Women in Business: Sarah Henwood

Harvey John had the pleasure of sponsoring the ‘Brighton Ladies Lunch‘ held at The Grand Hotel, Brighton in 2019 and 2020 in collaboration with the Ladies Lunch Club and Consortium

In recognition, we continue our ‘Women in Business’ blog series to highlight the achievements and careers of inspirational businesswomen (if you didn’t read our last Women in Business interview, we spoke with Nicky Goldsbrough). This month, we are joined by Sarah Henwood.

Sarah is the CEO of Thomson Snell & Passmore. Managing a successful business that is 450 years old next year takes a lot of work but Sarah does it all with an open approach and the value she puts into her winning team (amongst many other things!).


Sarah, thanks for taking the time out of your schedule to join us. Can you start by telling us about yourself, your background, and your current role?

I’m the CEO of the world’s oldest law firm Thomson Snell & Passmore.  We’re located in Kent and advise both commercial and private clients. Although our primary coverage is the SEast of England we also have many clients throughout the UK.  I’ve spent most of my working life with professional services firms specialising in BD and marketing and have supplemented this with experience in change management, advertising and running a charity.

How did you get to where you are today and who/what helped you along the way?

I’m having a brilliant career, though none of it was planned. I’ve lived and worked in the US, Asia, and England, having been privileged to work with many different cultures. I’ve met Prime Ministers, members of the Royal family, and also inspirational people who’ve built their businesses from scratch. I believe in having a ‘can do’ approach, trying to do the best job you can, being open to experiences and opportunities, and being helped by some great mentors along the way.

With such an extensive wealth of experience, what are the most important things that come with progressing as the owner/director of a business?

Being approachable and listening to your clients and your people, taking the time to find out what really matters to them and trying to deliver that. Playing it straight and doing what you say you’ll do or letting people know why you can’t. Being prepared to make the tough decisions but doing so in a way that’s respectful of those involved. Also remember, however well you think you communicate, it’s the other person’s perception of your message that counts.

That’s very true that you have to know how to communicate and make those difficult decisions while also understanding how the other might respond. Having these skills can lead to great success for the business. Success looks different to everyone though, what does it look like to you?

I love to win but winning as a team, achieving what we set out to do in the best way possible and making sure we have some fun doing it. I love seeing people grow, whether it’s acquiring new skills, confidence, or insights.

What is leadership for you? in terms of running a successful business and team? how in your experience do female leaders differ from male leaders?

To put it bluntly; it’s about getting results. But how you go about that is what defines you as a leader. I hope I’m seen as honest, approachable, brave, clear in direction and guidance, and as someone who listens but is also decisive. I may not do great things, but I hope to provide the context and platform for people to do great things.

I’ve worked with some great leaders – both men and women – and different situations require different types of leadership. Good leaders are the ones who have integrity, doing the right thing even when no one is looking.  They’re also true to themselves and don’t try to be something they’re not. We all have strengths and weaknesses; it’s understanding what they are and working within that.

Understanding and learning from a potential weakness is a sign of someone willing to be a great leader. In your career, what has been the greatest challenge you’ve faced that you’ve had to overcome?

Every role has its challenges, the key is learning how to manage them, be it opposition to ideas, personality clashes, bullying, redundancy, or being a single working mum. I’ve learnt, eventually, to never be afraid to ask for help and advice, and a large bar of chocolate always helps!

Chocolate is a great cure-all for sure! Aside from career challenges, what’s your biggest bugbear in the corporate world?

3 things; bullying, bad client service – both of these apply equally internally and externally – and, lastly, constipation in getting things done!

What’s one thing you believe has been a major factor in your achieving success?

The fact that I’ve never planned where I was going so I’ve always been open to opportunities. And if I’m allowed a second; finding a culture that fits with my values.

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?

The pressure others put on you will never be as much as you put on yourself – chill!

Thank you Sarah for taking the time to share your experiences with us and for being part of our Women in Business series. We wish you all the best in your future endeavours!

Sarah can be followed:

David Waddell is Managing Director at Harvey John.

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