Having spent a number of years as a shareholder and General Manager of growing technology consultancy “Cucumber” Clare Swallow had a 4am epiphany that with 2 children under three, a mortgage and no real plan of attack, it was the perfect time to leave the job she loved and start her own business!
She now helps organisations take a human approach to change with a focus on building cultures of courage and innovation. To her innovation or new ways of doing things is the outcome of a great culture – you can’t have one without the other. Clare believes the world and the way in which we work is fundamentally changing and therefore organisations need help to build cultures where connection, creativity and courage is at the heart of how they work. Since the industrial revolution people were trained as if they were a machine with a process, policy and standard operating procedure for almost everything. As robots become more of a reality to doing the jobs humans were trained to do, Clare feels we now need to move to the next phase of building capability around curiosity, compassion, and creativity – all the things that machines will struggle to replicate, providing an awesome opportunity to get back to what makes humans, human.
Graduating from university with a business and a psychology degree, 21-year-old Clare was going to make the world a better place by making people happy at work. She saw HR as the route to do this but very quickly, after being involved in a large scale project of making people redundant, decided HR was maybe not the place for her. So she pivoted to marketing and decided she’d try and make customers lives better. After some amazing experiences, she was increasingly frustrated that marketing was becoming more about paper stock and less about customers so she pivoted again into a sales/consultancy role where she’d help people better position themselves online. This was at a time where social media, eCommerce and digital experience in general, was beginning to be more talked about in organisations. From there she did a stint in some creative agencies in the UK and on returning back to NZ joined Cucumber. From her time leading Cucumber one of her biggest learnings was “it’s never about the technology”. Technology is an enabler but unless we have the people, culture and innovation pieces right technology will never solve the challenges we think it will.
In the past leading a growing technology company, without an overly technical background was by far one of the biggest challenges she has faced. Learning that to be a great leader meant hiring great people and getting out of their way to some extent was a lesson that didn’t come easy. Growing a team who were united in their focus, passionate about what they were doing and went over and above to deliver because they cared about our clients and each other she says was a pretty magical place to be. She loves seeing the personal transformation in the work she does. The elusive ‘ah-ha’ moments where you help someone see the way forward or open up to their team or recognise they need to (and can) make a change is what drives her to keep going.
Clare genuinely feels like Bay of Plenty companies are more open to collaboration and learning from each other. She thinks one of the advantages of being based in the Bay is that we are small enough to have a couple of degrees of separation but big enough to attract and grow some pretty amazing businesses here. She also gets the sense most of us, herself included, feel pretty lucky to call this place home and therefore feel some responsibility to leave it better than we found it. As a result, she think people may be more giving with their time . As testament to this Clare loves getting involved in volunteer work that aligns with things that she is passionate about such as Young Innovator Awards, Smart Seeds and Agile on the beach conference.
Making a difference for her clients, the region, and her kids are what drives Clare to achieve. She feels she’s at an amazing point in her career where she’s worked out that unless something aligns with her values and she can see she can make a tangible impact about making a change then she says no. What she has learnt is by saying no to things that don’t get her excited, creates the space for the projects that do. The rest then really takes care of itself. Clare admits to being a real planner and not a massive risk-taker by nature but leaving a role she loved to focus her time 100% on where she could make a bigger impact has been amazing. Don’t wait until you have the 100 step plan to make a change is the advice she has for other women. There have been moments that have been scary and lonely but these are far outweighed by the feeling you get having done a piece of work for someone that has made a fundamental impact on their business.