Everything can be broken down into small bits and, therefore, nothing is insurmountable.
About the Savanta Life series (leadership one-to-ones)
I have always been interested in the stories of individuals. An avid reader of biographies, listener of Ted Talks, and scourer of Wikipedia pages, I love learning about how people have gotten to where they are and what it is that makes them tick. In this blog series, I speak with Savanta’s leaders to figure out how they’ve shaped the unique culture at Savanta, what it is that makes them tick and, hopefully, to glean some pearls of wisdom which we can all incorporate into our professional lives.
My second interview is with Caroline Hawkings, CEO of Savanta UK. Through a mixture of design and good timing, her accidental entry into the research industry has led to a remarkable journey to the top. At Savanta, she brings a leadership style that balances warmth and compassion with a systematic rigor to problem-solving. Motivated by a deep sense of responsibility for the 350 employees working across the UK business, Caroline is the driving force behind Savanta’s unique and progressive culture.
Cameron: What do you do at Savanta?
Caroline: That’s a really good question. I see my job as making sure the UK business runs well. First of all, that means making sure people have a job! By that, I mean that we work commercially and deliver inspiring insights to our clients. Secondly, I want to make sure that people come to work in a fantastic culture and work environment. And third, that Savanta is somewhere you progress and develop as an individual.
Cameron: Can you tell me a little bit about your journey – how have you gotten to where you are?
Caroline: I didn’t intend to work in the industry. I fell into it by accident through a temping job! I finished university, did a year abroad and needed some money, so I got a job as a receptionist at a research company and haven’t left the industry since. I’ve always been agency side – I love the variety and the challenges that come with it. Then, about 10 years ago, after stints at a few agencies, a guy called Roger, who I’d known outside of work, asked whether I’d like to come to work for him. I thought, ‘well…OK, what the hell’, and took the plunge. It was a little company, just 4 blokes from me and a little serviced office in the West End, and the rest is history.
In many ways, it’s a very classic story of working my way up through the business. I headed up the Consumer team at one point, and then the broader research team, before thinking ‘what the hell’ again, when the Global Board asked me to run the UK business. So, I’ve gotten here in part by accident, in part by design – always wanting to progress – and with a little bit of luck in the form of knowing someone called Roger and buying into his vision.
Cameron: That’s quite the journey. Is there a project you’ve worked on – whether in your capacity as CEO or back when you were working as a researcher – that stands out as being one you’re most proud of?
Caroline: There are a few. The most fun was working with Lewis Hamilton’s management team. In the process, we got to speak to Lewis Hamilton, the Mercedes team, journalists… As far as projects go, that was definitely the most fun and it stood out because of the celebrity.
Aside from that, I have worked with several charities (large and smaller) over the years, and that always prompts pride.
Being able to help maximise their fundraising efforts, showing them how to create impactful adverts or how to optimise corporate partnerships is something that I have always enjoyed.
Caroline chairing Savanta’s Most Loved Brand event
Cameron: Is there a life or a work hack that you swear by and could share with us?
Caroline: Yeah, definitely. For me, it’s that everything can be broken down into small bits and, therefore, nothing is insurmountable. If you take a problem that looks massive, take a step back, look at it, and break it into smaller parts. Then tackle one thing at a time. That’s how I work. I take a step back, look at a problem and say, ‘how do I break this down? How do I make it manageable and how do I turn it into a process that I can work my way through?’ Try to do one or two things at a time really well, rather than lots of things at the same time and risk getting overwhelmed.
Cameron: What is it about your job that energizes you the most?
Caroline: That’s easy. Easy peasy. It’s the people. I have never worked with teams as talented as those at Savanta. From the senior leadership team who are fantastic – they get pushed really hard, but they’re incredible and give me great support – right through to people like yourself who are at the start of your career. To be able to bring on the next generation, inspire them, and get them started in the working world makes me so proud. I mean, every year, the talent blows me away. So… it’s the people – I couldn’t do my job without the people. The company doesn’t exist without the people. And genuinely, the talent here is awesome.
Cameron: What are the kinds of qualities that make up a Savanteer?
Caroline: You need to be quite resilient because there’s always change at Savanta. We are an acquisitive business and if something’s not working, we’ll change it. I also think you have to be quite brave because we put a lot of accountability on people quite early on. We throw you in at the deep end. We get you talking to clients and owning work streams quite quickly. You also have to be eager to learn and progress – we attract people who are ambitious.
Cameron: What’s a skill you’re currently working on?
Caroline: That’s a really good one. A skill I’m working on is how to get the very best out of people who are different from me. I want to create a high-performing leadership team – they are the role models for the company and can have the effect of inspiring the wider firm. So, learning how to get the best out of a leadership team of diverse personalities and styles is crucial. In the end, you may have the best talent and loads of investment, but unless you get the right people doing the right jobs in the right way, it’s all for nothing.
Cameron: What’s a mistake you have made in your career and what’s the lesson you’ve learned from it?
Caroline: I’ve made loads… I think the biggest one is saying no a couple of times to opportunities when I should have said yes. It stemmed, at the time, from a lack of confidence and not being brave enough in my abilities to really push myself out of my comfort zone. I’m not someone who spends a lot of time thinking about regrets – I think things happen for a reason – but those moments definitely impacted my progression. It’s something I want to work on with the next level of leaders coming up: don’t be frightened to push yourself, because most of the time people want you to succeed and you’ve got the support.
Cameron: Finally, for you, what is it that makes Savanta such a special place to work?
Caroline: The talent – I come back to that time and time again – combined with the vision that was set out at Savanta’s inception. To always strive to be better, to do things differently and to really take on the industry.