Sarah de Lagarde oversees internal and external global communications at investment management firm, Janus Henderson Group. A highly experienced international communications professional with an expertise in advising as well as coaching senior executives at C-suite level, Sarah's passion for writing has led her to write a book on the secrets to good communication.
With a master’s in international business in the back pocket, I started my career in communications in investment banking (JPMorgan) and then moved into asset management, with an agency pitstop (McCann Eriksson) along the way. The investment management industry’s complexity and intellectual capital fascinated me early on. And my experience at some of the leaders in that space (BMO, BNY Mellon, Schroders and presently Janus Henderson) gave me great insights into building effective global strategies including employee communications, media relations, and crisis & change communications.
As the global pandemic unfolded, the comms team faced a unique challenge. What we only ever prepped for in theory, became a reality within a few weeks. We had to act fast, and working closely with our Executive Committee, HR, IT and Business Continuity teams we moved 95% of our global workforce to working from home effectively, in less than 2 weeks. Our internal comms team deployed all channels at our disposal to ensure employees were guided through these turbulent times and we soon discovered that not only were we able to work just as efficiently as before but the shared experience – paradoxically – also was a catalyst to building a stronger and more inclusive company culture.
With the majority of colleagues working from home, internal communications grew in importance. In times of uncertainty, employees look to their managers and senior leaders for direction more than ever and we thus stepped up our Executive Committee communications. For example, at the height of the pandemic, our CEO issued firmwide employee videos on a bi-weekly basis. In close collaboration with our colleagues in IT and HR we built new comms channels to help employees interact with each other, including a new interactive intranet, a bi-weekly newsletter, new video & messaging software and regular townhalls.
A silver lining to the pandemic was the renewed focus it put on timely and positive communications. Leaders were encouraged to be available, transparent and humanise their corporate personas. Since everyone was working from home in extraordinary circumstances it flattened the corporate hierarchy even further and allowed individuals to show their empathetic side and be more supportive. We all learned a great deal from being thrust into this unusual circumstance: ranging from improved IT skills, better team relationships and a renewed confidence in the effectiveness of communications.
When I advised start-up companies on their communication strategies, I was impressed by the speed at which they operated. New ideas were trialled constantly, with minimal red tape and fearlessly; and if they failed, discarded just as fast. It was fascinating to witness the sheer excitement of the teams succeeding under intense pressure. I brought that entrepreneurial ‘can-do’ mindset with me when I joined my current company Janus Henderson – which, with one of its core principles being ‘act like an owner’ could only be a perfect match.
I’ve had a few memorable moments over the past years including a post-midnight call from a US journalist asking for comment on a leaked corporate story, having me jump out of bed and activate comms protocols across multiple time zones…in my pyjamas. However, my most memorable work moment was meeting Her Majesty The Queen and being able to present to her some of the work my colleagues and I had done to raise mental health awareness in our industry. I was hugely impressed by her ability to listen and respond to each person she met with genuine interest – she is a true communicator.
Being slightly hyperactive and not much of a gym bunny, I was looking for an outlet to channel my energy during lockdown. A journalist friend of mine, Gabriela Glette and I exchanged thoughts looking for silver linings of the pandemic and both of us concluded it was going to be a catalyst to improve communications skills. After years of understanding what makes someone a good communicator, we decided to share our insights into how to unlock the codes of communications and understand how positive communication tactics impact our lives.
Fun fact: Gabriela, a Brazilian journalist living in France and me, a Dutch German comms advisor living in the UK wrote the book entirely virtually, without once meeting in person...Cracking the Code: A Practical Guide to Better Communications is available on Amazon.
I once worked with a very talented portfolio manager who after many years of managing money for clients was promoted to Team Head. About six months into his new role, he stepped down from his managerial responsibilities to return to his previous job as fund manager. When I asked him why he answered simply: ‘I realised I really didn’t enjoy managing people. I prefer managing investments for my clients.’ What to me had looked like a demotion, was his self-realisation. We tend to think that the markers of success are limited to leading people, have bigger job titles, and increase our influence, but there is an alternative to this: becoming a true expert. Being self-aware, letting go of our ego and being able to understand our preferences will lead to greater satisfaction in our professions (and private lives).
I used to be the PR advisor for Baroness Helena Morrissey and when I was pregnant with my first child she reminded me that having children doesn’t mean the end of your career (she is a mother of nine!) but that if you become more efficient with your time you can find the balance to be both a mother and able to pursue a career. But for it to work you need support, from your other half and/or a strong support network as well as a lot of willpower. Her mindset was inspiring and refreshing at a time where female leaders were still second classed for becoming mothers, and her advice has served me well over the years.
Not sure I had a plan B! But I probably would have ended up writing novels, travelling across Europe in a campervan or living in a wood cabin somewhere remotely.