Q&A with Carla Stent, MCS Advisory Limited

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FV interviews Carla Stent of MCS Advisory Limited. Carla participated on the panel at FV’s October 2017 event Leading Through Uncertainty hosted by Dow Jones. Find out more about Carla’s successful and varied career below.

What will be the biggest challenge for the generation of women behind you?

Over the last 6 months I am beginning to really appreciate how much understanding technology and what it can do to run businesses in completely (and previously unimagined) ways can mean. Women are less inclined to spend time coding, working with technology, maths and engineering type projects and hobbies. We need to be relevant and this will be even more important for future generations.

What was your dream job as a child and why?

I wanted to be able to help people be able to speak and explain what they wanted…I later realised that this was speech therapy…however, I realized too late that I needed biology as a school subject to be able to study it at university. I learnt then that you need to research and understand the rules of the game if you want to play!

What is the best and worst decision you’ve ever made?

Best decision – deciding to marry my husband! He has been my backbone and supported my career and my decisions all the way. I could not have succeeded without his constant support.

Worst decision – I was offered the chance to take a Rotary Exchange to Taiwan after I had finished school. For a number of reasons, I did not think I was able to take the opportunity. I should have! And since then, I have held on to the “Carpe Diem” (Seize the Day) motto.

How is your company dealing with unconscious bias?

I have recruited people into my own consultancy business, MCS Advisory Ltd, who can work anywhere in the world when they are not needed on client premises. I have deliberately faced the unconscious bias head on…in my quest for finding the best people for the job. That includes recruiting people who sometimes work from game reserves… or the Seychelles. I have also recruited mums returning to work.

Many of my clients are looking at a combination of training and recruitment policies. But they key is awareness – and the ability for all colleagues to be able to call it out. We all have sets of natural prejudices and we need to sometimes be reminded of them – they are “unconscious” most of the time and not something that any of us are proud of when a spotlight is shone on them.

How do you motivate yourself and stay motivated?

I was brought up to do the very best that I can every day. That seems to be part of my DNA now. I have also always been very ambitious and curious to know just how far I can push myself to succeed.

My teams and my clients are also a source of energy and motivation. I love creating and working with high performing teams and people who can grow both personally and professionally.

If you could tell your younger self one thing you know about business now, what would it be?

“Don’t ever think you have to know everything before you make a decision.” That may be a decision to apply for a job, ask for a budget, make a recommendation. Gut instinct counts for a lot and whilst that facts may be exactly the same, the people will be different – and therefore you will always have some unknowns. Embrace these and be confident in your own ability.

What’s an accomplishment that you are proudest of?

There are a few occasions when I have built an amazing group of people who have achieved more than they ever thought possible – and grown as individuals. They have always been a group with very different skill sets and very different natural styles. We have taken the time to understand these (using personal profiles) as a group, and then allowed each other the space to play to our strengths.

The work we had to do was tough. But as a team we achieved so much more than expected and still remain friends – often looking back on those periods with a sense of pride.

Who is your role model, and why?

Nelson Mandela. I grew up in apartheid South Africa and got to meet Nelson when he was still on Robben Island. He managed to channel his early anger and passion into a force for good. He united the black and white communities by tackling the emotional insecurities and uncertainties alongside the massive political challenges. He single handedly averted a civil war and led the country through reconciliation. The photo of Nelson in a SA jersey at the 1995 Rugby World Cup still brings a lump to my throat!

What would be your advice for women who are building careers in the industry you work in?

Believe in yourself and once you have set your goals, be relentless in the pursuit of them…and find your support to help you get there (both those who will challenge you and those who will encourage you.) I carry Denis Watley’s quote in my purse: ““The reason most people never reach their goals is that they don’t define them, or ever seriously consider them as believable or achievable. Winners can tell you where they are going, what they plan to do along the way, and who will be sharing the adventure with them.”

What’s your own personal mantra?

Carpe Diem – see above

What do you think makes a successful leader?

Listen more than you talk;

Learn more than you direct;

Laugh more than you frown

Carla Stent has held a number of senior positions in banking, private equity and retail industries. She has had direct responsibility for corporate finance & post-merger integration, strategy, business operations, brand development & management and business transformation. Carla has operated at Board level in several countries for organisations including Virgin Group, Barclays Bank plc and the Thomas Cook Group.

Carla now has a portfolio career; heading MCS Advisory Limited, a consultancy that provides interim strategic, financial and operational advice to clients in the private, public and third sectors. She also serves as a non executive director and / or chair person on the boards and sub committees of Savernake Capital Group, JPM Morgan Elect plc, Marex Spectron Limited, the Post Office and Power to Change Trust. She has previously served on the boards and committees of Christian Aid, Change Alliance (India) and the Princes Teaching Institute.

Carla is also a serial angel investor and is a frequent speaker on corporate culture, gender equality and philanthrophy, as well as a mentor to emerging talent.

Carla is a qualified chartered accountant and was born and educated in South Africa.

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