Today i’m very excited to introduce you to ‘my home from home’. Sometimes things are meant to be and this is certainly one of these times. Let me explain.
A bit of history. Paul allen and dave stewart were having a drink one night in covent garden when they spotted a boarded-up building over the street. Enquiry revealed it had once been a hospital. Between them, the plan was hatched to revive this once elegant shell and transform it into a hub of creativity, full of people, ideas, music and life. Paul bought the former st paul’s hospital in 1996, and opened its doors as the hospital club in September 2004.
Winding back even further. In 1994, i got it into my head to have a massive birthday bash. Who better than to ask my lovely developer friends for some derelict places in their portfolio. (what are friends for?) One such place was the 1992 closed down st paul’s hospital. Unfortunately it was far to unsafe for such an event and i finally held my bash in an empty warehouse in clerkenwell.
Fast forward to 2005. Googling for some fornasetti fabrics i came across a fornasetti exhibition in the gallery of the hospital club. Surprised i had never heard of this club, minutes later, reading their then website made me weep with joy. It had everything i was looking for in a private membership club and more and i simply had to join on the spot. Little did i know there was a process i had to go through. Can you imagine? I had to wait a few weeks. Shocking!
If truth be told, lately i had found myself rather dispondent with the club. It’s original mission of the celebration of creativity, supporting and inspiring its members and partners through on-line community, extensive calendar of member events, exhibitions, and social and cultural collaborations had gone somewhat astray. I didn’t feel they were being true to their philosophy of create – connect – collaborate.
In walks sue walter, ceo extraordinaire, who has now been running the club for just over a year. I had the fortune to meet sue early on at a ‘have your say’ session, where she wanted to hear first hand from long standing members what worked and what didn’t, so they could make appropriate changes. It was love at first sight and i’m honoured to call sue my friend.
I asked sue for an interview not just because she is my friend but because she’s one of the most inspiring people i know and i wanted her to share her pearls of wisdom here with you. I’ve met many women in ceo roles but many feel they have to exert power and be balls breaking leaders to get ahead. Not sue, she runs the club with integrity, passion, dedication and outstanding leadership, constantly empowering people rather than to instil fear. It’s so refreshing to experience happy staff, content members and a vibrant and inspiring atmosphere.
Sue, thank you for giving me back my ‘home from home’. Over to you!
You have had a very interesting and varied career. Can you talk about this a little? I have been very fortunate with my career. When i graduated i didn’t really know what i wanted to do, but i was open to the possibilities and i have kept this philosophy throughout my life.
I started out my working life in the civil service (4 years with HM customs & excise and 5 years with the metropolitan police service). I loved working in the civil service; it was a great foundation in terms of developing my skills and confidence. They invest well in the development of their staff and the large scale of the organisation provides lots of opportunities for progression. It was during this time that I fell into HR and obtained formal professional qualifications. After 9 years in public service I was ready for a new challenge.
I became HR director at the royal opera house during a hugely challenging but rewarding period in its history (its closure and successful re-opening from 1998 to 2001). I then joined universal music heading up their UK HR function. During this time I had my son and was also presented with the opportunity to be part of a small team tasked with launching an exciting start-up called the hospital club. The hospital club was my first experience of start-ups and it was here that I discovered my love of building and growing things from the ground up.
After the successful launch of the club in 2005 a chance meeting lead to my move into the world of private equity. With TSL education ltd I was able to further develop my skills in growing new business and generating real value through people. My time at TSL education saw me move away from HR and firmly into operational management when I was asked to head up another start-up which went on to become an award winning business. My 6 years at TSL were like a real time MBA I learned business from the ground up from some amazing leaders and a fantastic business model. Then when the opportunity came along to return to the hospital club, this time at the helm, I couldn’t resist. From the moment I heard the club concept described to me back in 2002, it was love at first sight. I have loved the club ever since.
Did you ever have a vision of what/where you wanted to be in your career? Did you hatch plans for it as a child? I have never had a career map, which explains the disjointed nature of my career path. Every position i have ever held has presented itself to me at the right time in my life through a chance conversation or (like my first job) sitting on a train and seeing an advert above a window. The only thing i have ever sought is personal challenge and growth, the rest i leave to chance and timing.
How different is your role now as CEO of The Hospital Club? It’s wonderful to have been involved at the hospital club’s birth and now to be in a position to grow and shape it for the future. I feel very privileged.
My role now is very different to the one i had here 7 years ago where my focus was on the HR function. Today i am responsible for the vision and direction of travel. The buck stops with me, so to speak. I feel a huge sense of responsibility to the members, staff and the owner to maintain the integrity of what the club set out to be whilst ensuring its long term growth and sustainability. The good news is that i don’t have to do it alone. I am surrounded by great people who love the club every bit as much as i do and our collective energy makes anything possible. There are great things happening at the club at the moment and I feel proud to be a part of it.
The creative industries are at no.1 for economic growth. The UK has the largest cultural economy in the world. How does the hospital club fit into this? As a hub for the creative industries the hospital club fits firmly into this landscape. The success of the club reflects the growth generally in the creative industries. We set out to provide a home away from home for creative people to do what they do best – Connect, Create and Collaborate. From this mix we are starting to see great things born at the club from films, to music, to art, to thought leadership to new businesses and partnerships. We mirror what is happening in the wider creative environment.
Female leadership is a current topic! What have you learned as to how women leaders differ from men as leaders? I’m not sure that gender is what differentiates leaders. I have known and learned from some amazing leaders – both male and female.
There have been times in my career when I have been held back or not taken seriously because I am a woman, but these experiences have only made me more resourceful in terms of identifying different routes forward. Being a woman should never be used as an excuse for not pursuing and achieving your dreams.
What characteristics in your view make a great leader? Great leaders in my experience are those who understand that nothing can be achieved (not even the greatest vision or strategy) without the support of good people around you. Always surround yourself with people who are smarter, quicker and generally more capable than you are.
The rest is down to knowing your own strengths and limitations, and having the courage of your convictions. I truly believe that you have to be prepared to walk a different path. This helps to inspire creativity around you and as a result great things happen. As leonardo da vinci said “People of accomplishment rarely sit back and let things happen to them. They go out and happen to things.”
It’s still hard to find many female role models in business, where do you find your role models for support? I think it’s important to have good role models in life, particularly when you are starting out. Seeing successful women i hope inspires young girls to dream bigger dreams and have higher hopes for themselves. But the same can apply to male role models for young boys; I truly believe that good role models can come from anywhere and can be any gender. It’s about what inspires you and what drives you. Think about your favourite teacher when you were at school. Chances are that they are your favourite not because of their gender, but because they inspired you and opened you up to possibilities you hadn’t thought about before.
On the topic of support. Mentoring is key. What do you tell the young women you mentor? Supporting and mentoring young people is hugely important to me. I have been inspired by so many people throughout my professional and personal life. I want to be able to do the same for others. What I say to my mentees varies, but the common theme is about self-awareness and self-belief.
I tell them that to be successful in what you do you need to have passion and a vision – from passion will spawn the perseverance and determination to get you through the tough times, and the vision will take you to where you want to be and what you want to achieve.
Then there are some keys to success that I have found to be true over the years:
Treat others as you wish to be treated, and respect and recognise individuals for the positive contribution they make;
No one can make you feel inferior without your permission;
Obstacles are put there to separate those who really want something from those who only think they do;
You have to set yourself high standards and live by them in the way that you conduct yourself;
Success is unique to us all…don’t define your success by someone else’s standards, but by your own values;
Deliver what you have promised – trivial or important; and finally
Never forget the people who have supported you, and always work hard to play it forward
What’s next for sue walter? Will you write a book? Any dreams? A book? Maybe one day. Dreams? I have many…. but essentially to find happiness, challenge and fulfilment in whatever I do.
As for ‘what next’, I refer you to my answer to the second question; I never plan next steps. Right now I am in the moment, and loving what I am doing. There is a lot still for me to do and achieve at the hospital club and like everything else in my life, I am sure that when the time is right the next step will present itself to me. I just need to remain open to the possibilities!
Thank you sue for your time and generous answers. I’m truly inspired!
The club has recently been re-designed by the wonderful russell sage studio.
I often get asked how i make use of a private membership club. Well, in no particular order, there’s using it as a part-time workspace, having delicious breakfast, lunch or dinner, entertaining clients, seeing films in a fantastic private 3D cinema (often previews), networking, connecting and collaborating, plotting new ideas, having the facility to hire a space for events, visiting exciting exhibitions in the gallery space, hanging out and smooching with friends. Phew! All this in one place!
As sue said, it’s about teamwork and the seamless running of the club wouldn’t be possible without the incredible staff, who are always very helpful! Here’s to the another happy seven years!
I do hope everyone is enjoying a little of the london design festival, be it live, on twitter, facebook, instagram or reading about it on blogs. I’m seeing as much as i can, time permitting. For this reason i will not post on monday but see you back here next thursday. Have a good week.