Ms. Mathew is the Former Chairman and CEO of D&B. She joined D&B in August 2001 as its Chief Financial Officer (CFO), after 18 years at Procter and Gamble. At D&B she was appointed CFO and SVP of International in 2005, CFO and President of the U.S. business in 2006, and President and Chief Operating Officer in 2007. She was named Chief Executive Officer in January 2010 and assumed the role of Chairman of the Board in July of that year, a position she held until her retirement in 2013. Ms. Mathew was a member of D&B’s Board of Directors from 2008 to 2013.
During her tenure at D&B, Ms. Mathew was instrumental in transforming D&B from a data company to a more innovative, digital enterprise, leveraging technological advances to expand its reach to new customers and structural changes to transform the underperforming International business. She led the re-build of D&B’s core technology platform and data assets, introducing Data-as-a service (DaaS) to access new customers and accelerating Big Data Analytics to create new insights for its existing customer base. Ms. Mathew received numerous accolades during her tenure at D&B. In 2012, she was named to FT’s 50 Women at the top, in 2013, she was named the top value creator in the S&P500 by Chief Executive magazine, and in 2014, was appointed to NACD’s Directorship 100 list. Prior to joining D&B, Ms. Mathew spent 18 years at Procter & Gamble in a number of executive positions.
Ms. Mathew has served on the Board of Directors of the Campbell Soup Company for ten years and currently chairs its Audit Committee. In addition, since 2014 she has served on the boards of Freddie Mac, Avon, Shire and also the International Advisory Council of Zurich. Sara holds a bachelor’s degree in physics, chemistry and mathematics from the Women’s Christian College in Madras, India, and a Masters degree in business administration from Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio.
What would you say are the main personality traits you have that helped you progress?
Courage, Curiosity, Determination and Commitment to excellence.
In your career, what has been the most difficult challenge and how did you overcome that?
Failure…numerous times over the course of my career. I like pushing myself to accomplish things others said were impossible. Unfortunately, I wasn’t always successful. Early in my career, thanks to a terrific boss, I learned to take responsibility for failure. In addition, when things go wrong, I focus on finding a new solution, vs wallowing in the problem, or feeling sorry for myself.
What is the single, greatest instance of trade-off you have had to make in reaching the role you currently hold and, in hindsight, would you change it if you could?
Work-life balance. I don’t think a woman can “have it all” I made trade-offs raising my kids. That role was delegated to nannies. I tried to hire the best I could find, but that also meant, I missed so many “Mom” moments. When I look back on my career I often wonder if I could have been a better Mom, but I wouldn’t change the choices I made. I did the best I could on both sides, but I was far from perfect.
What are the top 3 things you would advise people to do to manage their career growth?
1. Early in your career, focus on performance. Don’t just do well, do exceptionally well. Make sure you calibrate your performance. What you think is great performance may not be great to others. Make sure you know where the bar is and strive to clear it. Believe in yourself and your capabilities. Watch your thoughts – they will manifest in your words, actions and ultimately, shape your destiny.
2. As you move up, focus on leadership.
3. Learn to ask for feedback. Feedback is a gift. Be open to negative feedback, within it you will find clues to improve your performance and your leadership.
How can one ensure that they are a top performer in this competitive and ever changing environment?
A portion of performance comes from innate talent, but a more significant portion comes from a willingness to learn, take risk and work hard. Also, performance is relative, so you need feedback, for calibration. Positive feedback is easy to take in. Learn to embrace negative feedback without getting de-motivated. You can do this by focusing on what you need to do about it vs. whether or not it is fair
What does diversity mean to you?
To me it means that every person is unique, and that there is power in recognizing and valuing those differences. Diversity has many different dimensions– race, gender, sexual orientation, economic status, age, beliefs etc. Accepting these differences, and valuing them, especially when they are different is the only way to harness the power of diversity.
What observations have you made about the progress of diversity and inclusion in organizations that you’ve worked in?
The numbers are disappointing, especially at the higher levels. We have come a long way, but we have so much further to go!
What do you think is the key to unlocking the talent pipeline in women of colour that could open the door from middle management to senior management?
See #4. In addition, senior leaders, should proactively reach out and mentor high potentials, to give them the informal advice needed to successfully navigate the workplace.
Have you experienced any kind of discrimination in the workplace (consciously or unconsciously)? And how have you tackled it?
Not overtly. If it was there, I probably missed it. That said, I’ve had so many women share experiences they’ve had, it has to exist out there. The more subtle forms of discrimination are the toughest to handle, as it can diminish your stature as a leader. Rather than frame it as discrimination (which has a negative frame), I try to frame it as improving my leadership and improving as a person to tackle it.
What role do you think mentoring plays in career progression?
It’s so very important. I believe informal mentorship is probably the most valuable of all, and far superior to “forced” mentoring relationships. That said, personal motivation and willingness to change are equally important. I was so very lucky to have numerous senior leaders reach out and mentor me for reasons I have never fully understood. They gave me feedback, informal advice and this helped me get better. I would not be where I am without them
What advice would you give to someone beginning their career in any industry?
Focus on performance. Don’t seek to meet expectations, “blow them away”
Be curious and seek to learn as much as you can
Be accountable for your performance and your behavior
Be open to feedback and willing to make changes.