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Frances Edwards

Frances Edwards

Frances Edwards is a Chief Operating Officer

  • Location: London, UK 

  • Corporate title: Chief Operating Officer 

  • University degree: BSc International Management and Modern Languages from The University of Bath, UK

How does your usual day look like?

Up at 6am, check overnight emails, lots of ‘children chivvying’ then out the door on the school run at 7:30. When not doing the school drop I typically run or go to the gym first thing. I definitely prefer exercising in the morning; I enjoy the quiet before the rest of the world is up and there is nothing better than catching the first light in spring after the months of winter darkness. A real joy!

My work day starts at 8/8:30 and I do hybrid work. Days on location in the UK or abroad are spent with team members, partners and suppliers whilst remote days are split between BAU activities and planning and executing longer term deliverables.

On location, my day finishes with networking events or team drinks whilst remote days finish at 18:30 with the early evening spent catching up on my daughters’ news from school, taking them to swim club, prepping their kit for the next day, reading stories and getting them to bed. I then plow through some life admin before crashing to bed at 22:30. One evening a week I get out and sprint train with my running club, which is always a (tiring) highlight of the week.

What are the things you like the most about your job?

Building. My career has spanned early stage startups and scaling corporates but a core theme throughout each role is that something new and difficult needs building and I deliver. Often there is no industry precedent so I am adept at creating something from a ‘blank sheet’ whilst bringing diverse stakeholders along on the innovation journey to ensure swift and successful implementation.

What are some of the skills you utilise the most in your day-to-day at work?

Problem solving. Influencing, negotiating, foresight and drive. And of course coaching.

What was one of your happiest days in your career and why?

Any day when I see individuals within my teams growing and developing. I consider myself a leader who serves. I have high expectations of myself and my teams and dedicate significant time to mentoring and empowering individuals to achieve their potential and build resilience. Whenever I observe that this time investment is paying dividends for the individual, me and the firm I feel a sense of happiness and pride.

What was the toughest career decision you ever made?

It is often said that people leave bosses not companies, however my first career move was the opposite. Whilst a positive career step, it was the hardest career decision to leave a great boss and sponsor, and move to another company. Fourteen years on we are still in touch and I remain forever grateful to him for role modeling humane leadership at the start of my career which became my valued benchmark. My core leadership principles are trust, transparency, integrity and reciprocity.

What is something you had to learn to become better at your work?

Learning to push back and say ‘no’ and have it land well, rather than negatively, which relies on an ability to position and influence.

In addition, I have an innate bias towards action; to make decisions, execute and move forward. However, whenever a decision is made it closes options off. In certain scenarios, I have learnt that doing ‘nothing’ or waiting is a credible active decision; it just feels uncomfortable to me!

How did you get to become a COO?

I had 15 years of cross functional experience across different sectors within financial services. Changing roles every 2/3 years and taking on ‘stretch opportunities’ which I didn’t yet feel ready for meant my skills grew and I developed ‘Range’ which I believe is a core foundation for effective COOs.

What's the one piece of career advice you have for anyone interested in following your footsteps?

Have the confidence to forge your own path, success is unique to you and don’t compare yourself to others. Adopting a growth mindset and being values led are the core principles around which I have forged my career. Pursue opportunities that interest you, even if it is slightly unclear where they will take you, trust in experience and seek exposure to leaders who share your values.

What's your number one productivity hack / when or how are you most effective?

I plan a week ahead and then plan each day the night before. Which means, absent any fires, I start the day with a clear focus on my priorities; those that are important and urgent and then longer term initiatives. This means I am not consumed by urgent, but not important issues. In addition, as a morning person I try to keep a two hour block in the morning free of meetings to do high impact work. I then schedule 1-2-1’s, all hands, external stakeholder and board/committee meetings in the afternoon when I can use interactions to boost my energy levels.

What makes you gracefullyBOLD?

Being values led. Consistently, throughout my career, I have made career decisions based on my values even if it has meant boldly stepping into the unknown which can be unnerving and seemingly risky.

How do you spend your weekend or downtimes?

Actively! Racing for my club, then stretching the run out at Ashtanga Yoga, attempting as coach to corral my daughter’s enthusiastic U8 hockey team and generally being a taxi for my two daughters playdates and hobby schedule. Downtime is typically Saturday night when, all tired, we cook, eat and play board games or watch a film together. 

How do you deal with stress and build resilience?

By exercising - literally running away from it all! In addition, I become laser focused on core deliverables and strictly deprioritise. Startup life can be all consuming and I naturally become emotionally invested in my work which I see as a core leadership skill in the sector. However it does absorb energy and therefore requires regulating. 

What would have been your alternative career path or alternative University degree?

Law.  I didn’t choose Law as I knew I wanted to pursue the commercial route in business but on reflection a legal foundation would have been extremely useful as I have ended up doing so much product structuring work throughout my career.

Who is a female professional that inspired you along your career journey? What did she do / say / or what are the character traits and professional skills she uses.

I have worked in male dominated environments for the majority of my career but have sought out female mentors one of which advised “Play to your strengths and hire in areas where you are weaker”. As a COO you need to understand all areas of a business but can’t be a specialist in every one so this advice has stood me in good stead.

If you could time-travel and meet any leader, who/where would that be?

I don’t need to time travel but just need an invitation to meet Sir David Attenborough. His passion, advocacy, dedication and ability to remain relevant to successive generations spanning a seventy year career is utterly unique. A role model and inspiration to all.

What's the last thing you learnt?

How to play Jingle Bells on the piano - my 8 year old taught me - I am notoriously unmusical!

What's the one thing we didn't ask you but you'd like to answer?

  • Question: Skiing or Snowboarding? 

  • Answer: Skiing of course - you can do everything and more on skis, all terrain, there is no need to be a noughties border! 

One word answers & quick fire round. Let's go!

Your superpower: Dogged determination

Favourite restaurant: I am not a foodie but do like the light and fresh food at Granger & Co

Favourite beauty brand: Bobbi Brown

Favourite fashion brand: ME + EM

Favourite perfume: Chance by Chanel

Book recommendation: For relaxing: Any of the "Cormoran Strike Mysteries" by Robert Galbraith (JK Rowling pseudonym) currently reading "The Running Grave", which I am having trouble putting down. For learning: "Range" by David Epstein: "As complexity increases - as technology spins the world into vaster webs of interconnected systems in which each individual only sees a small part … we need more people who start broad and embrace diverse experiences and perspectives while they progress. People with range.”

Next holiday destination: Obergurgl in Austria, hoping for better snow than last year.

Your hobby: Club running and coaching junior club hockey

Favourite mantra: "I'll either find a way or make one."

Who inspires you: Women

Tea or Coffee: Tea

Red wine or White wine: Champagne

Morning bird or Night owl: Morning bird

Cat person or Dog person: Neither, two children is enough!

Thank you Frances for sharing your journey & wisdom with us!

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