New Zealand-born and raised, Global Women member Sara Clemens is chief strategy officer of Pandora, based in Oakland California. In addition to corporate strategy and development, her mission is to make Pandora an indispensable partner for the music industry globally. Sara is passionate about high-growth business in emerging technology markets. Over her 20 years in technology her roles have included executive positions at LinkedIn and Microsoft, both with broad international responsibilities.
Global Women caught up with Sara for a Q&A about just how she navigates leadership.
What role models did you have growing up, to which you can attribute some of your successes?
Role models have had a huge influence on my career. I consider myself incredibly fortunate to have been raised in New Zealand which, by global standards, is very progressive in terms of female leadership. Seeing women as the head of Parliament, running the largest corporation in the market, or as Attorney General helps you believe that there are no insurmountable barriers to female leadership. My cousin Linda Clark was a huge influence: I lived with her when I first moved to Wellington to work for the Ministry of Commerce, and met many of her colleagues and friends who were driving politics and journalism forward. It is very motivating to see all they have achieved and to have tracked their formidable careers.
Can you define a moment in your career where you learned one of your biggest lessons?
In 2001, I worked for a telecommunications provider in London and my husband and I had accepted a two-year secondment to Paris so I could lead the company’s European expansion.On Sept 12, 2001, the markets collapsed into an abyss and the company shut down its European operations. I remember calling my husband and breaking the news that not only was I being made redundant, but we were also homeless. It was the first time I’d ever really failed, but my career has been much better for it. I found a great new role and it made me realise that taking risks and failing is often the beginning of something great, not the end.
What are you doing to ensure that you keep developing as a leader?
Leading is about motivating people to achieve shared objectives. Communication is critical in ensuring teams understand what the company’s vision and strategic imperatives are, and how their efforts connect to those. I spend a lot of time working to strengthen my communication skills and helping people amplify their efforts through collaboration.
What’s the one characteristic you think every leader needs to have? And the one that could undermine them?
You have to be willing to take risks and believe you’re capable of achieving what you sign up for. Many times, people are risk adverse. They underestimate their capabilities and this makes them reluctant to apply for opportunities that will stretch them. Equally, you need to moderate risk-taking behavior and ensure decisions are data driven and thoughtful. Balancing action and insights is key.
Any advice to aspiring leaders making their way through their career?
Be passionate about your chosen field and role. It’s difficult to address the inevitable challenges if you don’t love what you do. Also, accept that failure is part of success. If you are moving quickly you will make some mis-steps. Learn from them, course correct and keep going.
What’s the most exciting development you’re involved with at the moment?
It’s an incredibly dynamic time for the music industry, the one constant being that fans and artists are always looking for ways to have a direct dialogue. A major focus for us here at Pandora is helping artists leverage our platform to forge stronger connections with their fans.Our Music Makers Group delivers experiences to create moments of delight for listeners, and in the last few months alone has directly connected over 5 million fans with the artists they love.This includes live streams of sold out concerts performed by Jack White and Mumford & Sons and tour promotions for both the Rolling Stones and rising new stars like Odesza. To see these things come together seamlessly, not only from a planning and logistics perspective but also culminate in meaningful interactions for both the bands and our listeners, is really exciting. We are now focused on scaling these activities and making them available for all 200,000 artists on