On the 100th annual celebration of International Women’s Day, we sit down with our CEO Claire Ritchie to talk about her experiences throughout her career, from HP Labs to the head of SQN.
- How do you as a female CEO find running a sponsorship agency based in tech and motorsport?
I think that women in leadership roles are very different to men in the same position, and I also think the way in which women inspire teams is very different. I like to think there are elements that our agency encompasses due to these differences that are reflective of my position and that it is of benefit to both to my team and to our clients.
The landscape has changed quite a lot in the last 15 years – when we started out there were very few sponsorship agencies but the market has grown significantly and we have had to evolve along with it. Most importantly, I love what I do and so far it has been a great journey.
- What other CEOs have influenced the way you work and have evolved the agency?
When growing up I read a lot of biographies and one that stuck with me was that of Anita Roddick, founder of The Body Shop – it is a different market but her vision and achievements in building an organisation are universally impressive. I also followed Richard Branson and remember reading his “Screw It, Let’s Do It”. Then in the technology sector today there is Meg Whitman of HP and Marissa Mayer of Yahoo!, both incredibly inspirational women leading the way for future generations.
My dad also ran his own company – I saw him make mistakes and learned from this, which may have lessened the mystery and fear commonly presumed about running your own company. He definitely inspired me when it came to deciding to form my own agency.
I came from HP and really appreciated how the company was run – I believe a lot of how I go about business comes from my time there. They had the correct concept of building a team, of allowing individualism and encouraging growth yet optimising unity. A good leader instils leadership in their team and gives them space to flourish and I am a firm believer in happy employees producing great work.
- What changes for women have you seen in the technology field during your involvement and how did you gauge the shift from this field into motorsport?
The IT industry has always encouraged women and it has been fantastic to be a part of that growth. I started out in HP Labs as one of about ten women in a department of 200 people, yet was always treated as an equal.
I was confident in what I was doing at an intellectual and business level and made this clear in my work approach. My professionalism and the respect I engendered from my peers ensured I was comfortable in my work.
HP championed equality and I did see other companies with less inclusive atmospheres, but I have always been used to working in male-dominated environments so going into motorsport was no different.
- How do you feel women are represented in motorsport, traditionally a male-dominated field, and what changes have you seen during your involvement?
There are now a lot more women involved in motorsport in general, evident at all levels from drivers through to team principals. Yes, especially in this management aspect. When I was young and just coming into the industry, I aspired to be the first in many of the higher positions, and was at one time considered as an F1 team’s commercial director.
It is brilliant to now see women like Monisha Kaltenborn of Sauber and Claire Williams achieving great things. This continued rise can only be good for the sport with the fresh perspective that it offers.
- There are many successful female drivers but they seem to have difficulty achieving prominence in the top series. How do you see this changing in the future and what do you propose for the future success of female drivers?
To me, the best-known female driver is Danica Patrick and I believe the reasons for this, in addition to being a great driver, were good marketing and loyal sponsors. A lot of female drivers and riders come to me for help but the real challenge is finding a brand that will support them and their goal. Recent campaigns in the sporting world suggest another breakthrough may soon come, so we wait expectantly.
Suggestions of a female-only F1 series have been criticised but perhaps this would be an interesting step towards women ultimately competing in mixed series. It is potentially the better of two negatives, enabling women drivers to be competitive within a championship. If it helps to raise the standard, bring more women into the sport, and initially allow female racing at a higher level than could be attained in mixed series then it may be no bad thing. In most other sports, men and women do not compete head-to-head.
- What advice would you give to any young women starting out in the industry?
I would advise you to think about the long-term, what your choices will enable you to do and where they will ultimately lead – for example, I wanted to study modern languages at university but knew that only by combining it with IT would it give me the foundations for a sustainable career.
I was always encouraged by my family and peers to do my best, to be regarded as an equal and to treat those around me with the utmost respect. It’s about working smart as well as hard, believing in yourself and having the courage of your convictions.
Most of all, celebrate the qualities instead of criticising the differences. Be true to yourself and apply your values to everything you do – your attitude determines your altitude!