“The Senior Executive Programme challenges you to think about who you are, where you are and what you want to be doing.”

Catherine Faiers

Chief Operating Officer at Autotrader UK

Catherine1-1440x900

With a career covering accounting, banking, strategy, corporate development, operations, marketing and finance, Catherine Faiers finally found her calling as a COO at Autotrader. Today she shares how securing a scholarship on our Senior Executive Programme impacted her personal development and her ability to shape the future of the UK’s leading online automotive marketplace.
Read more

Growing up in a small village in the Suffolk countryside, from a young age, I learnt the importance of education and having a strong work ethic. I had a really happy childhood; my family all lived close by so I had a tight, supportive community around me. My mother is a teacher and my dad worked for our local electricity company. They left school at 14 to forge their own paths and didn’t go to university until later on in their lives; studying around their full time jobs. Knowing this and seeing what they’d achieved helped me to realise that by studying and working hard, good things can happen.

I’ve always enjoyed taking on new challenges. As a result, my career has been far from linear. In 2001 I was studying Economics at Durham University. My friend who was working for Arthur Anderson recommended me for their summer leadership programme, which I joined. It was a great experience to have while still at university, and was fundamental in helping me to land a role as an Executive in PWC’s banking and capital markets division after graduating, which served as the start of my career. I’ve never had a structured plan of where to take my career, I’ve just focused on learning new things and what I’ve enjoyed. I’ve worked in accounting, banking, strategy, corporate development, operations, marketing and finance; ending up as a COO, which is my perfect job as I get to do a bit of everything.

I first stepped into a COO role at Addison Lee in 2013, which was a steep learning curve. I led the digital transformation and an operations team across customer service, driver support, control centre and fleet management. In previous roles, I’d been leading smaller teams and doing strategic development-based work. Suddenly I found myself running a call centre of several hundred people, fleet operations including a team of mechanics and being responsible for Addison Lee’s 5,000 or so partner drivers. Leading a 24/7 live operational business was a huge challenge, but one that showed me the value of supporting and working with different teams to find the right solutions. 

I joined Autotrader in 2017 as Marketing Director, going on to secure the position of COO in 2019. I love my role because I work with lots of different people from across our organisation and also get to know our customers and their needs really well. This gives me great context to shape and deliver our strategy and also to run the day to day operations of the business. In my role I work closely with the Chairman, CEO and Non Executives on the development, communication and delivery of our strategy and plans, while being actively involved in managing our relationships with all stakeholders of the business, including our shareholders and the wider communities that we operate in.

I joined the 30% club as I’m passionate about diversity, inclusion and gender balance. I never would have ended up where I am today without the managers, mentors and coaches who recognised my potential, supported and promoted me; often before I felt comfortable taking the next step. This is why I’ve strived to become an active mentor to women, both within Autotrader and other organisations by joining the 30% club.

My learning journey

“From the UK and Australia to South America and Singapore, it was a truly diverse group, not just in nationality but industry; with participants from healthcare, construction, mining, financial services and recruitment.”

“You’ll leave with a new mindset and learn to think differently about your organisation and its future.”

Read more

It seems so obvious that the better a business reflects its end customers, communities and stakeholders, the more successful it will be. In the automotive industry there’s still a long way to go; it’s made up of historically male dominated roles in production, engineering and technology. But it is such an exciting sector, it is at the center of huge changes in how we all live our lives, whether that’s how we travel or driving a more sustainable future. As a woman in an influential position within the sector, I have a responsibility to do more to address this imbalance. 

I’m one of the 30% Club’s patrons for the automotive industry, which is where I first heard about the chance to apply for a scholarship at LBS. It’s not every day that you get the opportunity to study at a leading business school with some of the world’s greatest business minds and faculty, so it wasn’t something I could ignore. It had been less than a year after taking on my role as COO at Autotrader that the pandemic hit, and all our normal priorities and ways of working went out the window. I hadn’t really had the chance to properly reflect on what impact I wanted to have and how I could shape the future organisation from within my role. The Senior Executive Programme felt like an amazing opportunity to focus on my personal development; I didn’t think twice before applying.

Even if I wasn’t awarded a scholarship, I still would have taken a lot away from the application process. The panel that I spoke to was made up of people from the 30% Club, LBS faculty and senior industry figures. Just experiencing what they focused on, the questions they asked and how they framed those questions was really intriguing. Applying for the scholarship also gave me chance to step back and reflect on where I was in my career, what I wanted to get out of the programme and what I wanted to achieve afterwards. This ensured I went into the SEP with a clear motive and ultimately allowed me to hit the ground running.

The programme’s 360 feedback and reflected best-self assessment helped me become more aware of my strengths and how other people perceive me. It was an incredibly insightful part of the SEP that made me recognise that when I’m my happiest, doing the things I enjoy, I perform my best. We’re now running a similar exercise with Autotrader’s leadership team to help people define them at their best, their ‘best self’ and to spend more time on the areas they excel in. We’re quite a fluid organisation, so roles can easily change to reflect this over time. Just because you’re a Marketing Director or Technology Director doesn’t mean you have to stick to the traditional job description. Focusing on what we all enjoy and what we’re good at is a mindset that I’m proud to have championed, and I look forward to seeing the impact at Auto Trader.

The wellbeing module made the Senior Executive Programme a truly rounded experience. The sessions with Jeff Arhcer and Jim Steele – a wellness coach and a coach to athletes and business leaders around the world – were truly eye opening. They highlighted the small adjustments you can make in your life to be healthier and happier. Getting outside more, focusing on breathing, sleeping and knowing when to step away from work are all small things that when combined, can create big changes in your life; something I can testify too.

The impact of my experience

 

 

 

 

 


“The programme gave me a broader perspective on the big themes that are impacting the world.”



Catherine-5-1440x900

“Going into the programme, I was worried I’d be one of the only women in the room; a fear that was quickly alleviated.”

Read more

The programme gave me a broader perspective on the big themes that are impacting the world. Andrew Scott’s 100 Year Life sessions made me question, are we really making the most of age diversity and are we doing enough to support people to have careers lasting over 70 years? With people living longer than ever, it opened my eyes to the huge potential talent pool of people that the technology industry doesn’t typically focus on, there’s a huge bias towards youth. We’ve had a technology returners programme for some time but are exploring what more we can do. Sustainability was another topic that was already a huge focus for Autotrader and is part of our purpose. Learning about the circular economy and how other organisations adapted shaped my thinking on the role we can play, not only to drive the adoption of new electric vehicles but to support the transition away from ICE vehicles in the used car market. This has brought a whole new set of considerations and focus areas to our sustainability strategy. 

Going into the programme, I was worried I’d be one of the only women in the room; a fear that was quickly alleviated. Autotrader’s board is 50% female, which is above average for many FTSE 100 organisations. To my surprise, there were seven women in our cohort, which was actually a fairly large percentage. Instantly, I felt privileged and proud to be learning alongside some of the world’s leading businesswomen. From the UK and Australia to South America and Singapore, it was a truly diverse group, not just in nationality but industry; with participants from healthcare, construction, mining, financial services and recruitment.

The online format worked seamlessly; the school and faculty did the best possible job of delivering the full LBS experience under the circumstances. All attendees, whether virtual or in the room, were very respectful, raising their hands when they wanted to speak and ensuring that we didn’t talk over one another. The faculty were also very aware of this, and were proactive in encouraging people to speak and engage throughout the sessions. Despite joining remotely, it did absolutely nothing to diminish the learning experience.

To get the most out of the programme, you need to be committed to your own development, no matter how uncomfortable that might be. It can be hard to have your experience contested and to embrace honest, constructive feedback, so you really need to be open minded. People who are curious to learn about other organisations and how people have tackled problems, while at the same time reflecting on themselves, are the type of business people that will truly reap the benefits of the SEP.

Ultimately, the programme challenges you to think about who you are, where you are and what you want to be doing. You’ll leave with a new mindset and learn to think differently about your organisation and its future. If you’re prepared to have everything you believe challenged, then then it’ll be difficult to find a more rewarding experience at a business school than on the Senior Executive Programme.

“People who are curious to learn about other organisations and how people have tackled problems, while at the same time reflecting on themselves, are the type of business people that will truly reap the benefits of the SEP.”

Senior Executive Programme

Challenge your thinking and reignite your ambition with our flagship executive development programme, designed for senior leaders with a minimum of 12 years' management experience.