Morgan McKinley are delighted to welcome Interval International’s Susannah Taylor, AVP Financial Planning and Analysis, to our Women in Leadership series. With the organisation in a variety of roles since 2005, Susannah is primarily responsible for taxation, treasury, financial planning and payroll for the EMEAA region.
Tell us about your career to date
Well, I completed my bachelor's degree in accounting and finance in 1996 and I went into work pretty much the next day! Starting as a cashier at MR Data Management, I worked my way up and 4 years later found myself ACCA qualified. I loved working there and I loved the team, but when you qualify in industry it is easy to get stuck in a rut and get too used to a particular style of work.
I moved over to an organisation called Analyst Financials, but barely a year later I was made redundant. The business was closed down in the UK and it was a setback. Regrouping from there, I joined Fairplace Consulting. They were a very close knit company, the kind of place where you knew everyone. I was the finance controller reporting into the finance director with one direct report. In the three and a half years I spent with the organisation, it felt like I had tried my hand at near enough everything. This was mostly down to the the small and collaborative nature of the finance team, which was something that I really enjoyed.
That’s when I landed the role at Interval, who were recruiting for a finance candidate to handle Europe, Africa, Asia and the Middle East. I must say, the job was very different to what I had previously experienced and I went into it with a lot of learning to do. I have now been at Interval for 11 years and it is unrecognisable when contrasted to the organisation that I started in all those years ago.
Have you always aspired to a role in leadership? Or is it more of a case of assessing opportunities as they come along?
I feel that the opportunities I have taken have arisen because of my commitment to progressing. I don’t buy into the opportunity knocks theory. I believe that you have to go and open that door yourself and grab that opportunity by the scruff of the neck.
And I love being the boss! Wherever I am and whatever I am doing, I’m always looking for the next steps, constantly challenging myself to contribute more.
When hiring, what do you look for in your potential recruits? Experience or attitude first?
Interesting question. I don’t think that there is one rule fits all approach to this. I’ve come across plenty of people in my time that are perfect for the role on paper, but haven’t done a good job of coming across well during the interview. Conversely, a lot of potentially strong candidates don’t do themselves justice with poorly put together CVs. To cut through this, we run a trial session and bring people in on a one week basis, which gives the candidate ample opportunity to display their ability and stake a claim for the role. For me, I am always on the lookout for people who demonstrate a willingness to get their head down and doggedly plug away at the task, because that’s the nature of our business.
In your opinion, what are they key challenges for a female leader and how are these overcome?
Such a broad question and one that I might answer differently on any given day. There really is an important conversation to be had around promoting women into leadership roles. For me, a lot of it comes down to whether women believe that they can be leaders. The example that comes to mind is an incredibly talented lady that I had on my team a few years ago. As soon as I met her, I knew that she could take over the world and had all of the potential to succeed. However, it was a real challenge to coach her into realising that potential. She had created these limitations around her making it difficult to break through. Through coaching, it did finally click, and sometimes it can take someone a while, sometimes it can take someone no time at all.
Who are your role models?
First and foremost my mother. I always admired her tenacity and the things that she was able to achieve as a result. There was a creativity to her determination; one especially fond memory that I have from growing up is mum making clothes from curtains! I remember, she’d occasionally say to me, “if all you can be is a checkout girl at Sainsbury’s, be the best darn check out girl at Sainsbury’s that you can be.” I think what she meant by that is to never sell yourself short.
What is the most valuable piece of advice that you have been given?
“You are the one. No one else is here to do what you need to do, or be who you need to be.”
Importantly combined with:
“Get over yourself. You are a carbon based ape like life form on an insignificant blue-green planet on the edge of a vast milky way.”
Any final advice for women looking to progress into a leadership role?
There is nothing more universally unnerving than change. To stick stubbornly to an old way is fundamentally flawed. Therefore running your life based on rules, mottos and advice is all history.
In short, I am important and I am insignificant. I am a function of who I am now and not my past.