Sarah Clements is no stranger to those who follow the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global, which has graced the little red dot since 2014. When she is not in the engine room driving Lagardère Sports tennis business across Asia, she is devoting attention to nurturing younger talents in the industry and advocating diversity in its broadest sense.
Please share a little about how you got into this industry. And how has your career path been since?
My first job was with Vogue Australia where I was responsible for managing the advertising and advertorial coordination for all the publications. Through a turn of events, I became aware of an opening at “The Tennis Centre” in Melbourne. I found out it was a role with the Australian Open team but that the interview process was closed. But somehow, I talked my way into an interview and got the job! I started on reception, and quickly moved through the ranks to my final role there as General Manager – Operations & Events for Tennis Australia 19 years later. When I left, the original team of four working on the Australian Open had grown to some 250.
In 2009, I felt the need to diversify industries, so I moved to the Melbourne Fashion Festival. In 2013, Lagardère Sports knocked on my door when they won the bid to host the WTA Finals in Singapore.
I love the challenge of bringing very different groups of stakeholders together to deliver something that most people would say is impossible. It’s also about being able to strategise, and align strategy, people and delivery together in an organised and energised fashion.
As a female passionate about sports, were you inspired by any particular athlete or did you have any role model who led you into this industry?
One of the greatest fortunes of my life and career was to work under the tutelage of a Jim Reid, who, to me, is the grandfather of the Australian Open. Jim was very focused on relationships and taught me that they are the most powerful thing in business. That’s something I carry with me every day.
Do you think the number of females in the sports industry has changed from when you first started? Do you feel that you are treated differently because you are a female?
I think there are more females now.
To this day, I think being a female is my greatest strength. As well as my professional capabilities I feel I always bring a perspective that’s valued, whether it’s in the boardroom or in the staff kitchen as I’m chatting to my colleagues.
I like to turn this conversation around to be more than about gender, and put more focus on diversity.
I’m very interested in diversity in the workplace, although that’s not to underplay the importance of gender equality; obviously that is critical and non-negotiable. However, there are other areas of discrimination or social stigma, such as ageism, which I’m passionate about overcoming. Moving forward, I would like to see a more balanced and greater variety of younger as well as mature people in the workplace.
At Lagardère Sports, we are a highly diverse workplace. In fact, it often seems to me that we have more women than men on staff. Nationalities wise, I feel it’s very important for an international business to have a good balance of both locals and internationals with the necessary industry experience.
I don’t feel that I’m treated differently as a female at the senior management level. Honestly, I feel as highly valued in those forums as I feel walking the floor.
As you build your own team, do you feel that there are more and more younger women who are interested in sport and want to work in sport?
My experience in Singapore is there is more interest from female applicants than males. One of the many things I love about Singapore is that as a society, generally, I find that it is incredibly equal and the women here have benefited greatly.
I try to play a role in getting young talent to first base, to a point where they think they are as good as they actually are. It’s one of the reasons I love our division’s internship programme. There tends to be more young women who apply than men, and as a result we have employed more females. The men seem to take a slightly different start-up journey, which I respect.
My greatest source of satisfaction is helping people to exceed their own expectations. Sometimes, young staff lack confidence and sometimes they’re overconfident. What I try to do is help them understand the power of connecting with people, using their emotional intelligence, developing a rounded set of skills.
As a senior leader at Lagardère – do you feel the need to consciously address gender balance in the company when hiring new employees? Does your company have any specific policies or practices around encouraging and retaining female employees?
When I took on this role, I was committed to having a balanced team. I’m really proud to be sitting here today with a balanced gender ratio, and all but two of my team are local. It’s diversity in every aspect, not just in gender. There’s overwhelming evidence that the best kinds of teams are diverse.
There has been a wonderful evolution since I first brought our Tennis Asia team together. At that time, apart from me, there was only one other person with major event or tennis experience. But this team has now fully developed and I’m proud of the capability we have built.
There is also an active programme at our global group level (which has the personal support of Arnaud Lagardère), which aims to strengthen the gender balance in the Group and to support women in attaining positions of responsibility within the organisation
At Group level in 2017, around 43% of the executives were women and we proactively create support networks between different groups and at different levels within the organisation. A recent example of that would be the Ladies Day events at WTA Finals and Roland Garros bringing together women from across the Group and external industry partners and clients. We are committed to bringing more women into the organisation and ensure that women are always part of the recruitment shortlist for all our roles and in particular for senior level roles.
More broadly around the sports/entertainment industry – how do you think the industry has changed? and are you doing anything in your professional career plan to react to this?
The way people consume content, where and how they watch, shorter attention spans, and a reduced loyalty amongst the youth. We’re always dealing with a living, breathing beast.
There are also areas like compliance and adapting to a rapidly evolving commercial market where everything is about ROI and data-driven decisions.
Data is critical but it should inform your decision making, rather than make the decision for you. Particularly in Asia, it’s a very data-driven environment but at the same time I’ve seen over the past five years I’ve been here… where I used to have conversations with people completely focused on data, now they have a far broader dialogue.
For me personally, one of the challenges would be the onslaught of the digitalisation of sport and our workplace. But I think there’s something deep down in our human makeup that is rejecting the proliferation of all things digital. For me, it is more a professional tool than a personal necessity but of course I’m actively digital!
To find out more about Lagardère Sports and their work , visit https://lagardere-se.com/
About the interviewer
Managing Partner for the APAC region, Helen Soulsby leads a multilingual and multinational team of 14 from the Singapore office.
Helen has been championing SRi’s growth in Asia for the past 7 years, stretching SRi’s network to include South East Asia, China and Hong Kong, South Korea and Japan. A discerning advisor with deep market knowledge, Helen leads senior-level searches across the ever-converging media, sport, entertainment and technology sectors for agencies, content owners, media companies and brands.