This is the fifth interview feature in our Female Leaders of the Event Industry content series – a celebration of empowerment and diversity in our industry, and a chance to shine the spotlight on those leading the way.
Leigh Jagger is CEO of Banks Sadler, a global event management company with offices in Europe and North America.
The organisation’s first female leader, Leigh has overseen phenomenal growth, resulting in Banks Sadler being ranked 2nd in C&IT’s Top 50 Agencies table. In 2016 Leigh received the Meeting Industry Association’s Leadership Award for her outstanding contributions to the industry.
- Tell us about your career path
Like many of my generation, I fell into the events industry by chance rather than good planning. I took a job in a training company after I finished university to save some money before heading off backpacking. I ended up managing their overseas courses which meant I got to do a lot of exciting long haul travelling while staying in really lovely hotels… bizarrely enough I got hooked and decided five-star hotels were much more my style than youth hostels.
After a few years, I joined the commercial conference sector working for IIR and then EuroForum, where I eventually took over as MD at age 27. I never really thought about it at the time but the owner was very trusting putting someone so young in charge of their business.
I then started my career with Banks Sadler in 2000 as the first female Managing Director and became CEO in 2007. I have now been here for 18 years in total. Banks Sadler has evolved so much during that time, so it has genuinely been like having five or six different exciting roles. Since our acquisition by AMEX GBT in August 2017, my role has developed still further and now involves not only responsibility for the Banks Sadler group globally, but also our integration into the wider AMEX GBT world.
- Did you always have big ambitions?
I grew up in a working-class town in the North East of England so being ambitious wasn’t something that was actively encouraged at my school. However, I was always fiercely independent, determined and driven by the need to be successful at whatever I did. Clearly, that is not always possible but it does mean that you become very self-motivated and, I guess, this has served me well over the years.
- What challenges have you faced to get where you are today?
When I first joined Banks Sadler, I would go to industry events and client meetings and be very conscious that I looked very young (I would definitely like to have that problem now!) and I worried that no one would take me seriously. You certainly have to prove yourself, but once you have demonstrated you are capable then you just get on with it!
- Have you had to make any sacrifices?
None that I wasn’t generally happy to make. Sometimes it’s quid pro quo and that always entails some compromises along the way. I only managed to take 12 weeks maternity leave with both my children. That was not ideal but it was absolutely my own choice. I didn’t want to take too much time away from the business at a point when we were growing rapidly and had won some fantastic client accounts.
Banks Sadler is a very family friendly company though and I managed to return to work on a four-day-a-week basis and have worked like this ever since. That has meant, over the years, I have been able to attend sporting fixtures, swimming lessons, Christmas carol services – all the things that working parents often miss out on. So, as I said, it is all about compromise and I know the kids are very proud of what I do (even if as teenagers now they don’t like to admit it!)
- What do you love most about your role?
I feel very privileged that I still love my job after all these years. I love the variety of my role. No two days are ever the same. I am still very involved in all aspects of the business but I really enjoy being client side. I love spending time with our existing clients as well as pitching for new ones. There is nothing like the thrill of winning over a new client.
The best part of my role though is that I get to work with some amazing people across all of our offices. Some of our team have been with Banks Sadler as long as me, if not longer, and I love how they are as passionate about the company as I am. We also have a whole generation of new and exciting team members who bring fresh ideas and enthusiasm to what we do and how we do it. The culture is very much one that encourages personal development and taking responsibility and I love seeing people develop their skills and grow.
- What has been your biggest work-related achievement?
Both I and the team have won many awards over the years and it’s always lovely to get that recognition. Our team works so hard behind the scenes for our clients, so it is fabulous for them to get the opportunity to enjoy the limelight (and the celebrations that go with them).
For me personally, however, I think my biggest achievement is growing Banks Sadler from a team of 35 people based in Camden to over 270 people with six offices across the globe. Most recently, this has culminated in our acquisition by AMEX GBT. Knowing Banks Sadler is part of one of the biggest meetings and events providers in the world, and that we are so well positioned to continue our growth, is something I am really proud.
- How do you achieve a work/life balance?
Some days I manage it better than I do on others. I think I am quite pragmatic. There are times when I do very long days and travel extensively so I don’t get to see my family, but then there are other times when I can move my day around so I can do the school run or get home for the kids to help with the homework.
I am incredibly fortunate and have a very supportive husband – I really couldn’t have managed to do my job without him being around to help look after the kids. He is a great cook too so we will never starve!
I know some people find today’s technology very intrusive but when managed carefully I think it can really help with your work/life balance. I can clear my emails and messages and keep on top of what’s going on from the side of the rugby pitch.
- What motivates you?
I firmly believe that whatever you do in life you should do it to the best of your ability. You don’t have to always be the best but knowing I am doing my absolute best keeps me motivated and happy.
As I get older and a number of my friends have had life-changing experiences, I am much more focussed on the here and now than I was when I was younger. Life is too short – you only get one chance at it, so make the most of it. Happiness and health have to come first.
- What three top skills do you believe you bring to your role and your team?
Passion, leadership and integrity (and definitely the ability to have some fun along the way!)
- What advice would you give to women looking for progression in the industry?
Believe in yourself and your own ability. Demonstrate you are good at what you do and then make sure you take every opportunity to progress. Sometimes I see the most capable women held back by their own lack of self-confidence. Don’t be frightened to just go for it – what is the worst thing that can happen?