This International Women’s Day, we’re celebrating some of the incredible women we have had the privilege of working with at Storm. We’ll be sharing our mini series across the next few days.
Today we explore the life and career of Sarah Fenwick, Managing Director of Energist and Get On Site. Energist is an independent specialist to the construction industry; helping them meet building regulation compliance and planning conditions regarding energy efficiency and sustainability. Get on site is an award winning online induction platform that makes it easy to induct operatives, visitors and contractors prior to their arrival at work, taking the pain away from the repetitive, manual inductions.
Sarah, you’ve been the managing director of Energist since 2006. Can you give us a bit of background as to how Energist was established?
One of those lightbulb moments! At the time I was involved in a family construction company, in full swing and going well, yet by 2006 we realised that the UK’s building regulations were going to radically change overnight and that the construction industry was going to be affected, AKA us too! These new regulations took us away from the muddy construction sites we’d been used to and placed us ‘behind the scenes’ as Advisors, rapidly growing from a startup, initially based in my parents house in Tetbury for the first 9 months, into a UK-wide specialist consultancy company. Looking back, that background of hands-on construction experience was a real commercial edge. We started off with just a fax machine, a website and the Yellow Pages! How times have changed, when I set up my second company in 2015 it was all digital.
Construction and architecture are typically male dominated industries, even dating back 15 years. How did you break into the industry so successfully and what advice would you give other women looking to make their mark in male dominated spaces?
To be honest, maybe it’s my way of looking at life, but i can’t say I think of it as a ‘breakthrough’. In business it’s good to be different, to stand out, not follow the crowds. My advice would be the same to any person whatever their gender, “work hard, know your stuff, be honest, give your opinion”.
One of the first things I noticed from several pieces of text across the internet, is how you refer back to your team. You’re very complimentary about their work. What’s your secret to creating a successful team?
Ah that’s a cool question, also a tough one! My team makes it very easy to be complimentary, they’re ace. Especially all our mums, dads and grandparents who for the past year have been juggling childcare, home schooling PLUS their jobs, deadlines and clients. How incredible are they all right now?! So my aim is to be as flexible and supportive as I can be; what would I need if I was in their shoes? And for wider team success, my experience is it’s not a fixed state. Team success doesn’t stand still for long. Teams need nurturing not neglecting. I try to always be available and open, supportive and positive, yet stretching and ambitious.
Also a successful team shares the same values, and I’ve realised just how important that is over the years so we work really hard on our recruitment and induction process, taking good care of our internal culture, not being afraid to make difficult decisions as well as celebrate success and achievement.
5 years ago you launched Get On Site, an online system that manages employee and contractor inductions. It seems like a natural progression of Energist given your line of work, but how did the idea for this come about?
Well through my husband’s pain points! He’d had one of those exacerbating days and a chat over dinner that evening sparked the initial idea, and a belief that “surely there’s got to be a better way!”. But first, for it to be an idea worth taking further, I had set myself a strict checklist which a second company had to meet before it progressed further, and this one ticked most of the boxes. At the time I appreciated that it can be commercially dangerous to get distracted and I was already fortunate enough to lead a very successful company so why go through the growing pains of a start-up company again?! But, when a good idea is too good to ignore, it shouts loudly and needs attention and action.
I’m really intrigued to know how you split your time between the two companies. How do you find time for both as well as yourself?
In the beginning I read the experience of others who’d ventured down this road themselves, what processes they’d tried, their methods, their learning curve. I had all the theory, tried lots of different methods starting with two different systems, two different notebooks, two different phones, two different diaries, etc etc etc you get the idea, and actually the only elements I’ve stuck with that work for me is having different inboxes. All my other internal systems merge and overlap because in reality that’s what business is like. There is of course the structure of regular SMT meetings, 121’s, monthly reports, KPI’s. In addition, I’m someone who loves to work, even holidays can get a bit boring after a few days! My husband is fantastic and that makes a big difference to how I split my time between business and family time, but it’s important to factor in the effect it has on our nearest and dearest when we embark on this type of, at times, all consuming adventure. I’m sure it helps that my family are very entrepreneurial, they all enjoy work and debating different business ideas. For example, when we go into a restaurant it’s our habit to count the tables and the staff and try to work out if they’re making money or not!
And finally, you’ve created two really successful companies, what has been the greatest achievement of your career? Please don’t hold back, we’re here to celebrate you!
For anyone in business, getting through these covid challenges and emerging at the other end still in one piece is one heck of an achievement. I’m grateful that both of my companies not only survived but thrived by the end of 2020, with ambitious growth plans for 2021. I continue to love what I do, what we achieve together, where we’re heading – it’s exciting!
Bonus questions: I hear you’re a lover of chocolate… Dare I ask what your favourite type is?
First answer would be, whatever is in the cupboard!! Second answer would be Green & Blacks butterscotch.