Sara was appointed to the role of Chief Strategy Officer at Pandora in February 2014, and is responsible for leading the company's ongoing business strategy, corporate development and international expansion efforts. Prior to joining Pandora, Sara was an executive in residence at Greylock Partners, where she advised the firms' consumer portfolio companies and evaluated new investment opportunities.
Sara has 20 years leadership and commercial experience in the operation and expansion of high growth global businesses in emerging technology markets. Sara was previously Vice President, Corporate Development at LinkedIn, where she was a member of the Executive Team, and responsible for corporate strategy, acquisitions and business development. Prior to LinkedIn, Sara spent five years in a range of leadership positions at Microsoft Corporation, including roles building the Xbox business operations, international expansion, and corporate development teams and advising Microsoft's Executive Team on growth opportunities, including direct management of a $200M corporate venture fund in China.
Sara has extensive experience building businesses across a broad range of international markets, including Europe, North America, Latin America, Middle East and Greater Asia Pacific. She holds an M.A. with honors from University of Canterbury in New Zealand.
Sara's favorite Pandora stations include Arcade Fire, Lorde, Example, The Killers and The XX.
How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
I was born in New Zealand and spent the early part of my career there. You have 4 million people operating national industries, so people tend to perform a broader range of functions than in larger markets, where role are more specialized. You are forced to work out new ways of achieving great outcomes with limited resources, which develops your problem solving skills and drives an adaptability that translates well in any dynamic market.
How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure at Pandora?
I love working in rapidly evolving environments, addressing opportunities that leverage the best of technology and media to bring personalized services to consumers. Similar to Pandora, Xbox and LinkedIn were both hyper growth companies using technology to expand the boundaries of their markets. Additionally many of my roles have been focused on deploying services globally, and I have lived and worked across Europe, Middle East, China, Latin America and Asia Pacific. That experience is instrumental in operating and developing new international markets for Pandora.
What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Pandora?
The highlight is definitely Pandora's team and culture. After 20 years in technology, I know how hard it is to build a company where people feel they can be their authentic selves, be ambitious about driving the business, but collaborative in how they achieve that. Ironically our challenge at Pandora is the 'tyranny of choice'. We have so many options as a business, our priority has to be identifying the areas of focus, being nimble and executing well.
What advice can you offer to women who want a career in your industry?
I think it is critical to focus on something you have genuine passion around. It will be difficult to address the inevitable challenges if you don't love what you do.
What is the most important lesson you've learned in your career to date?
Accept that failure is part of success. If you are moving quickly you will make some missteps. Learn from them, course correct and keep going. Don't become paralyzed or overly risk averse.
How do you maintain a work/life balance?
I think work life balance is an incredibly personal thing. What works for one person will not work for the next. The key for me has been deciding what my boundaries are, communicating them clearly, establishing structures for maintaining them and then living by them. Negotiating boundaries daily is very taxing.
What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
I consistently see women wary of taking the risks that men are open to. Many women underestimate their capabilities and are reluctant to apply for opportunities that will stretch them. We need to adopt risk profiles that are more ambitious, and believe we will are capable of achieving what we sign up for.
How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
Mentors and role models have been a huge influence on my career. I was fortunate to grow up in a country that was very progressive in terms of female leadership: New Zealand was the first country in the world to have the top 3 positions of government simultaneously held by women. Seeing women in leadership roles helps you believe you are capable of achieving that.
Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
I've been privileged to have a huge range of incredibly capable women be part of both my personal and professional lives. My cousin Linda Clark was one of New Zealand's most respected journalists, and political lead for the major broadcaster. She retrained as a lawyer while raising twin boys. Susan Athey at Stanford constantly amazes me. She is an award winning economist, was Chief Economist at Microsoft, has three children and consults for companies on cryptocurrencies. Amy Hood, the CFO of Microsoft is fantastically sharp. The list is long!
What do you want Pandora to accomplish in the next year?
We are at an incredible time in the music industry, where fans and artists are looking for ways to have a direct dialogue at scale. We have a particular focus this year on helping leverage our platform to become an indispensable partner for music makers and help them forge stronger connections with their fans.