Heroes Work Here: Sue Wakefield
27 February 2023
“I think being the first part-time manager at Barclays Trust Company 25 years ago put a lot of pressure on me. I had to prove that it was actually going to work” explains Sue Wakefield.
“But succeeding in that definitely gives you the drive to go on and do other things.” commented Sue.
To be a trailblazer, you don’t just need a clear vision of what you want to achieve. You also need the drive to pursue it with passion and persistence, and the ability to stay true to your values and principles while breaking barriers and forging new paths.
Our latest Heroes Work Here interview features Sue Wakefield, Director at ZEDRA Manchester, who started at Barclays Trust Company in the UK at the age of 18 and became their first part-time manager following the birth of her first child.
With a career that spans 39 years and counting, Sue’s story is an inspiring insight into how we can all challenge boundaries, create opportunities and use passion and determination to pave the way for those who come after us.
Tell us about your early career. What did you learn about yourself through that process?
Working in the finance industry in the 80s was very different to today. You had male managers and female staff. If you were a female, basically, you weren’t expected to have a career because you’d usually have a family and leave. Flexible working didn’t exist then.
Looking back at those early days, I was ambitious. And what I’m particularly proud of, thinking back, is that I became the first part-time manager Barclays Trust Company had ever appointed. Yes, it was hard to get to that point, it put a lot of pressure on me if I’m honest. But I proved that it could happen and proved that it could work and paved the way for those behind me. And succeeding gives you the drive to go on and do other things.
What were the challenges and/or opportunities, and how did you approach them?
This reminded me of when I was in my mid-20s, and a line manager told me that my personality wasn’t conducive to the role I was doing, because I smiled and laughed too much. Can you believe it?! It’s always stuck in my mind that actually, we are all different, we all have our different personality traits, but being joyful and being happy shouldn’t be one that you’re criticised for.
Those sort of things drive you on, and when you become a manager yourself, you remember the poor managers as well as the good managers, and you have that determination to be better than the poor ones.
Was there a moment when things changed in your career or life? And what challenges did that present?
I head up UK business development for ZEDRA in the Manchester team. And a big change for me was moving from being a technical expert to being in business development, particularly when Barclays moved to ZEDRA. We suddenly then found ourselves needing a business development person that could go out and shout from the rooftops about ZEDRA, who we are, what we do – and that was me! I thought, ‘How can that be me? I’m not a salesperson, I’m a trusts person. I’m technical.’
What character qualities or values did you develop through that experience? Did you have to battle any perceptions or limiting beliefs?
It was frightening. I was in my 40s when I made the transition to business development, so I wasn’t a young woman. And the whole imposter syndrome came out, everything you read about, was there inside me. But realistically I was the right person to do it at the time. And once you know that it’s your job, and you need to go and do it, then you dig deep, find that belief and determination and do it.
And how do you use those qualities or values now?
Once you start achieving and you get results, then your belief grows with that and so does your confidence. So I like to share that with my fellow colleagues now and try to instil my confidence in them. The determination is still there but it’s a different kind of determination – the determination that we will succeed as a group as opposed to an individual.
Tell us about a time in your career when you had to do something difficult. What did you learn, or how did it add to your character?
During that early business development time, I was often the only woman in a room of 20, 30 or 40 men, especially when I was travelling to London and presenting to wealth management or private banking teams. But it’s back to that deep breath, being confident in your ability. The more you do that, the more comfortable you become. Senior female financial roles used to be very unusual. ZEDRA recognises the potential of women well, and we increasingly have more women in senior roles.
Describe a skill, gift or talent you have that you use to help others.
One of my big skills that I think has helped me in business development is just listening to people. If you can listen to what people need, then you can find a solution for them. Telling people what they need isn’t the right thing to do. And it’s the same with our staff, spending time with them, listening to them and then offering advice.
If you had to name four qualities that you think a hero would display, what would they be?
Bravery, compassion, determination and kindness.
If you could go back in time and give advice to your younger self, what would you say?
Believe in yourself. Be yourself. Seek guidance and support from others and be prepared and willing to speak up. If you have ideas, don’t be afraid to share them.
What words of wisdom would you like to pass on to colleagues who are just starting out on their own journey with ZEDRA?
Take opportunities that are offered to you. And don’t always wait for those opportunities, seek them out. I think the younger generation are far better at that than we ever were! I would also encourage everyone, not just new starters, to embrace change – and look for change, providing it’s needed.
Do you have a personal motto?
‘Treat others as you wish to be treated yourself’. It’s true for clients, colleagues, everyone, and even down to always getting back to people quickly. It’s how you would feel, isn’t it, if you reached out to someone and didn’t hear from them, you’d question whether they cared or were interested.
What do you feel most proud of in your career at ZEDRA?
I know exactly the moment that I feel most proud of and that was when I was made a director of this business. When I started in the business at 18, I would never have believed that I could achieve this in my career.
I have enjoyed my career so much, all the different aspects of it, but working for ZEDRA has definitely been the best part of it. It’s been a breath of fresh air. So yes, to then be asked to be a director was just the icing on the cake for me.
Pick four words that describe what you feel you bring to ZEDRA life.
Enthusiasm, support, humour and kindness. I hope the team would agree!
What would your Superhero skill be?
Teleporting instantly, because I could pop up anywhere I needed to for ZEDRA. I would love to do that rather than spending too much time sitting on the train!
What do you see as your legacy at ZEDRA? What do you hope will grow from the initiatives or ways of working that you have helped to begin within your role?
There’s probably a number but as I head up business development, I think my lasting legacy would be the growth in the business and actually securing this business for the future. And my team or colleagues, hopefully they would say the care and support and passing back to them so that they do more, achieve more – with each other and with clients.
You always hope that you lead by example and then they will pick that up. The same passion, the same commitment that I have, that’s what I would love to pass on.