a huge appeal. After that I became the global Head of Physical Distribution (branches and distribution centres), influencing bank operating models in numerous countries.

Then at 44, I had my son, Sam. While on maternity leave I was approached to be CEO of M&S Bank (a wholly owned subsidiary of HSBC) which allowed me to move back to the North West of England. I was incredibly proud to be running the UK’s leading retailer challenger bank for five years before moving the Jersey a year ago as CEO for HSBC in the Channel Islands and Isle of Man.

You have been loyal to one business for over 30 years, what advantages do you think this has brought?

Without hesitation, the biggest advantage is the variety and challenge. Each new job and team has allowed me to build my network and personal profile and gain experience I don’t think I would have had with other organisations. You become very skilful at navigating the organisation and influencing stakeholders. And the chance to shape the culture from within is a key driver for me.

What lessons have you learnt in business that will always stay with you?

Be authentic, be true to yourself. Never compromise on something you believe in. Always be true to your values, consider first what’s the right thing to do, before consulting policy. And remember: what you permit, you promote.

I’m incredibly passionate about nurturing an open and inclusive workplace for my colleagues. I believe everyone should be able to work in an environment that supports them and enables them to be at their best.

Have you had any great mentors or inspirations?

My parents were my first and biggest inspirations. Their great values, generosity of spirit, putting people first and phenomenal work ethic have been hugely influential in making me the leader I am today.

I take a lot of inspiration and lessons from a number of people I’ve worked with and for – both what to do and what not to do.

Someone who has had a deep impact on me is Dame Denise Holt, Chair of the M&S Bank Board. I had the fortune to work closely with her through M&S Bank. Her skill and gentleness at giving invaluable feedback guided me to be a better person and executive. She’s remained a great mentor and friend.

How do you personally tackle the work/life/wellness balance?

I’m much more conscious now than in the past of the importance of my wellness – physical, emotional, mental. Taking downtime is really important.

It’s a constant effort. I always feel that I could do better. So I’ve learned acceptance that I can’t be 100% focussed on work and home at the same time, and you have to forgive yourself and make choices.

At home, with Sam and my partner Paul, I’ve got better at being fully present, otherwise you miss out on all the joyous moments.

What is important to you now in your career?

The legacy I want to leave is less about me and more about the people in the business and the impact we have on the community and society.

It’s important to me to give as much to society and the communities we operate in as it is to our shareholders. For me that means creating an environment and a culture where we can be our true selves.

I’m incredibly passionate about nurturing an open and inclusive workplace for my colleagues. I believe everyone should be able to work in an environment that supports them and enables them to be at their best.

Central to delivering great customer service is nurturing an environment where all of our colleagues feel able to be themselves and do their best.

Why is Diversity & Inclusion so high on your agenda?

It stems from my background and my parents. And, coming from a working class background, the opportunities and success I’ve enjoyed are thanks to inclusivity.

My dad taught me to see the best in everyone, regardless of their background or differences and his values and inclusivity, accepting others for what they bring, have influenced my leadership style more than anyone I know.

Central to delivering great products and service, is nurturing an environment where all of our colleagues feel able to be at their best - you cannot expect anyone to be at their best if they cannot be themselves.

Being a female CEO in banking is still pretty rare. It’s great that gender diversity is high on everyone’s radar but it’s also disappointing it’s still an issue. We also need to drive diversity beyond gender, it’s about having different viewpoints in the boardroom so you have that richness of debate.

Inclusion is an ongoing responsibility of us all. And as leaders, we need to ensure that we role model the behaviours and standards we expect to see from all. We have to be open to difference - that we value people because of their differences and not in spite of them.

What advice would you give the next generation of CEO’s?

· Be authentic. Don’t try and conform to a corporate or other norm or stereotype as you won’t then be a true role model. Be yourself and others will be able to see themselves in you.

· Don’t limit yourself. Be open to new challenges and say yes to opportunities.

· Challenge the status quo. Try not to get caught up in policy and procedure.

· Look to the future and what that will mean for your customers and staff.

· Resilience is the best tool you can have.

· Define your purpose and legacy. They will guide you with integrity.