Sarah-Jane Chilver-Stainer is Senior Vice-President and Group Treasurer at GlaxoSmithKline.

International Women's Day 2017 - Sarah-Jane Chilver-Stainer

We're celebrating International Women's Day with just a few of our great alumnae. Sarah-Jane Chilver-Stainer talks to us about life in Finance.

Sarah-Jane Chilver-Stainer (Psychology, 1983) is Senior Vice-President and Group Treasurer at GlaxoSmithKline, the UK’s largest drug manufacturer.

She has worked at GSK since 1995, when she joined as Treasury Manager, working her way up to become a member of the Senior Leadership Team.

Sarah-Jane says: “After I graduated, I raised money from all sorts of jobs in order to travel the world. I sailed across the Atlantic, worked in the Caribbean and ended up in Australia for a year working as a photographer. Eventually, I knew I had to settle down and returned to London. Like all 22 year olds, I had very fixed opinions about what I did and did not want to do. Although I have always enjoyed maths, I didn’t want to be an accountant. After some really dead loss jobs, I ended up temping for a company that had a Treasury department. I was immediately attracted to this as it involves solving daily financial issues and all of the forward looking aspects of financial risk management.”

When she was first starting out, Sarah-Jane found the world of Finance to be a male-dominated place, but believes many changes have taken place in recent years.

“In the 1980s, sexism was a fact. You just had to get on with the job, or get cross.” she says. “Eventually, people respected you for the job you did and although I think that I was underpaid compared to my male colleagues, I survived downturns in the market without redundancy as I was good value!

“At GlaxoSmithKline, I joined at a time when senior management were very keen to support females within the Finance function, encouraging them to return to work after children and using family- friendly policies. It was a gift to be able to have a successful career as well as actually see my children.

“I think that things have changed at work for everyone. The IT advances coupled with high expectations from employers now means that work is integrated as part of our lives. It is important to have the discipline to detach from the office, take proper holidays etc. There are some more senior women in Finance, but it is still nowhere near 50/50.”

Sarah-Jane’s role at GSK is both demanding and wide-ranging, and she says that working with her team and inspiring others is one of the things she loves the most.

“I really like my team. Apart from the fact that we are dealing with very large debt and investment numbers, managing an array of financial risks, managing external relationships with banks and insurers and making a real difference to the P&L of the company, the most important aspect of coming to work is the fact that I work with a team of really interesting people.”

And for anyone looking to enter leadership roles, she has some advice: “To be an effective leader, you have first to learn how to serve (I read this on a website recently and think it is so true). I remove roadblocks, I provide guidance regarding priorities, I empower people to get on with their jobs, and I stay interested in everyone’s personal development.”

Sarah-Jane enjoyed her studies and says that her Psychology degree has proved remarkably useful in her finance career.

She says: “Perhaps it was that week in the second year spent in the rain on Lundy Island studying the song of the Lapwing that has been the secret of my success?! Although it is difficult to pin point particular experiences, Psychology is very relevant to working in the pharmaceutical industry (I know what a dopamine receptor site is, the blood/brain barrier etc). And I use the statistics that I learnt in Psychology every day in the financial markets.”

She also has some great memories of her time in Exeter, including a particularly cold Devon winter:

“In the second year, I lived with four friends in a dilapidated farmhouse 3 miles down a tiny lane outside Newton-St-Cyres. It snowed over Christmas and when we returned, the snow had drifted across the lane, which was 6 feet under. After a week of staying with friends, two of us braved a beautiful walk over the snowy freezing fields to gain access to the house. About 3 weeks into the term, we managed to make the house habitable gain and move back in. I gather that people are much more sensible now and mostly live in the town.”

Date: 8 March 2017

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