Ahhh, Sarah Robb O'Hagan. My Kiwi twin (yeah, we look pretty different but apparently half of NZ thinks we are the same person). And that is a-ok with me. Sarah is smart, energetic, resilient to the MAX, passionate and nice. Not nice in that boring way you reserve for dull people. Nice in the "awesome, totally cares about other people, couldn't be more kind, thoughtful and caring" way. IE - a truly amazing human being.
She has had an incredible career working for Nike, Virgin, Air New Zealand, Gatorade and now Equinox. And she is a squiggler without a doubt. Conscious of taking a risk, keeping her on her edge, challenging herself to greatness. She is a shining example that anyone can squiggle, not just entrepreneurs, and I have been DYING to share her squiggly thinking with you all.
Hi Sarah - digital hug - thanks for not making this a 5am start for me. You have made a lot of big leaps in your career. What was the biggest?
The biggest leap was without a doubt Gatorade. I was at Nike and it was all happening for me. I was on the senior mentor program and the "high potential list”; everything was set up for me to have a big career there. I was loving it too, Nike was my dream job, I fought really hard to get there. So here I am, it’s all laid out in front of me and I am about to move my family to Portland to take things to the next step…and Gatorade call.
I’m in suspense, even though I know the ending. Sarah takes the Gatorade gig, has her Jerry Maguire moment, and takes Gatorade from under performing to over performing. Superstar. But Sarah you left your dream job, how did you know you should do that?
It was a huge gamble, without a doubt. But I could see the path in front of me at Nike and I felt, while I would continue to learn, it was a steady path. I wanted the challenge that Gatorade was offering, I knew I would rather fail at something big and uncertain than achieve something - to use your term - that was linear. But it was such a gamble, bigger than I likely realized at the time. I knew I could have screwed up my career if it didn't go well- but if I pulled it off, it would be a springboard.
People - corporate squiggling at its finest. Stepping into the unknown. Did you have doubts?
Oh absolutely. I mean, on the one hand your intuition is screaming at you that this is the right thing to do, but then there is no safety net whatsoever. One of my mentors pulled me aside before I left and said “you know you are on your own now, there is no coming back”. Woosh!, there goes your safety net. If I had known there was a safety net I'm not sure I would have worked as hard. At the time those words shocked me, but now I am very thankful for it.
This is the hardest bit about squiggling, when your fears and self doubt of failing knock at the door. You can’t let that in. How did you squash the voices!
Well at one point I actually said to management - fire me now or let me do this my way. To succeed you need to go all in, you have to almost put it all on the line. I have always done this to be honest, I didn’t always succeed but I just kept trying and pushing forward. That is the truth of success, just to tackle failure head on.
We talked about the fact that we were not the kids that made the teams, or who were picked as soloist, or got the top grade. I think that made us gritty and resilient, so winning was not what we were expecting. Do you think this makes us better risk-takers?
I have a HUGE self-definition around failure. I remember all the failures; the times I didn’t get picked or the 2-times I was fired. It’s all about focusing on the next step, using this as fuel to push you to the next step. To decide NO this is not the final answer.
Knowing this, how are you raising your children?
Well this is the big question isn’t it. And not just my kids, but everyone that surrounds me. The big thing I hope to be able to teach is just to embrace who you are. This is all about you, it comes from you, self-belief is the most critical component to trying - often, again, and again and again. If you think the path will be defined for you, think again.
Final question. I talk about momentum and I say it’s the hardest part of this. That you need to keep finding ways to progress forward. As a sports-buff I think you will understand this well, what is your take on the importance of momentum?
I think we expect things all at once. That you have the idea and, boom, everything will line up to make that happen. At Gatorade I realized I had this expectation early on and I had to turn it off. There really is no finish-line, there is no moment that you break through the tape and say “I won”. If you expect black and white you will miss the golden opportunities that present themselves, the moments where you see places that your thinking can be refined and finessed. The moments where a problem arises and, through solving it, you create even more potential. Momentum is the key to this, it goes hand in hand with the idea that an achievement is a journey. Every day you need to advance forward and refine your idea, if you can’t advance you will get stuck chasing an artificial finish-line. I think that is how you lose.
Ok final final question. What did you want to “be” when you grew up?
I wanted to be a Vet and I very definitely did NOT want to work in an office.
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