Welcome to the June edition of ‘Why Nottingham?’ our monthly interview with prominent leaders. This month we sat down with the inspiring Sarah Walker-Smith, Chief Executive at Top 50 Law firm, Shakespeare Martineau.
- When did you first start to work in Nottingham?
I was born in Lincoln and attended school there until I decided to leave after finishing my secondary education. My original plan was to attend drama school, but at the last minute I pulled out after re-evaluating what job opportunities would be available to me. It was at that point I had a meeting with the school careers officer, who I’m pretty sure suggested I consider accounting because alphabetically it was first on the list and I was ok at Maths! Consequently, I moved to Nottingham in 1989 to attend Nottingham Trent University to complete my Foundation degree in Accounting, and after graduating I got a job in the City at Deloitte.
- What attracted you to the City?
Many things. I am actively involved in the Theatre which is great and diverse here. I studied (twice) at NTU and loved their inclusive and vocational approach which gives them exceptionally great results, an employability status and generally you can still have a great career here without the extra hassle of living or working in London. I also liked the fact that Nottingham wasn’t too far from home in Lincoln.
- How has it changed in your time here?
Nottingham’s confidence has grown significantly in my 30 years here. I think we have finally worked out who are we and what as a City we are good at. I have found Nottingham to be quite pioneering in its ability to be very different compared to other cities and you only have to look at the variety of different businesses that are located here and the level of start ups, which proves that. I have also found the City to be incredibly inclusive, and as the only female, non-lawyer Chief Executive of a top 50 law firm, I am a testament of that inclusiveness.
Also, the fact that both of our universities work in collaboration with each other, in my opinion, provides us with an edge over other cities. They are driving change in the sector too – back to pioneering again!
Initiatives such as the Creative Quarter have provided funding and workspace for start-ups, which in turn, has helped us improve our graduate retention rate, as we are now giving our students the incentive to stay and grow their business or careers within Nottingham
- What are the City’s biggest challenges both regionally and nationally?
From a regional standpoint, I get frustrated when I hear people discuss Derby and Leicester as rivals. For the benefit of the Midlands, we need to find common ground and work together, and Nottingham needs to lead the way in promoting that vision.
Nationally, although I said previously that Nottingham had worked very hard on its identity, I think historically we have a track record of being very poor at marketing our great City to the outside world. More needs to be done to promote the great brands that are represented in the City. Our sporting heritage speaks for itself, as do our universities. The professional services community here is extremely close knit and for those that love the arts, we have a fantastic array of theatres. With all those brands and attractions to promote, Nottingham should be screaming and shouting from the rooftops what a great place this is to live, work and visit. We need a thousand voices, all promoting the same message. Only then will we start to compete on a national stage. For this to happen we need one cohesive vision and plan owned by the major players in the city both business and civic.
- How long is your daily commute to the city and what mode of transport do you take?
I live on the outskirts of the city in the suburbs of West Bridgford, so its 2 miles for me to travel to our offices on Waterfront Plaza. If the weather is nice, I quite often walk which takes me 35 minutes, but if the weather doesn’t allow for that or I’m pressed for time, I’ll jump in my electric car and park at the station car park.
- Where are your favourite places to eat and drink for business and pleasure?
I’m a big fan of Mowgli in the Lace Market. They produce some fabulous dishes at quite a reasonable price. From a corporate standpoint, you can’t go wrong with World Service and having been to Cosy Clubs in other cities, I was delighted to hear that they will be opening one on Victoria Street in the not too distant future. That will be a definite recommendation.
- Finally, if you had a blank canvas, what would you like to see happen in the next 12 months?
Where to start……… Too long have we deliberated over the decision to leave the EU, which has had a negative impact on UK businesses. Let’s just make a decision and get on with it. I fear we are talking ourselves into a recession and as businesses need to remain confident and invest wisely
As a City, in the midst of the political turmoil, I would love to see Nottingham continue to be as inclusive as ever and open for business. We need to continue working together for the benefit of the City and the Midlands region as a whole and continue to fund great initiatives like the Creative Quarter project supporting start-up firms.
There are exciting things happening within the City, with the development of our retail space and plans to build grade A offices. I firmly believe that we can be the shining light and set the example for other cities to follow. Nottingham has a great blueprint, and I’d like to see us promote that better.